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Amir Butler: Islam is the Answer


By Amir Butler

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, addressing an IT conference in Minnesota, extolled the importance of innovation and ideas to the technology industry she represents. She spoke of a civilization whose language became the universal language of much of the world; whose multicultural armies enabled peace and prosperity; whose commerce extended from the Americas to China and who, driven by invention, gave humanity the gifts of ‘algebra’ and ‘algorithms’. The society cured disease, carried out complicated surgical operations such as the removal of cataracts, and laid the foundations for modern medicine and physiology. Whilst most of the world was steeped in ignorance, fearful of ideas, this civilization kept knowledge alive and passed it on to others. That civilization, she told her audience, was the Islamic civilization up until the 17th century.

It’s a civilization that is a long way from the corrupt, despotic regimes that rule over the Muslim societies of today; societies steeped in intellectual stagnation and underdevelopment. After leading the world for a thousand years in the arts and sciences, the Muslim world finds itself languishing at the bottom of world literacy rates. Whereas the Prophet Muhammad allowed the people to choose his successor, those who rule over the Muslims today are either presidents-for-life or monarchies. The system of consultative government employed by the Prophet and his successors has been replaced by the systems of quasi-fascist authoritarianism that characterizes most every country in the Muslim world today.

Despite that, it has become fashionable in some circles to impugn Islam as the cause of all these problems. However, the thousand years of intellectual advancement, nurtured and supported by governments that were theocratic shariah-states refutes this idea. As does the fact that the Muslim decline coincides almost exactly with an abandonment of the role of religion in public life – from the gradual corruption of the Ottomans to the socialist Saddam Hussein and the atheistic Ba’ath party.

Since the end of colonialism, the Muslim world has been looking for a saviour to lead it back to its former glory. Arab nationalism died a humiliating death in 1967 when Israel decimated the Arab armies. Ba’athism has died its death with the collapse of Saddam’s neo-Stalinist junta. Today, Muslims are increasingly looking to their history and realizing that their civilization’s past greatness was intrinsically tied to the role of Islam in their societies.

It’s a vision that some may deride as “utopian”; an impossible dream just like communism. Yet, is not the possession of ideals to which we can aspire, a feature of all societies? The United States constitution, for example, deems all men are created equal, and yet it is only recently that women and blacks won the right to vote.

Naturally, the Arab regimes view a resurgence of political Islam as a threat to their rule. The Algerian government had a near-death experience when it realized that the 1991 election seemed certain to usher the Islamic party into power. The solution was to cancel democracy; plunging the country into bloody civil war The Turkish army had to oust the democratically-elected Refah Party when it revealed a slightly Islamic hue; too much to stomach for the anti-religion Kemalists of the Turkish military establishment. Other states, well aware of the likely outcome of any election, just don’t bother with the veneer of democratic process.

Despite the undemocratic, authoritarian and repressive nature of most Muslim governments, the West continues to enjoy a Faustian pact with these regimes: keep the oil flowing and don’t jeopardize our interests, and we’ll support you in the interests of ‘maintaining stability in the region’.

Unfortunately, this unwavering support for despotic, unpopular regimes in the Middle East has come at considerable price to the United States: terrorism. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the September 11 hijackers were from Egypt and Saudi; two of America’s closest allies in the region.

Muslim anger at the US stems not from a hatred of Western values, but Western support for the dictatorships that oppress them. The crucial juncture now is whether the United States and her allies will begin to support real political pluralism, or just replace one dictatorship with another.

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Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC). He can be contacted at Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC) PO Box 180 PASCOE VALE SOUTH VIC 3044 Email: Web:

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