Islam and the West: 11TH September 2001- 8th February 2002
By:Al Sadig Al Mahdi-
Lastly Elected Sudanese Prime Minister
President of UMMA Party
The events of 11th September are so atrocious, their impact on national and international affairs are so momentous, and the consequent shaping of opinion is so important, that my address to you Ladies and Gentlemen will be more of a heart to heart testimony than an expression of views.
Therefore, it is appropriate to start with a brief autobiographical note. I am not electioneering but I want you to appreciate how much I thought I gave the matter.
I come from a dynastic family in the Sudan. However, as I came to participate in politics, I held no office to which I was not freely elected. I participated in the overthrow of two dictatorial regimes which governed the Sudan and led my party twice to successful general elections and was twice elected Prime Minister.
My party has supplied almost all the ideas of great compromise in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the civil war in Sudan, namely, that the conflict is political and cultural and can not be resolved by military means, that citizenship rather than religions identity should be the basis of constitutional rights in the Sudan, and that we should negotiate new terms for a united Sudan, and allow our aggrieved compatriots to accept voluntary unity on the basis of a free plebiscite or choose a different path.
My grandfather established a religious organization as a modern and moderate avatar of the Mahdist Revolution. Without holding any specific title, I led that group, modernized its organization, and democratized its decision-making organs. I have a spent altogether four years in Prime Ministerial office, eight years in prison without trail and about the same number of years in exile.
My party today is in touch with all Sudan’s political forces, particularly the government, negotiating and mobilizing opinion to eschew violence, eschew totalitarianism, and agree upon a national agenda which should reach a just peace agreement, a program for democratic transformation and the formation of a national government which would abide by a national political program, implement the peace agreement, and implement the democratic transformation.
Therefore, my address to you will cover a broad intellectual, political, spiritual, cultural, and international spectrum.
11th Sep. Events
11th September has ushered the world into dangerous times that may paralyze decision makers and glue them to seek the preservation of the status quo as their safest strategy, and the big stick and intelligence as their sagest means to that end. However, times of danger are elso times of opportunity. A creative Shakespearian opportunity:
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
Approaching this opportunity, I shall answer two specific questions:
Why did this atrocity take place?
How to prevent its likes?
Please bear with me as I elucidate my reply in seven points:
First Point: I would like to clear the deck of highly advertised explanations by some theologians, some famous secular intellectuals, and some influential politicians:
- Many an Imam in mosques throughout the world of Islam described the events of Tuesday 11th September as an act of divine punishment for America’s permissiveness, and injustice.
- Many Christian theologians echoed the same sentiment, for example, Jerry Falwell who said: “What we saw on Tuesday could be miniscule if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve. “ Addressing those bent on secularizing American society he said: “You helped this to happen.”
- Samuel Huntington saw in the events a vindication of his insight into the clash of civilizations. A reductionist insight which would equate the first and second Gulf wars, and the wars of Yugoslavia’s disintegration as Muslim wars, and would see Taliban and Al Qaeda as representatives of Muslim civilization. This is inaccurate enough, but Fukuyama whose analysis resurrects Hegel to pronounce the end of history, would have us believe that what happened are the wanton gasps of a dead culture.
- Some politicians in the west have come to believe that what happened is a security problem which could best be resolved by bombs, bullets, and better intelligence. Such measures may inhibit terrorism, but they can never overcome it, for example, conflicts between IRA and Britain, and between ETA and Spain, have continued for decades.
What happened is a political act of human volition using terrorist means to express protest and revenge, and employing a minority religions ideology to justify it.
By terrorism I mean four patterns of behavior:
- The use of violence for political, economical, and or social aims, against a legitimate authority.
- The use of violence for the same purposes against civilian society.
- The use of state terror by dictatorial regimes to coerce their unarmed citizens, including torture.
- State terror against bona fide liberation movements.
Second Point: Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance. The evidence for that is pervasive:
There is no compulsion in religion. 2:256
Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away (Do not punish) the foolish. 7: 199
And by mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. Had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults) and ask Allah’s forgiveness for them, and consult them in their affairs. 3:159
However, under certain circumstances, Muslim jurists basing themselves on the text of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet and using their tools of deduction and analogy codified regulations which have been passed down as the obligatory corpus of law for Muslim communities to apply for all time.
This belief imprisoned the present and future in the past.
Secondly, during the heyday of Muslim state power, the world was divided between the land of peace i.e. Muslim territories, and the land of war i.e. non-Muslim territories, and so international relations were based on war as the normal basis of activity between states.
Thirdly, three verses in Surrah Nine Verses 5, 29, and 36 were described as the verses of the sword and they were said to have abrogated more than a hundred tolerant verses distributed among 48 Surrahs or chapters.
