Global Resilience Solutions > No Good Options: Why the West is Stuck on the Middle East

No Good Options: Why the West is Stuck on the Middle East

The biggest immediate result of the tragic events in Paris on 13 November has been the re-examination of the refugee crisis in light of the problem of Islamism. Unfortunately, this debate has been anything but balanced, with some so steadfast in toeing the politically correct line that they will not even honestly discuss the impact of this huge migration on Western society, and others so simplistic in their rejection of Muslim immigrants of any stripe that they can’t have a cogent conversation on the topic. Hate crimes have been committed against Muslims which only reinforce the absolutism of alienation which jihadis espouse. None of this helps us.

Here, for better or worse, is my take.

Islam in the West

Two things are missing from the debate. The first is a frank appraisal of the overall impact of Islam on Western society, or rather the reasons for its frequent refusal to play by the rules of Western society. Second, there is the tendency to oversimplify a very complicated social and cultural reality.

Consider the following. How many Muslim immigrants, families and communities in the West do you think espouse the view that husbands have a right to beat their wives? How many agree that a woman who has sex other than within marriage has dishonoured her family and should be severely punished or even killed? How many agree that apostasy should be punished by death?

Before you answer, consider that each of these points is undeniably enshrined in Islamic religious law and supported by the Qur’an and the Hadiths:

“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.” (Abu Dawud 2142)

Two people guilty of “illegal” intercourse are brought to Muhammad, who orders them both stoned to death. Apparently their act was out of love, since the verse records the man as trying to shield the woman from the stones. (Bukhari 6:60:79)

“…The Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ “ (Bukhari 52:260)

“And when you meet those who misbelieve, non-Muslims, while fighting in Jihad, cut off their heads until you have massacred them.” (Qur’an 47:4)
This is not to say that all Muslims think this way- many educated Muslims are just as unlikely to hold these beliefs as you or I. The point, however, is that a surprising number actually do – the statistics on Muslim views in these reports are typical.

How many Muslim immigrants believe that Sharia law should be instituted in Western countries, either to govern Islamic citizens, or, as a very vocal movement in the UK demands, universally? Again, bear in mind that this position is explicitly supported as a fundamental goal of Islam in the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Quran 9:29)

This way of thinking is fundamentally at odds with Western values of life, liberty, freedom of speech and conscience, free will and equality, the ground rules on which pluralism is founded. Within the enclave existence of so many Muslim immigrant communities, given their economic conditions and the relative isolation of their more vulnerable members, nothing has happened to achieve a fundamental shift from the values that enable beatings, honour killings and murder of apostates to continue in their home countries and toward new values of coexistence and equality. No one is teaching them this new way of thinking, and nothing in the process of gaining citizenship presents a clear and binding choice between these two worldviews.

Here is what Maryam Namazie, a former Muslim and well-known expert on Islamic issues, has to say about some of the issues facing Western societies during a talk at the London School of Economics:

The Complex Reality of the Middle East

To understand the complexity of this problem, we have only to look honestly at the situation in the Muslim world. Take the Egyptian Revolution. Educated students and urban residents, steeped in global culture and democratic values, achieved the end of a dictatorship. In the elections that followed, it was not their values that triumphed. It was the values of the uneducated rural majority, who were not only indoctrinated by the radical Muslim Brotherhood, but often depended on the Brotherhood for their material survival. The result- a radical government, under which no minority was safe.
This is not an isolated example: Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia- wherever the majority rules, minorities and women are not safe and radicalism spreads.

The bitter truth is that secular tyrants backed by a minority have been far more effective at providing basic safety for vulnerable groups than democracy has in the Middle East. Material problems- poverty, warlord rule, displacement- are a significant factor in this dynamic. But the mentality that enables it is alive and well in the population, and is carried by them to the Western world.

The Humanitarian Dilemma and the Impossible Task of Sorting

Because the West is divided between liberals who refuse to approach these issues with intellectual honesty for fear of being thought intolerant, and radical conservatives who easily justify the labels with which the media brands them, it has no means of processing this reality. The hard truth is that there is no way any country can effectively determine who among its immigrants will continue to hold values at odds with the founding ideas of their host society, and who has come to participate fully in that society. How do you separate the people who come to Canada to be Canadians from those who come to promote Islamic law in Canada or who will enable those who do? The one thing a democracy cannot and should not tolerate is the promotion of an ideology that stands against equality and free speech. In our great conversation, we can tolerate many things, but not the suppression of free participation.

So what about the enormous humanitarian problem we face? No one has the resources even to effectively weed out radicals from among refugees, or refugees from economic migrants (a murky distinction to begin with, since war has a tendency to destroy economies). Do we accept everyone, with all the huge expense, social consequences and risks involved? Do we reject everyone and condemn innocent people to death or a miserable life? Where and how would we even begin to draw the lines?

