I’m no expert on Islam, and with 1/3 of the world’s nations and cultures committed to this second largest world religion (behind Christianity), it is puerile to generalise. But as I see it, there are some significant strains at work that impact directly on geo-political matters, especially in the West.
Ex-UK PM Tony Blair, for example, has established an interfaith-faith trust thats seeks detente and accord between the world’s diversity. This is laudable, but I think flawed, as it approaches the Middle East and the Muslim world from a Christian (and Western) mindset.
Similarly US Prez Barack Obama has reached out to the Muslim world (his big Cairo speech, his Iran meetings and negotiations, his Sept. TV Ads trying to connect with the Palestinians) seeking appeasement, apology and cooperation. Again, Obama seems to be approaching these cultures from an American mindest of the value of diversity and of Christian love and cooperation that underpins Western democracy historically and culturally.
Where I disagree with them, is that emergent Islam is infused with extremism based on a deep-seated historic insecurity. Unlike Communism in China, no where in the world has Islam achieved the same level of prosperity and social cohesion or modernity as any of the nations of the West. Most of these nations have remained backward, oppressed and ignorant on the back of nepotism, corruption, and oppressive oligarchies or dictatorships of a type reminiscent of the old Caliphates of ancient times.
Adrian Hamilton in the Independent says “Islam has the political weakness of being largely unstructured, unlike Christina churches. But it has the strength of a common language and universal belief: Adopting the habits of an outwardly sober religious devotion is a route to belonging and a way of restoring pride. Non-religious countries do this through nationalism whereas the Arab nationalism of the post-colonial era is felt to have failed in a mire of corruption and genuflection to Western interests.”
Newly connected educated Gen Ys in the Muslim world are seeking a new way; trying to construct a new modern Islam. Hamilton again, “the rise of conservative religion in the Islamic world is being led as much by the educated young as it is by the less well-educated old.”
This is what I believe the Arab Spring was all about. But into this discontent have marched extremist military groups, reactive and hurt by Western imperialism, and social and economic imbalance. Some of them are religious. So the reactions we’ve seen to cartoons, books, films, is a religious reaction (umbrage against their Prophet and god as Allah) but this has to also be understood as the essence of their nationalism, and social and cultural identity. Their protests are as much a desire to re-express their own Islamic and national pride, self-worth and destiny, as religious quackery or murderous reaction to the West, which they envy, hate, admire all at the same time.
It is in to this complex mix of troubled cross-cultural but unified religious human aspirations that the West must apply itself, if we are ever to dissipate the huge geo-political forces at work in the early 21st C.