|Praying in unison is part of the Islamic memeplex.|
Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo, June 2012
"Although terrorist groups generate headlines, more moderate Islamist groups enjoy far deeper and broader support in the Muslim world."
A scholarly review of the book "Rethinking Political Islam", by Shadi Hamid and William McCants, in the journal Foreign Affairs.
At the beginning, it makes the point (quoted above) that I've made over many years. That it's not terrorism -- or not just terrorism -- that is the real threat to the west and western liberal values. It's pious Islam -- or what they call here "political Islam" and "Islamism".
Remember the concentric circles of Islam: with Jihad in the centre -- the smallest group, but the most lethal. The next circle, around terroristic jihadis, is "Islamists", those who want Islam to spread, and eventually rule the world via Sharia (when there will be "Peace" hence why the Islamists can say that it's a "Religion of Peace"), but who don't want -- or not necessarily or by default -- to do it through violence. Then on the outermost circle represents those Muslims who are "moderate" in the sense that they don't want to spread Islam -- though no doubt they are happy if it does -- and are more like "cultural Muslims", that is Muslims by birth or simply by culture. These are the Muslims that just "want to get on with life, like the rest of us", we so often hear about. The "vast majority" of peaceful Muslims. In fact the first two circles amount to anwhere between 15% and 25% (various studies) of all the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and hence quite a large -- one might say huge -- minority of between 225 million and 375 million.
Plenty, that is, to be somewhat.... troublesome... shall we say... At least to those of us who think the values of Islam have little if anything to offer the post-Enlightenment Western values. And yes, there are differences between cultures and some of them are better than others.
The review is a great tour of Islam and Islamism in the last century.
Here's a quote from the beginning of the essay which makes that point.
... the book’s focus on mainstream Islamists is warranted, because although terrorist groups generate headlines, more moderate groups enjoy far deeper and broader support in the Muslim world—and thus pose a more profound long-term challenge to secular states of all kinds. They are genuine social movements with concrete, near-term goals: if they support the idea of a global caliphate, they consider it a distant dream. In the here and now, they seek accommodation with existing institutions and build support by setting up charities that fill the gap left by poor governance in much of the Muslim world. With the goodwill this generates, they try to persuade people to “return” to Islam through piety: attending mosque, praying openly in public spaces, and, for women, wearing the veil. They do not overtly contest the legitimacy of secular governments but instead try to influence them; they enter into the electoral arena when allowed to do so and are open to contacts and negotiation.The article is a good corrective to a recent Economist article, which asked "Can political Islam make it in the modern world?"
That article tended to see Tunisia as a positive example of what could happen in the Arab world. But Roy's article is more downbeat, and with my own observations of what's happened to Islam in Islamic countries, I'm also on the gloomy end of these predictions. That is, I'm more of Roy's outlook than the Economist's.
Here's Roy's concluding para:
It seems unlikely that the secularization of Islamic politics will be accompanied by a drift away from traditional values in Muslim countries, at least in the foreseeable future. (Tunisia is not likely to legalize gay marriage anytime soon.) But separating mosque and state poses a more acute short-term risk for Islamist parties such as Ennahda: it could provide an opening for jihadist extremists, who often refer to themselves as “foreigners in this world.” That phrase comes from a well-known chant, or nashid, popularized during the trials of members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s. It is an expression of the idea that, in their ideological purity and refusal to accommodate secular norms and institutions, jihadists represent the only true Islamists—and, perhaps, the only true Muslims. The danger is that if mainstream Islamists purchase inclusion in the secular state at the price of separating their political goals from their religious and social ones (as in Tunisia), or suffer exclusion from the state owing to their own overreach and a repressive backlash against it (as in Egypt), young Muslims seeking “authentic” religious and political identities might look elsewhere. And the jihadists will be waiting for them.