Recently on "Meet the Press," former British P.M. Tony Blair was interviewed following his visit to the inauguration of the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus in Dallas. One of the his key observations was that the second Iraq War unearthed the real elephant in the room for the next several decades. No, it wasn't the WMDs that were the official reason for the mishandled war. The elephant was, and is, the dangerous mixture of ideologies, religious, and culture clashes sweeping the Middle East: the history of arbitrary post-Ottoman national borders that put uneasy multicultural, religious, ethnic, and tribal groups into the same "country;" a history of powerful strongmen and dictators who hold onto power for decades; wrenching poverty and illiteracy for the large underclasses in several areas; and the historic fundamental schism between the two two primary branches of Islam, Shia (10-20%) and Sunni (80-90%).
Iran is the spiritual and economic center of the Shia branch, although there are sizable Shia populations as well as other minority tribal and philosophical offshoots in many other African and Asian counties. Saudi Arabia is the spiritual and economic center of the more numerous Sunni branch and the home of many of the most sacred locations where an "understanding" exists between the religious leaders and the House of Saud to couple the royal family's sovereign right to their support of very conservative interpretations of Islam, called Wahhabism. The potential for regional war lies both in the spiritual friction between the Shia and Sunni, many of which consider the Shia as infidels, the economic domination the Sunni leadership imposes on the majority Shia in several countries, as well with attacks of radical Muslims on western interests.
Unfortunately, highly visible worldwide acts of terrorism have brought to light a perverse radicalization of Islam in a tiny, but committed, fraction of its adherents. No one factor appears to dominate, but widespread poverty and illiteracy in many areas, bitterness toward western values—and to some degree historic exploitation of the natural resources—and the lack of a central religious authority in many Muslim populations, along with numerous Internet sites that incite hatred and vengeance allow extremism to germinate.
I have read the Qur'an, a book considered by its adherents to be the literal verbatim word of God. Islam is based on the Abrahamic foundation, recognizes many or most of the same figures of the Christian Old Testament, and designates Mohammed as the one true prophet of Allah, "the one true God." It is written in Arabic from the seventh century. Like the Bible, the Qur'an has great and glittering prose, and like the Bible, it includes specific sentences and phrases that are outlandish to most, if taken literally. These phrases are used by fundamentalist adherents of both major religions to justify positions that most people feel are artifacts of the culture of that period of time, and are not eternal truths.
Strife and unrest between Islam and other religions and secular interests exist currently in many portions of the world, including western Myanmar (Burma), parts of India, the southern Philippines, and northern Nigeria. In addition, concentrated Muslim populations who live in majority secular, Christian, or Hindu societies often demand Sharia Law. The Qur'an specifies that observant Muslims are to live under the divine Sharia law—that mankind is not authorized to make laws that are different from those written in the Word. A fundamentalist interpretation of Islam prohibits any form of government or legal system other than that described in the Qur'an, since "only Allah, not mankind, is able to proscribe the laws to be followed." Democracy and other forms of participatory government forms are not allowed by this belief system.
Islam has instructions for conversion of non-believers as follows: Muslims are commanded to fight unbelievers until they are either dead, converted to Islam, or in a permanent state of subjugation under Muslim domination. Allowing people of other faiths to live and worship independently of Islamic rule is not an option. Here is the source of this insert: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/013-forced-conversion.htm
Islam certainly is not the only religion with fanatic outliers. Christianity also has its radicals, including anti-government extremists as well as twisted logic that powers a tiny number who murder abortionists, convinced that one form of an act that they consider murder justifies another. Judaism includes ultra-fundamentalists who believe God gave them the land, and it's not only acceptable but an act of divine order to murder and/or harass anyone else who claims it. But Islam now personifies in many parts of the world the extremism of people who are radicalized to hatred by a perverse and evil interpretation of their religious beliefs. They are a minority of tens of thousands out of 1.3 billion believers worldwide. But a determined, embittered group carries out public acts of violence that sicken all civilized people, represented by organized groups such as the various Al Qaeda branches, as well as "lone wolfs" such as the twisted Boston Marathon bombers. Until we, and by this term I mean both the West as well as Muslim leadership, honestly recognize radicalized Islam as a real factor, will it be possible to start to deal with the ideology from both ends and begin a closure?
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James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.
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