Tashbih Sayyed, the Editor in Chief of Pakistan Today and The Muslim World Today, writes:
"Should I as a Muslim be happy about the situation? After all, these apologies and advances made by radical Islam confirm that the Muslims are winning in their jihad against the "infidel" world. The Judeo-Christian World is on the defensive and has chosen to lay down its arms at the feet of the religious fascists instead of standing up for its ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom.
But I do not feel any happiness or see any victory in finding that the world fears the Muslims. IN FACT I AM SAD. I do not want to be feared. I want to be respected, accepted and loved. The very fact that the world is appearing to be afraid of Muslims concerns me a great deal. I am afraid that the Muslim extremism is pushing this world to a point from where its rescue will be almost impossible. I do not see anything good in the situation.
The fact that the world fears Muslims speaks volumes about the image of my co-religionists. The image is definitely not good. People do not fear GOOD. They fear EVIL. And Muslims have somehow have failed to convey to the world that they are good."
It's a worthy article - can Islamic societies be "stronger at home and respected abroad"? That's certainly an important question when a religion chooses to confront several companion civilizations in a warlike manner, all at the same time. But the question ultimately goes deeper.
"It is often asked whether Islam as a faith is compatible with democracy as a political philosophy. Or whether Islam can accommodate equal rights for women and non-Muslims. Good questions, but hardly the most pertinent. For the most urgent question is whether Islamism as a political ideology is essentially totalitarian, like fascism and Communism, by seeking to bring the individual, the family, and society itself under the heel of the state. In other words, can Islamism function by example and persuasion - but without the coercive power of the modern state?
Or of mob-rule and terrorist violence as a surrogate for state control. The simple practice of raping women who do not wear veils in Muslim areas does not require the modern state, but that form of jihadism is most certainly an exercise of coercive power used for Islamist ends.
We've discussed the phenomenon of "politicist" ideologies before. It's a more precise term than "totalitarian," and highly applicable here where the question of "is there an acknowledged Islamic private/civil sphere" becomes a key issue. As Cullinan notes:
Similarly, can Islamism acknowledge the rightful autonomy - and freedom from clerical control - of the individual, the family, society itself, and political life generally? The answers to these questions will determine the fate of the post-9/11 U.S. grand strategy, namely "the forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East."
And more besides, as Dr. Sayyed's article reminds us with its survey of European developments et. al. Of course, regardless of how the Islamists choose to answer that question, they could simply end up contained or marginalized within their own societies; a struggle already underway in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, et. al.
The two streams of Islam as faith and as politics cross at the nexus of shari'a, of course - and if Islam as a faith requires the implementation of shari'a law, then the distinctions between it and political Islam as an ideology (aka. "Islamism") shrink to zero for practical puposes. It's one thing when religious groups advocate for public policy options that are informed by their religious values; quite another when a religious group's political program involves enshrining religious law that is superior to or entirely replaces civil-made law. Conceptions like Grand Ayatollah Sistani's, which wisely seek to establish politics as distinct from religion lest religion become as stupid as politics, can survive and even thrive in the first case - but not the second.
Ultimately, if Islam is politicist at its core, a war of civilizations is more or less inevitable. And precisely because of the size of those stakes, evasions and lies cannot be afforded or tolerated when grappling with this question. At the same time, however, we'll need to acknowledge that it's possible for the answer to change in response to introduced selection pressures. I submit that both of these propositions need to be acknowledged, and that neglect of either one leads to a tragic and possibly fatal blindness.
Which is why Dr. Sayyed's article is the sort of thing one wishes to see more of; I wish him success in his efforts. For Muslims will answer these questions by their actions and behaviour - and that in turn will call forth its own answers.