One result of events since September 2001 has been some realization of the true nature of the West even among stubbornly pro-Western Muslims. Although Muslims around the world had long been aware of the malign nature of Western power, some had been dazzled by the glamour of the West’s culture and lifestyle, and taken in by its claims of universal values. With hundreds of Muslims rotting IN Guantanamo Bay, random assassinations of alleged ‘terrorists’ in many countries, open warfare against Islamic movements everywhere, a US-client regime installed by force in Kabul, the blatant manipulation of international organizations over Iraq, and the effective suspension of the rights of Muslims even in Western countries, the real nature of the West is now plain.
None of this is new. The reality behind the West’s facade has long been evident to those willing to see it, but many Muslims preferred not to. While Muslims in Muslim countries were being repressed by West-sponsored despots and dictatorships, Muslims in Western countries were largely protected by the West’s desire to maintain its image. Yes, there was Islamophobia and racism, and yes, Muslims were attacked if they raised issues such as Rushdie’s blasphemy, the US’s sponsorship of Israel, and other parts of its foreign policy. But there was enough freedom of speech and action for Muslims to regard these things as the normal stuff of Western politics. Those who spoke of fundamental incompatibilities between the West and Islam, and warned of the iron fist inside the velvet glove, were decried as scaremongers and advocates of conflict and confrontation.
No more. Had the US reacted rationally to the events of September 11, many Muslims might have regarded their response as understandable. Bush’s demand that we declare ourselves with America or with the terrorists might have seemed more reasonable, and his comment that America was embarking on a ‘crusade’ might have been dismissed as stupid and thoughtless were it not for the actions of his regime. Instead, in its prolonged burst of anger and indignation, Washington has betrayed itself and its allies.
Where does this leave Muslims in the West? Where there was a policy of keeping heads down and hoping not to be noticed, there is now a growing realization that that is not possible. When the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui (ra) established the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, one of his reasons was that he foresaw that Muslims would come under increasing pressure because of conflict between Western interests and Islamic movements. Neither he nor the Muslim Parliament survived to serve British Muslims, but his vision of a strong, locally-rooted community, able to look after itself and deal with governments from a position of strength, is more relevant than ever. (For information on the Muslim Parliament, see www.islamicthought.org/mp-intro.html.)
Establishing such institutions will be even more difficult now, and take time we do not have. Instead we must rely for now on the community leaders and groups that already exist. Their objectives, understanding and effectiveness vary greatly: some still seem to believe that the West has a better nature that can be appealed to; others are concerned with single issues — such as challenging media misrepresentations— and others seem to be vehicles for opportunistic career-building. Some efforts are wrong-headed and counterproductive. There is resource-wastage, duplication of effort and in-fighting: this situation is easy for Western governments to exploit to ensure that Western dominance is not effectively challenged.
It is essential that we find a middle path between the quiescent, secularised pseudo-Islam that is acceptable to the West, and the confrontational, sectarian approach of those whose hero is Usama bin Ladin. Muslim communities are now inseparable parts of all Western populations, and we have responsibilities both to the Muslim Ummah and to the societies of which we are part. We must do what we can to help our fellow Muslims, even against our own governments; we must become examples who guide the non-Muslims among whom we live out of the political, social and ethical morass into which they have fallen. Both tasks demand that we develop institutions and programmes for the protection and service of our own communities, to ensure their survival in circumstances which will probably soon become even more difficult.