Is the failure of Islamic states the fault of Islam? Ian Buruma, Fred Halliday, Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Merryl Wyn Davies, Roger Scruton, Sami Zubaida, Iqbal Asaria and Mai Yamani discuss...by Prospect / November 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Ian Buruma: To say that 11th September was a criminal act that has nothing to do with Islam is politically understandable but evades the issue. Clearly these terrorist acts have grown out of a broader political and economic failure in the Muslim world. And perhaps a failure of western response too. But what is at the root of these failures? Is colonialism to blame? Or is there a problem with the religion itself, or at least with the sort of political culture it produces?
Fred Halliday: You cannot blame the religion in the sense of the holy texts-the Koran, the hadith and so on-for the simple reason that you can interpret these to meet any practice you wish in the modern world. You can derive capitalism, communism, feudalism and even a slave economy from them. The same goes for a wide range of political behaviour. This applies to Judaism and Christianity too: the books of Judges and Deuteronomy legitimate, under appropriate circumstances, the killing of innocent people and children. But if we turn to the particular causes of these events, we have to ask why did this group of people do what they did and why did their action produce such an echo in the middle east and elsewhere? To take the echo first. It is clear that a lot of people out there think the Americans deserved it: people in China think this; 80 per cent of the population of Brazil said, two weeks after the event, that they did not think Brazil should side with the Americans in this conflict; parts of the intelligentsia in western Europe think this even if they don’t say it. Why this resentment? It is partly just in the nature of being the most powerful state to attract resentment. It is, of course, also to do with cultural insecurity and the perception that globalisation is run in the interests of a narrow group of western countries. But if you look at what drove the main actors, you have to look more specifically at what I call “the greater west Asian crisis.” By that I mean a set of crises which are distinct in origin but, over the past 15 years, have converged, at least in the eyes of the radical Islamists. The three main ones are the Palestine question, the Iraq question and the Afghanistan question. These are seen as being expressions of…