Across the Islamic world troubles abound.
In Pakistan a 14 year old Muslim girl is shot in the head because the Taliban does not agree with her views on female education. In Mali and Syria Muslims fight each other for land and political control. In Turkey and Iraq the PKK reignite their quest for autonomy, while in Mindanao the MILF surrender their arms for a chance at peace. In Burma stateless Rohingyan Muslims rot inside prison camps, the forgotten faces of the ‘new Myanmar.’
Alongside the trial of the 9/11 accused, the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings, the simmering unease in Egypt, Libya and Yemen following 2011’s revolutions, the continual deliberation of ‘what to do about Iran’ and the unanswerable questions that are Palestine and Afghanistan, fuel is given to the fire that Islam itself is the problem.
Many subscribe to this theory, from seasoned academics to fringe politicians to raging lunatics lurking in the darkest corners of the internet, all of them citing a long list of historical and contemporary abuses and wars supposedly conducted in the name of Islam. They use convenient quotes from the Koran to support their claims, while ignoring those that contradict their beliefs. Stonings, beheadings, suicide bombers, honour killings and FGM are presented as common events in the Islamic world. Finally, they invoke the dreaded Sharia law and warn us of the apocalypse it will reign down upon Western civilisation.
Sure, there are a lot of bad things that happen in Islamic societies, but focus on them, on the ‘single story,’ and a warped perspective of Islam is what will manifest.
Islam, like any other religion, can mean a life of peace in the right hands, or a destructive force in the wrong ones. Too often, those who abuse Islam, who claim to represent its true form and use it to further their political power, economic gain or warped ideologies, are associated with the religion on a level unjust to those who do its name proud. Moreover, those who use Islam to promote peace, understanding and love are not given anywhere near the air time to do so. Muammar Gaddafi was no more a Muslim than Robert Mugabe is a Christian. Somali pirate groups are no more aligned with Islamic values than US arms manufacturers are with Christian ones and the Taliban is no more representative of Islam than the Ku Klux Klan is of Christianity.
Islam reaches right across the world. Its historical influence stretches from Indonesia to China, India, Turkey, the Middle East and as far as Guinea and Senegal in West Africa. In Australia it is the countries second fastest growing religion, while in America Islamic groups played a large part in the civil rights movement and in the 21st century it continues to grow. It must be doing something right. Throughout the centuries since its creation, Islam has developed and mixed with the societies it has come into contact with, therefore many different ‘Islamic cultures’ exist today – African Islam, Arab Islam, Persian Islam, Asian Islam, Turkish Islam to name but a few. No one is truer than another; they have all blended and created their own version of Islamic culture.
Many of the ‘problems’ with Islam, commonly cited by Islamic critics, existed before its arrival, such as FGM, polygamy, slavery and conservative views of women and girls in society. Furthermore, these practices are not exclusively associated with Islam, with many African and Middle Eastern societies using some or all of them before Islam. Therefore, these issues should be seen as cultural rather than religious. Islamic societies are a blend of local traditions, pre Islamic culture, post Islamic culture and contemporary political and societal influence. Yet too often, those who want to denigrate Islam present these practices as a purely Islamic creation, ignoring the historical practices in existence before its arrival.
Authoritarianism is a common theme of contemporary politics through much of the Islamic world. The critics’ view is that Islam and democracy cannot co exist. They are inherently incompatible. Yet only last year Muslims across North Africa and the Middle East swept previously untouchable governments from power in its name. Democracy is not the problem of Islamic politics. Rather the lust for power, money and resources are their vices, while in some instances foreign support assists their grasp on power. Democracy in various forms exists in many Islamic countries, Turkey being arguably the best example. Others have had it forced on them, such as Iraq by the US. While democracy, as the West knows it, may not be flourishing in the Islamic world, indigenous and hybrid versions will grow and are growing, mainly from the seeds sown in the Arab Spring of 2011.
Other forms of discrimination such as racism, extremism, sexism, poverty, repression and persecution are prevalent throughout the Islamic world. However, they do not exist because of Islam and are no more widespread than anywhere else on earth. They exist, like they do everywhere in the world, because of fear, inequality, difference, ignorance, power and hatred.
Islam is not bad. It is not a threat. It is not a danger.
Ignorance is, misinformation is, hatred is, inequality is, discrimination is and spreading all of that is.