Islam and West: Time for Enlightened Moderation

The events of the recent past have brought the Muslim world to a state of emergency, writes Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan. The world perception of Muslims as violent extremists has placed the moderate and peaceful faithful – the “innocent multitudes” – at odds with the world. The proliferation of suicide bombers and the events of 9/11 have bred a deep fear in the West of Islam and its followers, and historical conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Israel and Afghanistan further agitate the relationship. Musharraf has some harsh criticism for the people of his faith, describing the depths to which once “glorious” Islam has fallen: now “the poorest, most uneducated, most powerless and the most disunited [people] in the world.” Extremists jeopardize relations with the rest of the world and moderate Muslims are dragged down with their negative agenda, he says. But Musharraf’s “tough love” approach is aimed at producing radical change where it is badly needed. To combat the growing resentment, hatred, and violence between the Muslim world and the West, he proposes a strategy of “Enlightened Moderation,” the lifeline for a struggling Middle East, he believes. The plan calls upon Muslims to self-examine, to move beyond the stubbornness of the past that has led to current “despair and despondency,” rejecting militancy and moving towards an economic, political, educational, and social renaissance. “The root cause of extremism and militancy lies in political injustice, denial and deprivation,” ills from which Muslims have suffered too long, he says. Only through Enlightened Moderation will the Muslim world have a chance to reverse the consistent decline in world standing that peaceful Muslims have observed with sorrow. On the other end, Musharraf urges the western world to be swift and just in helping to resolve disputes and take an interest in the development of a part of the world that desperately needs investment in both tangible and psychological ways. He recommends reestablishing the influence of groups like the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference), using the spirit of Islam and a collective will to resurrect a civilization in crisis. –YaleGlobal

Islam and West: Time for Enlightened Moderation

Pervez Musharraf
Wednesday, June 2, 2004

OUR world is passing through a tumultuous period ever since the dawn of the 90s, with no signs of relenting. The suffering of the innocent multitudes, particularly my brethren in faith - the Muslims - at the hands of militants, extremists, terrorists, has inspired me to contribute towards bringing some order to this disorderly world. It was this very urge which led me to expound the strategy of Enlightened Moderation.

The world has become an extremely dangerous place to live in. The devastating power of plastic explosives, combined with hi-tech, remotely controlled activation means superimposed by a proliferation of suicide bombers becomes a lethal combination beyond any effective counter. The unfortunate reality is that both, the perpetrators of the crime as well as most of the sufferers from it are Muslims. This has inevitably made non-Muslims believe, wrongfully, that Islam is a religion of intolerance, militancy and terrorism. This thesis is rapidly evolving across the globe: connecting Islam to fundamentalism, fundamentalism to extremism and extremism to terrorism. We can protest, however vigorously, against this labelling, but the reality is that such arguments are not likely to win this formidable battle of minds against us. To compound our apathy further, we are probably the poorest, most uneducated, most powerless and the most disunited in the world.

The stark reality that faces anyone with compassion for this common heritage of mankind - our world, mother earth - is, what legacy we want to leave for our future generations? On the other side, the challenge that confronts the Muslims is to drag ourselves out of the pit we find ourselves in, through individual exaltation and collective socio-economic emancipation. Something has to be done quickly to stop this carnage in the world and for the Muslims to stem the downward slide, if we are to prevent ourselves from being marginalized.

My idea for untangling this Gordian knot is the strategy of Enlightened Moderation which I think is a win for all - the Muslim and the non Muslim world. This is a two-pronged strategy. The role by the Muslim world involves shunning militancy, extremism and adopting the path of socio-economic uplift. The other role to be played by the West, and the US in particular, must aim at resolutely resolving all political disputes with justice and also assisting in the socio-economic uplift of the deprived Muslim world.

I would like to explain the logic of the strategy of Enlightened Moderation and elaborate on the methodology for the Muslim world to execute its part of the strategy. First of all we need to understand that the root cause of extremism and militancy lies in political injustice, denial and deprivation. Political injustice to a nation or a people when combined with stark poverty and illiteracy makes the explosive mix leading towards an acute sense of deprivation, hopelessness and powerlessness. A people suffering from a combination of all these lethal ills are easily available cannon fodder for the propagation of militancy and the perpetration of extremist, terrorist acts.