In my book The Dialectics of Identity and Modernization I have shown how all these positions are unwarranted by an authentic understanding of Islam.
However, the above mentioned positions have been employed by Islamic reaction to eschew modernization, and to foment inter-national, and inter-religion hostility.
Many Islamcist activist to argued from their positions and based their religious opinions (Fatwas) upon them.
Islam is a lay religion. There is no religious authority as such, but I have been calling for an Islamic conference to exercise self-examination and establish a much needed religious reformation.
Third Point: Many western positions play into the hands of Muslim reactionaries establishing with them an unholy alliance which feeds upon each other.
- The failure to recognize Islam, and the assumption of Christian superiority.
The current International Prayer Breakfast is a commendable public relations activity. However, its literature assumes the religions should join under a Christian fold.
If it is to attract genuine Muslim participation, it will have to reach out in terms of inter religious and international criteria.
As a believer, I found the experience edifying, as a Muslim I found it wanting by inter-religious standards.
- The superiority of western civilization is taken for granted.
Many western thinkers, particularly, Arnold Toynbee, have pointed out the inadmissibility of this position. The west must reconcile itself to cultural plurality.
- There are three components of modern western civilization:
- The first is a western European one, and together with cultural and religious elements, it constitutes a component which is peculiar to European culture.
- The second component is also particular to the European experience, and is the result of the enlightenment when reaction against the denial of scientific freedom led to a glorification of science, to the extent that it was empowered to judge upon aspects of life, which are beyond the reach of science, because they are beyond sensory perception.
This materialist, secularist world view can only be explained in terms of historical circumstances, it is mere post enlightenment European ideology.
The third component of modern western civilization is a universal fruit of human endeavor. It was further developed in Europe and America, but it represents the cumulative result of human achievement.
It is represented by the freedom of scientific research, universal human rights, basic freedoms, and the free market economy.
This aspect of modern civilization has come to stay, and to be adopted by other cultures and civilizations within their own social and cultural fabric.
The more modernization is seen as a universal phenomenon the more acceptable it will be to other cultures.
- Globalization as the fruit of the communications revolution and the international free market is an inevitable universal phenomenon. However, the present distribution of wealth and strategic power will make it more and more a globalism favoring the United States and through its control of the media it is bound to make America’s fast food and entertainment culture dominant throughout the world.
In the poor countries of the world, the free market is not a given phenomenon, it has to be created.
The development of the southern hemisphere cannot be left to the forces of the free market alone. The commitment to stem out poverty and social injustice must be regarded as an imperative.
Jet set globalization has touched off a global reaction with the opposing forces in the west better poised to express themselves than those in the other parts of the world, who may not be able to articulate themselves, and end up by sympasizing with the terrorists for challenging the forces of globalization.
In those form aspects western self-examination is required to cater for other peoples’ grievances.
Fourth Point: Some important international problems have, in the eyes of the west, particularly the US, been to blame for nurturing terrorism and disturbing world peace.
The west needs look very hard into these problems to gauge the extent of its culpability in their formation. This culpability goes across the board, but I shall only refer to some such problems as examples.
- The problem of Palestine. Until the 20th century, there was no conflict to speak of between Arabs and Jews. The Zionist movement was born and nurtured in Europe. Muslim and Christian Arabs who constitute 16% have been the victims of the historical events which took place in Palestine over the last half century. The problem will not go away, and its just resolution through the decision of the Israeli voters and the Arab mass movement is next to impossible because they are pulling in different directions. Meanwhile the tension will remain breading violence and through America’s close ties with Israel poisoning Arab American relations. How, the leaders and peoples of the Middle East ask can the west be sincere in its espousal of freedom when it supports the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian Arab?
- Iran. I have been trying with my friend Ahmed Muktar Ambo ex-president of UNESCO to find a peaceful resolution to the American hostages’ crisis of 1979. In my shuttle between the two governments, I came up against great Iranian resentment against America. Then secretary of state, Mr. Shultz, even recognized America’s responsibility for it.
In his book: The Ambiguities of Power, Mark Curtis makes the following remark:
“Most Americans have no idea that the Iranian resentment against Britain and America that in part resulted in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was justified even by western standards, and was largely the result of the 1953 CIA fathered coup and the subsequent political and military support of the Shah’s oppression.
- Turkey. Professor Ely Karmon in his article Radical Islamic Groups in Turkey which is a loyal NATO ally, studies how Islamic revival in Turkey has been chased through four successive parties:
- National Order.
- National Salvation.
- Well Fare.
