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Islam and Modernity
Articles on Libya before 2012

  • (september 2012) Islam and Modernity. Whenever a trivial episode causes a disproportionate reaction among Muslim fundamentalists around the world, the reason has to be searched inside Islam itself rather than in the relations between Islam and the non-Islamic world. There are plenty of cases of major injustice against Muslims in the world (think of Russia's oppression of Chechnya or of the USA's support for the various kings of the Arab world) that don't cause a single demonstration in the streets of the Islamic world. Even major insults to their superstitions (like the images of their "prophet" kept in the museums of London and Istanbul, or Dante's "Divine Comedy" that throws such "prophet" in hell) have never caused major uprisings. Mass demonstrations against cartoons or videos insulting Islam tend to reflect tensions that run deeper into Islamic societies, and, ultimately, are about an internal civil war between those who blame the ills of those societies on Western values and those who blame them on traditional values. Both sides of this civil war share the starting point: the Islamic world used to be more civilized and prosperous than any other region of the world, and now it is rapidly becoming the poorest (50 years ago a country like Egypt, that today is one of the poorest in the world, was richer than both China and India). Muslims feel humiliated. The Arab Spring was very much about restoring dignity to people, nations and an entire civilization who matter less and less in the age of globalization. The rift is between those who advocate more Western values and those who advocate more Islamic values. They both indirectly claim that Islamic societies have had too little of "it", where "it" depends on which side you're on.
    The Islamists who are protesting against the USA in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen and so on (using the pretext of an amateur video that insults the founder of Islam) might have understood the implications of the Arab Spring better than the West itself. They view the USA as the cause of the change from a traditional, very religious, society (that was incidentally ruled by brutal dictators, but that's a detail in the grand scheme of the history of Islam, and nothing new since the beginning when the dictator was the ferocious Mohammed, followed by no less ferocious warriors - see the history of Islam). They see the USA as the cause for a change that started with the demise of Saddam Hussein and continued with the blessing of the USA. The net result of the Arab Spring will be to modernize the medieval societies of the Arab world.
    The Islamists fully understand the consequences: it is not only a handful of brutal dictators who have been delivered to the dustbin but their entire societies. The societies that are emerging from the Arab Spring will be strongly influenced by Western ideals of scientific progress and of global business. The Islamists are absolutely correct in fearing that Islam will go the way of Christianity. They correctly perceived the USA as the cause of the change, as the inspiration for what will come next, and as the main threat to their religion.
    It is telling that the worst act of violence after the Arab Spring took place in the one country (Libya) where the Islamic parties were badly defeated in the first democratic elections (just four months earlier). Islamists killed the ambassador of the USA not so much to vent their anger at the USA but to vent their anger at the change that those elections imply. Libya has become a model of how the Arab world could get rid of the religious obstacles to progress. The president of the new democratic and secular government of Libya immediately apologised to the USA, the still extremely rare case of a politician who dares defy its fanatical religious mobs in an Islamic country, and then immediately launched an investigation on the incident, arrested suspects and even stormed the Islamist militia's base in Benghazi, correctly treating this episode as a criminal act regardless of how you feel about insulting the founder of Islam; but this is simply infuriating the Islamists, because what they fear is precisely this modern, secular attitude.
    Over the course of history, it has rarely happened that a religion was annihilated by war (it only happened with small minorities of "heretics"). Religions have been annihilated mainly by changing times, as they become obsolete, anachronistic, senseless in a world that does not believe in their superstitions anymore. How many world-educated Muslims truly believe that a god named Allah picked a warrior in the middle of the Arabian desert and told him to kill lots of innocents to establish an empire on Earth? How many world-educated Muslims truly believe that old men should marry children? Obviously, if the Arab Spring leads to an age of scientific progress, the answer will be "very few".
    When George W Bush started the cascade of events that led to the political revolutions of the Arab Spring, he indirectly caused another more profound revolution that, for the first time since the Ottoman Empire, will completely change the societies of the Arab world.
    The Islamists are under attack. They are indeed fighting for their survival. The USA is their enemy, and they don't quite know how to fight it. Expelling them from the Arab lands is a beginning, and that is what they are trying first.
    This is nothing new. The Catholic Church was even more brutal in its repression of modernizing ideas. Lacking the political, economic and military might of the Catholic Church, the Islamists use what methods they can to carry out the same kind of last-ditch war; but it is mostly a war against their brothers and fellow citizens who are seduced by progressive ideas.

    See also: Why Afghans riot if you burn the Quran but not if you kill an entire family

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on Libya before 2012

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.