Can Islam Enter Modernity?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
As Tom Friedman observed so well on Sunday in The New York Times, and as has been said repeatedly here, only the Muslim world will be able to solve its internal strife; not the U.S. and not the West. The problem is as Friedman observed and as the great scholars of the Middle East such as Bernard Lewis have suggested for years, Islam stopped developing in the 16-17th Centuries and never dealt with modernity. From being one of the most advanced civilizations at the time, Islam stood still and the West past it by. This is not to suggest that modernity has it all right or all the answers, but Islam failed to grow as the world changed. It did not adapt to a changing world.
As does Islam, so too Christianity, Judaism, and most religions also have a problem with compromise, but they recognize that authoritarian and religious or ideological rigidity is unacceptable and solves no problems; a non-coercive, live-and let-live approach is the only way to coexist. Modernity requires a willingness to compromise. They may not like it or do it—certainly all the time—but they understand that is the way that politics especially must work. Islam never has even come to the point where it was willing to accept the legitimacy of an alternative explanation or that compromise is the way problems are solved.
Admittedly, Western states have repeatedly gone to war over the centuries producing winners and losers. After wars were over, nations—winners and losers– moved on. In Islam, the concept of the holy war—the Jihad–is totally inconsistent with this notion. If you lose a battle, you do so only to fight again tomorrow, because inevitably you believe you are destined to win. . Compromise does not exist in the lexicon of Muslim politics. For those Western states seeking progress and advancement with Islam, this attitude has produced stagnation and more recently total frustration. Enter the dilemma of how to deal with ISIS.
President Obama wants to bring democracy and democratic values to all nations and all countries; yet he understands that equality, liberty, civil liberties are totally inconsistent with Islamic religion and ideology. He wants it to work but it cannot, will not, and never has worked. He needs to comprehend the genuine threat that the West faces from a radical Islamic world which will stop at nothing to win; because ultimately they believe they are destined to prevail. Loss of human life happens in the struggle to establish the Islamic caliphate.
This is not a case of live and let live; rather it is accept our way of life. The challenge is how to stop it from overturning Western values and to do so without needing to compromise too many of our own values and beliefs. The real challenge will be whether the new coalition being developed to attack the metastasizing Islamic State will ultimately need to make deals with some of the other extreme devils such as Assad and Khamenei.