Has the World Changed Since September 11th?
Islamic scholar Ludwig Amman asserts that 9/11 ought to be taken as an alarm signal. In his essay, he outlines what the West and Islam ought to do in order to grow beyond mutual stereotypes.
If only it were true! If only everything really had changed forever on September 11th – wouldn’t it be wonderful? Germany would no longer be shirking overdue reforms; and in Palestine, radicals on both sides of the fence wouldn’t be sabotaging every possible chance of peace. Reality looks very different, though; for if there’s one thing one can rely on, it’s the power of suicidal stubbornness. Nonetheless, September 11th did mark the beginning of a transformation. And perhaps the mass murder of that day will eventually turn out to have been a salutary shock.
With 9/11, the West realized the fundamentalist threat
For at least one thing has changed: the massive threat posed by Al Qaeda and related terrorist groups is at last being taken seriously. We can no longer close our eyes to the existence of a radical version of Islam that had already declared war on the West years ago – both in word and in deed. We are shocked, belatedly, when we read Osama bin Laden’s calls to commit murder: “It is the duty of every Muslim in every country to kill or to fight against the Americans their allies, whether these be soldiers or civilians.” (1998). We are equally appalled when we realise that media outlets such as CNN and ABC (hungry for ratings) were happy to interview this man. It’s right that we feel these emotions, for the terrorists had announced their intention of launching a second attack on the World Trade Center long before they actually did so; and only if we’re worried enough can we avoid the monstrous security failures that allowed the terrible “success” of that second attack. Only in this way can modern Muslims and non-Muslims face up to the challenge posed by those who would wage war in the name of a faith or a culture.
September 11th 2001 marked the beginning of the first sustained and broad-based debate on Islam in the West since the Iranian revolution of 1979. Innumerable books, TV programmes and events have since helped to cast light on the topic. That represents real progress – even if the shock did lead some people to switch from their previous, all too credulous defence of Islam to sudden and hysterical anti-Islamism. The huge success of Oriana Fallaci’s rabble-rousing book, “The Rage and the Pride” is one horrifying example of this tendency; the anti-Islamic fundamentalist “Enlightenment” proposed by the MERKUR editor Karl-Heinz Bohrer is another.
The West will have to aid the Islamic world to regain health
Fortunately, levelheaded Muslims are now also making themselves heard; they are formulating the self-criticism that Islam so urgently needs, and they’re doing so without slandering 1.2 billion Muslims as terrorists. Two of these books are outstanding: “The Malady of Islam” by Abdelwahab Meddeb; and “The trouble with Islam: A wake-up call for honesty and change”, by Irshad Manji. Both authors refuse to blame others - the West, the Americans, the Zionists or the Crusaders - for all of the ills afflicting the Islamic world. These books mark a genuine breakthrough; for those who are so hypnotized by resentment and one-sided critiques of “Orientalism” as to see themselves exclusively as victims will remain incapable of shouldering responsibility for their own future. Certainly, the West will also have to play its part in helping the Islamic world regain its health. For the enemies of the Western world will find it easy to survive and flourish as long as the Al Qaeda propagandists are capable of denouncing real evils, and as long as the West betrays its own professed values by supporting the dictatorships in the Islamic world and tolerating the colonialist occupation of the West Bank.
Turkey is an important bridge between Europe and Islam
This Spring, the US strongly advised their client state to make concessions, which suggests they have now recognised that terrorism is rooted in politics and in the circumstances of everyday life. What remains to be realised is that only a changeover of power can help the Islamic world. The infinitely corrupt and incompetent secular dictators must give way to the representatives of moderate Islamism, who are completing the process of de-colonisation by struggling to create their own - Islamic - modernity. Here, too, Turkey is playing a pioneering role. This presents Europe with an extremely thorny problem: should Turkey, a Europeanised country at the southeastern border of the EU, develop in “elective affinity” with us? Do we want to welcome Turkey as our chosen partner in the emerging regional association of modern “Eurogenic” countries, at the price of recalibrating the balance of our own cultural identity? For dying societies (Germany’s current birth rate: 1.34) inevitably lose their capacity to determine the character of the future. The discussion on Europe’s future has now been opened, and the ignorant resentments expressed by Hans-Ulrich Wehler will hopefully not be the last words on the subject.
Ludwig Ammann, Qantara.de; Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan
© 2003 Qantara.de