It would be remiss if, in defence of the people of my faith, I did not trace back the genesis of the Muslims getting labelled with the extremist terrorist tag. Before the anti Soviet, Afghan War started, the Palestine dispute alone was the cause of unrest or concern in the Muslim world which led to a general unification of Muslims in favour of Palestinians and against Israel. The Afghan war of the 80s, supported and facilitated by the West, against the Soviet Union, saw the emergence and nurturing of pan Islamic militancy. Islam as a religion was used to harness mass, worldwide Muslim support. Subsequently, the atrocities and ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Bosnia, the Chechen uprising, Kashmir freedom struggle and invigorated Palestinian Intifada all erupted in the 90’s after the Soviet disintegration. To make matters worse the militancy sparked in Afghanistan which needed to be defused after the end of the Cold War, was allowed to fester for the whole decade of 90s. This festering wound of Afghanistan with fighters from the entire Muslim world existing within the period of upheaval in other Muslim nations turned multidirectional, looking for new conflict zones where Muslims were suffering.

This saw the birth of Al-Qaeda. All this while the Palestinian Intifada kept gathering momentum, uniting and angering Muslims across the globe. Then came the horror of 9/11 and the angry reaction of US against Taleban/Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. All subsequent reactions of the US, their domestic responses against Muslims, their attitude towards Palestine and operation in Iraq led to total polarisation of the Muslim masses against the US. Why this needs to be recapitulated is to prove that it is not Islam as a religion which preaches or infuses militancy and extremism but the political disputes which led to antagonism in the Muslim masses. All this is history now. What has been done cannot be undone. But this situation cannot be allowed to fester. For the sake of universal harmony, a remedy has to be found. The cry of the day is for the West to resolve the political disputes enumerated above with justice as their part of the commitment to the strategy of Enlightened Moderation.

I would now like to turn to the Muslim World, for whom my heart weeps. What we need today is self-introspection. Who are we, what do we as Muslims stand for, where are we going, where we should be headed and how we can reach there? The answers to all these questions, I see as the Muslim prong of the strategy of Enlightened Moderation.

We have had a glorious past. Islam exploded on the world scene as flag bearer of a just, lawful, tolerant and value oriented society. We had faith in human exaltation through knowledge and enlightenment. We exemplified tolerance within ourselves and with people of other faiths. The Armies of Islam did not march forward to convert people to Islam through the sword, despite what perceptions may be, but to deliver them from the darkness they were under, through the visible example of their virtues. What better projection can be found of these deeper values of Islam than the example of our great Prophet (peace be upon him) who personified justice, compassion, tolerance, generosity of spirit, austerity with a spirit of sacrifice, and a burning desire for raising humanity to a better world?

The Muslim world today is distant from all these values. We have been left far behind in social, moral and economic development. Unfortunately during our decline we remained in our own shell and refused to learn from others. We thus reached the present depths of despair and despondency. We need to face stark realities. Is the way ahead one of confrontation and militancy? Will this path lead us to our past glory and also show the light of progress and development to the world?

My Muslim brothers, the time for renaissance has come. The way forward is to head towards enlightenment and concentrate on human resource development through poverty alleviation, education, health and social justice. If this be our direction, it cannot be achieved through a confrontationist approach. We have to adopt the path of moderation and a conciliatory approach to wash off the common belief that Islam is a religion of militancy and is also in conflict with modernisation, democracy and secularism. All this has to be done with a realisation that, in the world we live in, the doctrine of fairness is not always available to us. This is our prong of the strategy of Enlightened Moderation which we need to deliver.

If this be the strategic course to be adopted by the Muslim World, what are the operational parameters to be executed? The OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) is our collective body. We need to infuse life into this body which at present is in a state of near impotence. It has to be restructured to meet the challenges of the 21st century, fulfill the aspirations of the Muslim world and take us towards our emancipation. The committee of eminent persons being formed to recommend a restructured OIC is indeed a big step towards the right direction. We have to show resolve, rise above self-interests for our common good in the very spirit that Islam teaches us.

The world at large and the powers that be must realise that confrontation and use of force is no more the option available to bring ultimate peace. Justice must be done and seen to be done. Let it not be said by our future generations that we, the leaders of today took humanity towards apocalypse.

The author is President of Pakistan.

Copyright 2004 The Khaleej Times