Monday, September 11, 2006

Muslims and post 9/11

Perhaps not the best day to bring up the impact of 9/11 on Muslims, but I found this article in today's BBC discussing how Muslims are re-examining their faith in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to be interesting. After reading it's description of the tepid examination, one can't be too hopeful of the near-term future of Islam.

September 11 really shook the Muslim community. As a result, Muslims have been looking at their faith much more critically and asking which tenets of Islam are axiomatic, and which can be changed or reformed.

In particular, issues such as the meaning and significance of the Sharia in the 21st century are now being seriously examined. Also the desirability of a theocratic "Islamic state" - the dominant idea of the late 20th century - is being questioned.

Another issue that is being hotly debated concerns the power of the religious scholars: should the authority for reinterpretation of the Koran for contemporary times be limited to a handful of scholars or should it be democratised?

In other words, should ordinary Muslims have the agency to rethink and reinterpret their faith? Before 9/11, these kinds of questions were largely avoided. But now we are seeing them openly discussed and debated. This is not just happening in Britain, but all over the Muslim world from Indonesia and Malaysia to Pakistan and Bangladesh to Morocco and Turkey.

There has been an increase in radicalisation but radicalisation itself isn't new - it really emerged in Britain in the early 1990s. But before the attacks, few Muslims paid attention to the radicalisation of Islam.

Since 9/11, it has definitely become more entrenched and widespread. But the general trend now is to focus on the radicals, to question what they are doing in the name of Islam and to ask what can be done about rescuing Islam from their clutches. The silent majority is silent no more.

Another consequence of 9/11 is that Muslims are now very aware of globalisation and the fact that they don't live in isolation. They realise that what happens in Pakistan, for example, impacts on the community in, say, Bradford.

While I agree that many Muslims are looking and wondering at how the radicals captured their religion, others--if not most--are not displeased with the results. Poll after poll shows that Muslims increasingly see terrorism as a reasonable response to the West.

The tide of Islamist belief keeps rising. Previously moderate nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia are threatened by a creeping form of conservative Islam. Iran seeks to become a beacon for the Shi'a branch of Muslims, while Hamas and al-Qeada vie for leadership claims over the Sunni branch. These groups all assert their claim not on piety, but on their willingness to confront, massacre, and attack the West and Israel. Not a pretty future for moderate Muslims or the West.