The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11 gave the US a pretext to attack Islamic movements far more directly than would previously have been possible. Tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan may have died (and more are continuing to die) in the US’s military operations, most of them civilians, and many more have been made homeless in the severe Afghani winter. Countless Muslim activists in Pakistan, other Muslim countries and in Western countries are being persecuted on the merest suspicion of involvement with militant Islamic groups.
In Britain Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot, was released five months after being arrested because the US authorities described him as a "key conspirator" in the September 11 attacks; the British courts eventually concluded that the US had absolutely no evidence against him and were demanding his extradition only for intelligence reasons. Numerous Muslims in other countries have probably been persecuted on similarly non-existent grounds without the opportunity to defend themselves. In the US itself hundreds of Muslims rounded up after September 11 remain in custody, without even the right under American law to know what evidence — if any — is against them.
But the West’s war on Islamic challenges to its inexorable drive for global hegemony was under way long before September 11, and has many more fronts than the political, military, intelligence and judicial ones. While the West denies being at war with Islam, it has long insisted on its right to demand that Islam change to conform to Western norms and interests, and that Muslims implement these changes according to the dictates of Western intellectuals. Like the political and military war, this too has become more open and has intensified. The tone was set immediately after September 11: Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, wrote that the West needed "secular and liberal" Muslims to set the agenda to create a modern Islam and marginalise the fundamentalists. In another article, in the form of a hypothetical letter from George W. Bush to Saleh al-Sheikh, Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, Friedman put it even more bluntly: "We do not want you as an enemy and we don’t want a war with Islam. We want a war within Islam — a war against intolerance and extremism." (New York Times, December 12, 2001.)
It is difficult to know where to begin commenting on such a demand. Few Muslims are likely to take seriously anything that Friedman says, because he is an established zionist. It is interesting also that he should address the letter to the Saudis, of all people. He must know that they are absolutely the wrong people to initiate any debate among Muslims, both because they are only slightly less backward, intolerant and extreme in their interpretation of Islam than the Taliban, which the West has made the symbol of everything they oppose in Islam, and because they have no credibility whatsoever in the Muslim world.
In fact, the only qualification the Saudis have is that they are pro-Western, perhaps the West’s only allies with even a shadowy claim to Islamic legitimacy. This, of course, is the key to the West’s demands of Muslims : whoever they are, however they may choose to behave in their personal lives, and in the politics of their own countries, what the West really wants is that they should accept Western domination and do as they are told in political and economic matters. These are the only criteria by which the West assesses the moderation, tolerance and legitimacy of its allies: if the West should advocate democratization and liberalization of any kind, it is only to the extent that its interests are promoted rather than threatened by them. Given the Saudis’ long record of service to the US, it is natural that a demand such as this should be addressed to them.
Yes, it is true that the body of Muslims is not a homogenous, undifferentiated whole. Yes, there are debates and differences of opinion. Yes, there are some Muslims whose comprehension of both Islam and of the world is flawed. That is inevitable in a community of 1.5 billion that has been buffeted severely by events in recent decades. But few Muslims cannot see the reality of the West’s role in the world, and fewer still will allow their despair at the actions of a few misguided Muslims to blind us to the far greater evils committed by the West. Your war against Islam is plain to see, Mssrs. Bush, Friedman et. al.; do not expect many Muslims to join you in it.