Then he concludes: “With the recent anti-Islamic crackdown in Turkey signaling the closure of the door-way for working with the secular Turkish system, terrorism may increase.”
- Afghanistan. Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, its Muslim organizations were dormant. The Soviet invasion enabled them to come to the forefront of politics. External financial support and armaments enabled them to foment a successful resistance campaign. However, there were no plans for the future.
Madleine Albright told CNN: “Basically U.S walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal leaving a vacuum, we have a tendency to walk away before the job is done.” This vacuum was later filled by Taliban.
- In his good book on Bin Ladin, Adam Robinson details how the phenomenon of Arab-Afghans came to be, and how the CIA channeled much aid to the Arab. Afghans in preference to indigenous frightens, because they were more predictable. He described the process by which Osama became a hero an Arab Guevara, and how he established a Jihad international legion ran as a multi-national corporation.
Neither Taliban, nor Osama were U.S creations, but by omission not by commission, U.S policy, or lack of it, nurtured their evolution. There is a direct link between illicit resistance and lack of democracy in many parts of the Muslim world. In the eyes of many in these countries America is seen as democratic at home but an ally of autocracy abroad. It is said that the west prefers dealing with autocrats because democrats are less plyable and tend to seek to negotiate the terms of bilateral relations on a more equitable basis, and/or because democracy has no place outside Europe and America. In both cases such perception poisons attitudes to America. Worse still, it compromises the campaign for freedom.
The prevalence of democracy is, among other things, an insurance policy against terrorism.
During the four past months, Taliban and Osama have been on the run.
But their potential challenge has not been eliminated.
In fact the way the military campaign developed, and Sharon’s measures, have helped Osama captive the imagination of the Arab street. The Economist of second February 2002 told of a Saudi intelligence survey of educated Saudis aged 25-41 which shows that by October no less than 95% supported Osama Bin Ladin’s cause.
Fifth Point: In his State of the Union speech, President Bush highlighted the cause of curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
There are only five recognized members of the nuclear club allowed by the N.P.T.
There are three treaties designed to curb weapons of mass destruction. They are: NPT, CWC, and BWC.
The India Pakistan case proved that competing countries, which have standing conflicts between themselves, will enter into an arms race whatever the treaties say.
- In the past, anti-proliferation depended on super-power policing the process. Now the powers seeking to arm themselves poole their experiences and develop.
- There is resort to the use of duel use goods.
- The black market for weapons technology, materials, and know how is exploited.
- The black market has become more elusive because more global.
- Former Soviet scientists and materials are available in the black market.
The search for weapons of mass destruction depends on three things: motivation, know-how, and resources.
If there is a will there is a way. As in the case with terrorism policing could delay but not stop proliferation.
The point I am making is that policing is necessary, but not sufficient.
While in prison in 1989, I published a book titled: The Challenges of the Nineties. In it I argued if the problems which divide the world remain unresolved, and International Relations come to some kind of continuous cold war, then while the haves of the world would be armed with weapons of mass destruction, the have nots would resort to massive spoiling and obstruction, namely, terrorism, drug cultivation, illegal immigration, irresponsible environmental policies, irresponsible demographic policies, irresponsible health policies, and so on.
The world which science and technology have made a global village will become an arena for conflicts whose agenda will be laid on the one hand by the hegemonists and on the other hand by the extremist rejectionists. A scenario which would give birth to a new dark age with dire consequences for human survival and civilization.
Sixth Point: In my intellectual pursuits, and my direct experiences, I have found Americans to be more idealistic, religious, and generous of character. Yes there is no constitutionally decreed religion in America but there is pervasive religiosity among officials, and God embracing statesmanship.
After the Second World War they have positively contributed with the Wilsonian ideas, after the second world war they have massively contributed to the ideas which shaped a better international community, and been articulate in dealing with the vanquished in a way which helped Germany and Japan which lost the war, to win in the circumstances of peace.
Although there was some reference to a New World Order, nothing proportionate to the magnitude of world problems materialized.
May be not idealism alone, but enlightened self-interest also, motivated America in anticipation of a global confrontation with communism to shape the post Second World War international community.
So much has come out of the tragic event of September 11th but if any light could come out of the tragedy, it is the fact that the type of ideas I am advocating here are being expressed and contemplated. Reviewing the relevant literature in books and articles and the media I know that I have company.
What is expected is a leadership response to challenge by all concerned but particularly, so by the United States in its enhanced status of strategic supremacy and victim one-upmanship.
American statesmanship must overcome short term lobby and retributive interests, and make its proportionate in-put in shaping a real just world order.
The cranks must not be allowed, by default, to lay down the global agenda.
Thank you for listening.
 Lecture presented to the National Defense Institution , U.S.A