TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

George Bush has Islamic
diversity on his side




December 04, 2001

LONDON - Perhaps the single most striking thing about the attack of September 11th and its aftermath is the significant number of Muslims who have argued the ludicrous proposition that the hand of Israel was behind it. But what such voices are in effect saying in their roundabout way is that such a dastardly deed could not possibly be the work of a God-fearing Muslim.

The second most telling fact about this horrendous epoch is how quiescent has been the majority of the Muslim world in the face the American bombing of Afghanistan. To get this in perspective the present should be compared with the universal Muslim (and indeed Third World) outrage that met the Russian invasion of Afghanistan twelve years ago. From presidents to peasants the anger was deep and heartfelt and it was this moment that made it clear that the reflexive support that much of the Third World had given Moscow over the years was now at an end.

An overwhelming majority of Muslims have shown one way and another that they have no time for the extreme, violent, fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden, a variant of Islam that was brought to the boil more by Western malfeasance than by any Arabic religious impulse. Unless America makes the mistake of killing too many obvious innocents or widening the war effort to take in the toppling of Saddam Hussein of Iraq the present indications are that Washington is going to get away with this war.

Whether it was the most sensible way to go in terms of capturing bin Laden is another question. That it has stirred up a hornet's nest of new, even angrier bin Ladens to come is most likely. That it has demonstrated the inherent weakness of decades of American diplomacy in the Middle East, that has tolerated dictatorial regimes as long as the oil spigot was left on and has refused to use its economic strength to bend Israel's ear to listen to what they have to do is more than obvious.

But none of this answers the interesting question why is America getting an easy ride? The answer is contained in the evolving and geographically varying nature of modern Islam itself. Too many critics, from Samuel Huntington and his seminal "Clash of Civilizations" of eight years ago down to the instant analysis of the media pundits today, have assumed that the Muslim world is still stuck in a medieval rut where the populace blindly do what the imam asks of it, interpreting old scripture with no regard for the present tense, and earnest to pay off old historical slights with contemporary vengeance.

But human beings are everywhere more complicated that this. Much of what passes for shrewd analysis today belongs in same class as those who interpret British antagonism to the Euro-currency by dragging up on-going bitterness at the Norman Conquest.

"Islam has not been hospitable to democracy", Huntington wrote. Yet in the last few years we have seen a significant and widespread pro-democracy ferment in much of the Muslim world and important steps towards democratic reform in many Islamic countries. Five out of the 42 predominantly Muslim states now have democratically elected governments: Albania, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali and Turkey. In fact, if one takes into account these five, add in Nigeria, where half the population is Muslim, and the Muslims who live in India, Europe and America, a majority of the world's 1.15 billion Muslims live under democratically elected governments.

In several Arab states, the passing of old monarchs has led to reform. In Morocco, under the new king, there is much greater tolerance of opposition parties. In Jordan under its new king, press laws have been relaxed and there have been competitive elections at the municipal level. In Kuwait the national legislature (albeit elected by excluvily male suffrage) has widespread legislative authority. In Iran the continuing efforts of a democratically elected parliament and president to sideline the overweening power of a fundamentalist clergy are unabated

Similarly, the notion that economic progress is impossible under Islamic rule is manifestly untrue. Turkey has a better modern economic record than its Christian neighbours in Southern and Eastern Europe. Until the crisis of four years ago, Indonesia had the best economic and social development record of all the large developing countries. Malaysia, a majority Muslim country, is arguably the most impressive of all the economic "dragons" when taken in the round.

Or take the role of women. Turkey abounds in women in high positions. In Iran more women than men now enter Iran's universities. In Egypt women have openly struggled for their rights since the beginning of the twentieth century and Egypt now is in process of passing legislation to give women the right to divorce.

All this speaks to the growing tendency towards the modernisation of many Islamic societies. The actions of a few zealots have discoloured our understanding of political Islam. Until now George Bush has had a great deal of luck on his side but - dare one say it? - the march of Islamic history too.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name















The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512   E-mail:

Contact the webmaster at:
© TFF 1997-2001