Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The state of Islam today

Islam and the Middle East have been very much on my mind lately. There is, according to the New York Times, good news in the acceptance of a trade pact between Israel and Egypt. This pact was originally broached in 1996. The article credits several factors for the success of this treaty, among them the death of Yasser Arafat, the fall from power of Saddam Hussein, and George Bush winning a second term and thus being more likely to consider his legacy.

As someone who hopes that peace of some sort can be established between Israel and its neighbors, I am pleased with this trade news ... but, I wonder, what isn't this reporter telling us? The pact seems to aid Egypt's sizeable textile industry, but nevertheless Egyptians aren't happy with it -- just as Jordanians disliked King Hussein's decision to make peace with Israel in 1994. When there is so much popular sentiment against Israel among the Muslim public, how can the leaders of Muslim nations successfully negotiate peace deals?

For a broader view of Muslims worldwide, check out this article in the online journal spiked. Judging from Olivier Roy's book, it seems that getting rid of the Taliban was not enough. Extrapolating from this article, the real terrorist threat comes not from unstable regimes like Sudan and Afghanistan, but from Muslims who come into contact with Western mechanisms. The author of the review, Josie Appleton, notes, "Most of the 9/11 ringleaders were 'born again' Muslims, who went to secular schools, had spent time in the West, and had cut themselves off from their families and communities." This is dismaying news for anyone who believes that exposure to democracy is a remedy for terrorism. It's a perplexing companion to the Harvard study that found that poverty is not a root cause of terrorism. This study also concluded that terrorism is lower in countries that have either a significant or a negligible amount of political freedom, and that it is the nations with intermediate levels (like Russia) that are worth worrying about. (However, sometimes it is the autocratic nations, like Hussein's Iraq, that sponsor terrorist acts in other countries.)

How to solve this problem? Don't the homelands of the neo-fundamentalists have something to do with all this? Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, a notoriously intolerant regime. Were the European experiences of these hijackers a deadly complement to the House of Saud's xenophobia? Roy's book, and Appleton's review, shows us that the causes of terrorism are more widespread and complex than we may think.


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