The concerns with Islam are far more significant than simply “radical jihadist” against the duality of western politics and ideology. It is an internal struggle that results in external consequences. Yet, with all the outrage and justifiable retaliations, religious reformation is not a new concept.
Ask most people about the Christian Reformation and in all likelihood a brief summary of the Protestants breaking away from Catholicism, Richard the Lionheart, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or possibly King Henry VIII of England would be the topic of discussion. Yet, any reformation does not include the word “brief” or “brievity.” Few would take into account that the Reformation consumed most of the 16th century and a goodly portion of the 17th or the sheer cost in terms of human life. By some accounts, this amounts to nearly 40% of the populations of the kingdoms and principalities of what is now Germany, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries. English and French losses compound this number. These are important facts to bear in mind in the early 21st century when we consider what I believe to be a similar and inevitable Reformation in Islam.
Of course there are practical distinctions between the root causes of the Reformation in Christianity and the pending (if not present, initial stage) one in Islam. The former was political in base and in response to social and economic oppressive rule by the Pope and Church (e.g. infallibility of the Pope, sale of indulgences, preeminence of the priesthood) while the latter involves the disagreement over succession of leadership following the death of the Prophet Muhammed though, with socio-political and economic ramifications. While acknowledging these distinctions, the similarities are more notable and of significance in today’s growing violent actions.
Christianity took roughly 1600 years from the birth of Jesus to reach its reformation stage. Islam began approximately 1500 years ago around 622 AD (usually attributed to the recognized date that Muhammed received the revelations from the archangel Gabriel that became the foundation for the Qu’ran). Given the transformative impact of technology over the past century, we have a timetable that is essentially equivalent from a religious evolution (or revolution) standpoint. Another key factor is both Reformations involved a dominant party; in the case of Islam that is the Sunnis who account for 80%-plus of Muslims and a minority part, the Shi’a which constitute a little more than 10%. The Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina lie in Saudi Arabia, the titular leader of the Sunni majority sect while in Iran lie the holy sites relevant to the successional dispute between the two sects, is the largest Shi’a-dominant country, and generally serves as the global voice for Shi’a Muslims. The similarity to the division of Europe between larger, more populated Catholic kingdoms and principalities in the central and southern parts of the continent and the generally smaller Protestant kingdoms and principalities in the predominantly northern section of the continent is striking.
As a result, the temporal and demographic conditions are ripe for reformational change and if the non-Muslim world is to effectively address extremist Islamic terrorism, we must address the matter from a reformation standpoint. The simple answer is to let the Sunni and Shi’a wage their war(s), lose millions of adherents on both sides until the religious fervor dies or dampens of its own accord. This was the path of the Christian Reformation; once enough blood was shed on the battlefields and destruction was incurred, the remaining populous lost much of their zealousness and the vast majority have become what we refer to today as ‘Sunday morning Christians.” However, that reformation occurred in the time of swords, bows and arrows, a cannon or two, and the very few emerging flintlocks; weaponry that placed a premium on physical and geographic proximity. In contrast, the Muslim Reformation is occurring in a ballistic age. Proximity is less consequential than the ability to input GPS coordinates into a potential nuclear missile and fire. Even the up-close impact of suicide bombers is multiplied given the advances in explosive potential. Thus, it is not a viable option to sit back and let Muslims eliminate each other on the global stage; engagement is necessary, an engagement of focus and energy that will hasten the reformation cycle and yield a world of less militant Muslims who are content to worship Allah in their mosques and/or homes.
Engagement cannot only be of a military and special operations nature. Our relations with Muslim nations must come with their commitment to raise the educational access (boys and girls) and academic standards (math, science, philosophy, and the arts over simple Koranic recitation and manipulation) for their respective populations. From my experiences in combat, as a traveler of the Middle East, basic tourist, and student at the University of Jordan, I believe that most Muslim parents would prefer to see their children become doctors, lawyers, astronauts, and fulfill their potential than mindless automatons with a disdain and hatred of life on this world. This is where some potential/tricky two-stepping comes into play.
We begin by supporting and strengthening Muslims who have adapted a more progressive view of Islam. A view that accepts a modernizing world, duality of thought, disavows the tenets of extremism. In the reformational context, this means we recognize and support the reformation efforts in Sunni and Shi’a domains. Females in both sects chafe under forced notions of inferiority and impurity. Women from across the globe can participate and show the Muslim sects the potential for progress and independence.
At the same time, the developed nations must work to isolate those Muslim governments who refuse to embrace more secular socio-economic, legal and government policies and institutions. Today, the Catholics still have a Pope (a bit of a reformist, himself), yet he is not setting the rules for civic and political participation in their home countries. Yes, we may pay more for gas, but it is of greater benefit to bring legitimacy to reformist Muslims who see their religion as one that is compatible with modern social norms. Extremist conservative Muslims must become like the conservative religious populations in the West, a marginalized minority in social and political realms.
There is little doubt that this will be the eventual outcome for Islam, yet we (the U.S. and the free world) must increase our due diligence with regard to our immigration policies. We must expand and focus our intelligence capabilities, and rebuild our conventional forces while utilizing (without over-extending) our special operations capabilities. ISIS alone may not be an existential threat, the Muslim Brotherhood may also not be a global factor, nor the other terrorist JV teams, yet the potential economic fallout, mass casualty potential, and peace of mind that comes with security is at risk; not from a single Islamic nation or extreme faction, but from a reformation whose violence is at its infancy stage. Islam must be engaged, but also provided a path for their coexistence in a modern world.
Featured image courtesy of raymondibrahim.com