Sunday, 19 September 2010

If There were No Islam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following article is taken from If There were No Islam by Gustavo Chacra, Estado, Brazil; dated 5th September 2010.  It was translated by Perola Vieira.  The original article in Brazilian Portuguese is Se Não Existisse o Islã.

Combat operations in Iraq were officially completed this week.  In Washington, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met to resume peace negotiations.  The two events indicate a reduction in instability in the Middle East but are far from representing the end of conflicts in the region, which became the scene of major international wars in recent decades, leading public opinion in the West to point to Islam as the source of violence.

Civil War in Lebanon, the Iran-Iraq War, First Intifada, the Gulf War, the Second Intifada, the Lebanon War (Israel versus Hezbollah), the Gaza War, the war in Iraq and genocide in Darfur are examples of clashes that supposedly have Islam as a backdrop.  Other conflicts involving Muslims in Central Asia also contribute to this phenomenon, namely the two wars in Afghanistan: the first against the Soviets, and the second, which has taken place over the past nine years, led by the United States against the Taliban and al-Qa’ida.

There were also wars with the participation of followers of Islam in Kashmir, China, Algeria and even in Kosovo and Bosnia.  Muslims are also involved in internal issues and situations of violence in the United States, Britain and Spain, where terrorist attacks were committed in the name of Islam.  Denmark and the Netherlands have seen free speech clashes with Muslim immigrants.  And French secularism has clashed with the use of the hijab.

And the question that many analysts ask is whether the world would be more peaceful if there were no Islam.  Obviously, we would still have the war on drugs in Colombia and Mexico, the Georgian war, the Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka and civil conflicts in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.  But what about all the other conflicts, from Algeria to Indonesia, from France to Iran?

To try to understand how the world would be if Muhammad (s.aw.) had never existed, or if the prophet failed to spread the Word of God - which, according to Islamic tradition, he received through the angel Gabriel (a.s.) - we turn to the former vice president of the National Intelligence Council of the U.S. Government, Graham Fuller, who wrote the book "A World Without Islam," published this week in New York.  It is a joint exercise with intelligence services like the CIA, where he also worked.  In his view, our world would not be very different now, except of course for not having any Islamic cultural influence - but the basis of the book is geopolitics.  The difference in the world without Islam, he said, is that the West’s enemy would be the Orthodox Christianity, not Islam - as it was, in certain ways, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which is mostly Orthodox.

Christians Among Islam

The Orthodox world, considered a civilization apart of the West by political scientist Samuel Huntington in his book "Clash of Civilizations," has been around for centuries in Constantinople – now Istanbul - the former capital of the Byzantine Empire.  Orthodox civilisation always saw Catholicism as the enemy of Rome, and Protestantism has joined its ranks in recent years.  At the same time, the Orthodox have always lived with Muslims within the empire, dealing with Islam from the beginning.  With the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox Christians were living under Islamic rule, and the heart of Byzantine civilization moved to Moscow.

All these centuries, the Orthodox always saw the Western world with caveats and vice versa.  Just watch the greater difficulty of the Orthodox countries of the old Iron Curtain, such as Serbia, Romania and Ukraine, in joining the European Union - the Protestants and Catholics have not had many difficulties.  The Orthodox civilization for centuries has emerged as antagonistic to the West.  If there were no Islam, they probably would be at the forefront of Middle East conflicts.

Palestinian Christians

In some ways, they are already.  The first separatist movements began with Palestinian Christians, like George Habash, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  Many Palestinian terrorists in the 1960s and 1970s were baptised in the Orthodox Church.  The biggest supporter of the Palestinian cause in academia for many years was Edward Said (an Orthodox converted to Anglicanism).  Until now, in the dome of Fatah, there is a range of Christian authorities - Yasser Arafat’s wife and daughter follow Christianity in Paris.  Arab citizens of Israel with Christian origin, with rare exceptions, do not serve in the Israeli army.  They identify themselves as Palestinians and live among Muslims in the cities of Nazareth and Jaffa.

The rivalry between Orthodox and Catholics can even be observed in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  There are no representatives of the Vatican in what is probably one of the two holiest places of Christianity, beside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The church is controlled by Eastern Christians, which includes the Orthodox, Copts, Chaldeans, Assyrians and other denominations.  The Franciscans, who represent the Vatican in Jerusalem, can only enter during the procession of the Via Dolorosa on Fridays.  The main Christian religious authority of the city is Orthodox, always closer to the Palestinian leadership than the Israelis.

Lebanese Christians

The Orthodox also identify with the Muslims in Lebanon.  In the Civil War (1975-90), they always sought to keep neutrality in the conflicts involving Maronite Christians, who respect the Pope’s authority, and with some factions allied with Israel, as well as Shi’ites, Sunnis and Druze.  Even now, the post of Foreign Minister of Lebanon is reserved for an Orthodox; they have always better understood the balance of power in a multi-religious country and how to deal with both Islamic and Western countries.

Israel currently is in a state of war with only two countries: Lebanon and Syria.  The Egyptians and the Jordanians have signed peace treaties.  Saudi Arabia, Iraq and even Iran do not have relations, but also do not have territorial disputes and are not engaged in conflict against the Israelis.  Ironically, the regime in Damascus and Beirut’s government are not ruled by Islam.