The Intervention Trap

Do we intervene to stop the conflict that is causing the misery? Given our dismal record, how can we be sure that that intervention won’t cause more problems? Do we stay out of the Middle East entirely? There are no good options, no firm middle ground, and many ways we could make things worse.

If this can be said about the refugee problem in a vacuum, the same goes doubly for our reaction to incidents like the Paris attacks. After 9/11, the United States launched two poorly-targeted wars that ended up costing the country far more in lives, prestige and money than any terrorist group could possibly have managed on its own. The net result of that failed policy is ISIS. Granted, a lot of that can be blamed on specific policy failures such as the de-Ba’athification process that left so many trained people ripe for radicalisation and recruitment. But is any response to the present situation likely to do better?

Training local troops is clearly not enough. Air strikes are next to useless against a group like ISIS (notwithstanding the incident where a jihadi took and posted a selfie in front of a headquarters building which was soon reduced to rubble). The West is unwilling to support Assad, who, though a monster, could at least keep Islamism in check. The formation of a strong Kurdish state could be a significant stabilising factor- the Kurds are distinctly non-radical, proven to be able to form stable governments and militarily effective. Again, for political reasons, the West is unlikely to go this route. The remaining mass of ineffective governments and contending militias are utterly useless and intractable. Putting “boots on the ground” without a viable plan for short-term stabilisation and long-term governance, peace-building and reconstruction would be a catastrophic mistake.

Unproductive Cycles

As far as terrorism goes, we risk becoming locked in a cycle of provocation and rash overreaction. Where refugees are concerned, there is another cycle of successive Middle Eastern crises leading to refugee crises leading to insoluble dilemmas. The two related problems are tremendously frustrating, but decisions, for better or worse, do need to be made.

Only an Honest Approach Can Help Us Now

Even if there are no good decisions available, we owe it to ourselves to begin by bringing a frank examination of these complex problems into public discourse. And this begins by doing the one thing Western society seems the least willing to do – to ask the hard questions about this seemingly intractable religious ideology called Islam.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

  1. comment-bottom

    Well expressed article. Despite the fact tolerance is an essential and indispensable value for all of us who live for the common good and well-being of the human family, the one thing that we cannot tolerate is intolerance.

  2. Posted 2 years ago

    Is there a belief that every Muslim follows there religion to the letter of the law? I know you did refer to that when you mentioned some of the more extreme views that are present in their holy books. But how many Christians really understand the Bible. It seems to me that given the opportunity these people would be happy to be in a secure place and have a job and a place to live with their families. However, with the current economic problems in the world not even our own children can expect to get work. I think this creates division and mistrust. In Paris, as you probably know there are enclaves on the perimeter where young Muslims feel isolated and not part of the culture of the city.

    The fact that the woman are required to wear these garments seems to create a great deal of nervousness. It is amazing how threatened people feel about this.
    I agree, a very complex issue and the fact that there are so many groups under the title Islam makes it harder to understand. I do believe that it is the Baath militants who were displaced who are misleading these young men and woman and are undertaking these terrorists acts for their own desires.

  3. Posted 2 years ago

    Jill, you might notice that neither the Paris attackers nor the more recent San Bernardino (USA) ones were economically deprived. They were simply carrying out their actions in the name of their religion, a religion that quite explicitly demands the subjugation of the non-Muslim world by force. The idea that economic inequalities are at the root of it is a typical Western mistake and one that many, including myself, made for years. It’s an illusion that has also distorted Western perceptions of Palestinian militancy and led us to the naive belief that if we get the two sides talking, a settlement can be reached. Unfortunately, we were deluding ourselves.

  4. Posted 2 years ago

    Thank-you for this critical piece on Islamism. Maryam Namazie video is accurate. Your point on the silent supporters within some of these communities is very accurate — it is surprising how many Muslims agree with Islamism ideals or extreme anti-Israel beliefs. Should these populations reach critical mass within Canada, we will find ourselves with diminished rights or even worse an angry backlash — neither option is palatable.

    One option to screen an immigrant to Canada from an Islamist state and test their understanding of our Charter of Rights and Freedom of Expression is to ask them to draw a picture of Mohamed and then take a photo of them with their artwork and finally post it on-line.
    And finally, Ms Namazie point that the UK has thousands of people subject to sharia type rules or unacceptable cultural practices also holds true in Canada. I fear for the girls within these communities, gay men and all folks that wish to take advantage of Canada’s opportunities. Increasingly I fear for our country.

  5. Posted 2 years ago

    Thank you for this timely piece of writing and the video. It has brought up issues and discusses them in a way that I can stand without becoming ill. I have reposted on my FB page.

Add a comment