National Security & Defense

As Islamism Marches West, Pluralist Muslims Must Stop Its Advance

Prayers at a mosque in Cherbourg, France. (Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty)

Another European capital: more maimed and the murdered, whole peoples terrorized. It’s all too familiar. In Europe, Islamism marches to victories. The spillover of Islamism into Europe was inevitable. As Reuters editor David Rohde pointed out to me recently, the United States has cultivated a climate of isolation since 9/11: an isolation both of the Left, embodied by President Obama, and of the Right, currently embodied by presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The resulting Middle East foreign-policy vacuum birthed ISIS from the ashes of al-Qaeda. In hellholes such as Fallujah, the Obama doctrine of disengagement ensured that such creatures would become emboldened.

U.S. disengagement from Syria (America’s lowest point since the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides) led to the dismemberment of a nation: a new “crime with no name,” to borrow from Winston Churchill. In the wake of disengagement, Putin grew bold, and the Islamists and the génocidaire Assad, bolder still. Unabashed stigmatization of an entire nation followed. Millions of devastated refugees (most of whom are Muslims) were rapidly transmogrified, in the minds of frightened Westerners, into potential ISIS operatives.

Thus Islamism marches west, through vacuums and inaction, through disengagement and denial. Today, Europe reaps the consequences; tomorrow, maybe we will. Islamists know that the amputation of pluralist Muslims from Western democracies is near. Smelling in the air the escalating xenophobia toward Muslims, sensing the swelling right wing and fascist nationalisms on both sides of the Atlantic, Islamists triumphantly spread their noxious narrative of an Islam that is under siege by the “Salibiyuun” (the Crusaders).

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Dazzled by Islamism’s advance, we remain blind to its its nonviolent underpinnings. It is nonviolent Islamism that legitimizes Islamism’s escalating jihadist terrorism. It is nonviolent Islamism that preaches virulent anti-Americanism and anti-globalization, seducing both Western academics and Islamist sympathizers. It is nonviolent Islamism that turns genocidal anti-Semitism into sacrament.

In this nonviolent brew of totalitarianism and Islamism gestates an all-in-one war against Jewry and the West; the goal is a violent reordering of the world into a post-Westphalian global caliphate. It is to this — the nonviolent theories of Islamist totalitarianism — that we remain blind.

Certainly, without Islam there would be no Islamism, as I have observed before. Muslim-majority nations rightly bear the brunt of the blame. Instead of stewarding Islam, they protect Islamism and pander to it. As with football, each nation has its favorite team.

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Saudi Arabia, hedging all bets, patronizes multiple Islamist groups in exchange for keeping them in check at home. Qatar bankrolls Islamist Hamas in its genocidal war on Israel while it also opens embassies for the Islamist Taliban and accommodates Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Doha. Like the copulating praying mantis, Pakistani democracy has embraced Islamism as it is devoured by it, producing (on the American dime) the mujahideen who became al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iran uses Hezbollah to fight its wars with Israel, brandishing Islamism in front of an unseeing Obama administration that vainly hopes to build a world-historical legacy by bringing a brutal Islamic theocracy in out of the cold. Turkey’s Erdogan, years after he was imprisoned by Muslim Turks for his Islamist speeches, today moves his country toward an Islamist future.

#share#Yet beyond the Muslim-majority world, here, where there are fewer Muslims and less Islamism, the ideology thrives even more emphatically. Unchecked, Islamism spreads through Western secular democracies, fueled on the political orthodoxy of the Left. Instead of dismantling Islamism through argument, we have willingly retreated from the debate. As Bassam Tibi detailed in a recent paper in the journal Soundings, we have welcomed the subjugation of Middle Eastern–studies programs in the U.S. to Wahhabi petrodollars. Wracked with self-doubt, we’ve allowed free speech to erode under the cumulative burden of self-censorship and a punitive radical Left that views all Islamism (and Islamist anti-Semitism in particular) as worthy and socially acceptable. Where once our universities were bastions of critical thinking capable of exposing Islamism for what it is — an imposter — our intellectuals now legitimize Islamism, idealizing it as a beleaguered movement of social and democratic liberation.

Unchecked, Islamism spreads through Western secular democracies, fueled on the political orthodoxy of the Left.

Yet, waiting in the wings, glinting, almost within reach, lies civil pluralistic Islam. We must all — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — help shore up its foundations. We must assemble coalitions — not of troops but of pluralist Muslims and political scientists to study, expose, and denounce Islamism. With a pluralistic mindset, our political leaders will recognize the dangers of Islamism, much as they see the threat of nuclear proliferation. The pluralist Muslim diaspora must do more to combat Islamism. And Western societies must work with pluralist Muslims to integrate, not alienate, Muslims — not only Syrian refugees but also pluralist Muslims like me, born and bred in the West only to find ourselves for the first time a focus of suspicion and derision.

#related#Weighty demands must be made particularly of us, the pluralist Muslims. Islam commands Muslims to fulfill a duty to society, and now is our time to serve. Pluralist Muslims who make their home in Britain and America have often escaped the strangulating grasp of Islamism elsewhere. Because of this, we are particularly well equipped to defend secular liberal democracy. Living in secular liberal democracies, where Muslims can fully experience faith free of coercion, we know that Islam abhors compulsion, condemns supremacism, mandates pluralism, and condemns unjust war. Pluralist Muslims also know that for Islam, the ultimate blasphemy is not desecration of Islam or its symbols but the usurpation of God’s role by man — the hideous hallmark of the Islamist who claims God-like power.

These are the truths that will defeat Islamism and its moneyed, fragrant sycophants. These are the truths that deter opportunistic bigots who dare capitalize on American fears in their grasp for power. These are the truths that distinguish Islamists from pluralist Muslims — not our clothing, accents, or ethnicities but our values, actions, and engagement with non-Muslims. And these are the truths that only pluralist Muslims can bring to light in the darkness of our times. These are the truths that will keep the Islamist wolf from the door. Or, if pluralist Muslims remain marginal (as they are in Europe), these truths will lie dormant, and the bloodthirsty Islamist wolf will cut a path deep into our flock.

Qanta A. Ahmed, M.D., is the author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom.

Qanta A. Ahmed — Qanta. A. Ahmed is a British-American Muslim physician, the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, a member the Committee on Countering Contemporary Anti-Semitism through Testimony (Shoah Foundation, University of Southern California), and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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