Syria

Bashar al-Assad, although officially Alawite Muslim, does not fast in Ramadhan; the same goes for several of his ministers.  He is a secular leader.  His wife, who studied in the US, does not cover her head.  The use of the hijab, as in Turkey, is not allowed in schools and public buildings.  Radical Islam is considered an internal enemy and was the target of a massacre in Hama when his father, Hafez al-Assad, was still alive.  The conflict with Israel would exist even if there were no Islam, as the religion does not weigh on the decisions of the regime.  Not to mention that the two countries (Israel and Syria) dispute the Golan Heights, inhabited by Syrian Druze, which is practically a religion separate from Islam.

In Beirut, the power is divided between religions, with Christianity historically taking advantage.  The president is always a Maronite Christian; the prime minister, Sunni; and the president of Parliament, Shi’ite.  Half of the cabinet members are Christian.  Most of the generals, including the army chief, need to be Christians.  Even Hezbollah has Christian allies in operations against Israel.

Christians & Arab Nationalism

Iraq was ruled by a laic regime of Saddam Hussein.  His government was still based on Arab nationalism and his second in command was a Christian, Tariq Aziz.  It was similar to the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and other Arab nationalists who dominated politics in the region until the 1980s.  As with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Arab nationalists did not speak of Islam.  One of the fathers of Arab nationalism was the Orthodox Christian Antoine Saadeh, who founded the Syrian Social Party in Lebanon and, curiously, lived in Brazil.  His club, even today, is dominated by Orthodox Christians in Beirut and takes a radical stance against Israel, besides committing acts of violence.

Russia Would Lead Conflict against Israel & the US

If there were no Islam, probably these Christians would be the leaders for actions against Israel, with support from Russia.  Iraq and Egypt might have been secular regimes administered by Christian defenders of Arab nationalism - just like the Orthodox in Beirut and Damascus in the 1920s, or those in Sao Paulo in 1922 fighting for the establishment of an Arab identity.  The Iran-Iraq War, certainly the bloodiest conflict in the Middle East in the 20th century, had no religious character.  They were Shi’ite Persians from Iran on one side against Sunni Arabs, Shi’ites and Christians on the other.  The Kurdish conflict involves neither religion - they are mostly Muslims who fight against Turks, Arabs and Kurds.

In Afghanistan, Islamic radicals were supported by the United States in the fight against the Soviets.  The Americans wanted the Soviet Union away from that region regardless of Islam.  There was no opposition to the mujahidin of the West.  The animosity between Hindus and Muslims has intensified after the partition, with removal of 14 million people from India to Pakistan and vice versa.  Probably, if there were no Islam, the conflict would involve Zoroastrians and Hindus.  The genocide in Darfur, in Africa, perhaps would exist even without the existence of Islam - just look at Rwanda’s and Congo’s cases.

Integration in the Occident

In the US, Muslims have always been well integrated, despite the worsening in relations after September 11th 2001, and especially this year, when Time magazine questioned whether Americans are Islamophobic.  But Italians, Irish, Greeks, Jews and of course, Lebanese and Syrians of Orthodox Christian origin lived with the same problem when they immigrated and now they are integrated.  Japanese and Russians, seen as the enemies decades ago are no longer targets.  Latin Americans, including Brazilians, have become the target of attacks in recent years from the American right wing.

Europe is less used to immigration than Brazil and Argentina, which for 10 years was ruled by a Muslim Arab, Carlos Menem.  The wave of immigrants in countries like Italy is still young.  However, as Fuller says, immigrants from other countries also face problems of assimilation, including Africans in France and South Americans in Spain and Portugal.

Christian Terrorism

The suicide terrorism and al-Qa’ida are recent phenomena and cannot be restricted to Islam.  The first Sunni Muslim to blow himself up in human history was a Hamas member in the early 1990s in Israel.  A decade earlier, Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ites were also at the forefront of this form of attack.  Without forgetting that, until the outbreak of the Iraq War in 2003, the Tamil Tigers, who are not Muslims, led the ranking of suicide bombings.  As Robert Pape, a professor at the University of Chicago who compiled all the suicide bombings in the world since 1980, recalls, in Lebanon the suicide attacks were not restricted to Muslims.  Among 41 attacks in the country in the 1980s, 27 were committed by communists and socialists, three by independent Christians and only eight by radical Muslims.

al-Qa’ida had never been mentioned in any Western media outlet 15 years ago.  The word "Muslim" or "Islam" was not used once throughout the Estadao [Brazilian newspaper] coverage during the Six Day War (1967) - not even a month before or one month later.  The West, according to Edward Said in his famous book "Orientalism," built the image of the East the way they wanted.  In Brazil you can see the same changes.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the image of Muslim women was that of the odalisque.  Today it is that of the burqa.  A reveler can be mistaken as a member of al-Qa’ida in a US airport if he gets excited with the march "Allah Allah my good" on his iPod.  Indeed, Allah means God in Arabic, even for the Orthodox Christians.

There are more crimes against women in Islamic countries.  But many of these crimes, like the stoning of women, "is not practiced only among Muslims, nor did it begin with Islam."  Stoning is an ancient tribal tradition in some regions of Africa and Asia, Robert Worth wrote in a recent article in the New York Times.  The Islamic world is as diverse as seeing a Muslim girl in a bikini on the beach in Beirut and another one using a burqa in Riyadh.


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