Democracy key to Muslim world peace

by Nathaniel Ward | 10/26/01 5:00am

A history of tensions with the West and a lack of democracy have led to the current unrest in the Muslim world, Indian writer and newspaper editor M.J. Akbar said yesterday in a speech.

The current crisis "is not a conflict of civilizations," but "far more a conflict of history," Akbar said.

With this thesis in mind, Akbar outlined the early history of Islam, including its roots in Judeo-Christianity. He especially noted the belief that Islam, while suffering defeats in the past, has always rebounded.

Akbar, editor-in-chief of the journal Asian Age and a former editor at The Telegraph, a major Indian newspaper, has written several books about Pakistan's relationship with India. He also served two years in the Indian Parliament.

For Islam, Akbar said, the Crusades marked a turning point. While not only providing Islam with a hero in Saladin, who drove off the Christians with dramatic victories and brought about a rebirth of Islam, the Crusades also introduced suicidal assassins much like those of today.

The decline of Islam in the 18th and 19th centuries was brought on by internal decadence, Akbar said, and was accompanied by European imperialism. Many Muslims believe that this trend prevents a modern Islamic resurgence.

"The anger of Osama bin Laden is far more against the decadence of Saudi Arabia" than against the United States, Akbar said.

He cited the influence of 19th century Islamic writer Jamal al-Din Afghani on the Taliban and other modern Islamic fundamentalists.

Al-Din Afghani "created the conditions which then created armies of terror," Akbar said.

Once the background was established, Akbar made a number of observations about the modern Islamic world, including the absence of sustained democracy.

"This leads to a Muslim mass all across [the world] which has absolutely no relationship with its government," he said.

While decrying Pakistan's continued political instability, Akbar lauded India, particularly the ability of its democracy to withstand internal and external pressures.

"Democracy has a natural tendency to calm hysteria and find a median," he said.

One of the major sources of tension between the two nations has historically been the Kashmir region, claimed by both nations. The problem was exacerbated, he said, by the Islamic armies who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and were suddenly left without an enemy. Many chose to fight in the disputed province.

Akbar was careful not to pin too much of the blame on Afghanistan, noting that the Taliban "was created in Peshawar [in Pakistan] and pushed across the border."

"The problem with Afghanistan is not geographical," he said. "There is a small Afghanistan waiting to erupt" all around the Islamic world.

When asked how to solve the current problems, Akbar had several answers. First, he said that the Muslim nations have a vested interest in ending the radicalism quickly.

Second, he suggested "a non-American solution."

Third, he said that the term "terrorist" should be defined according to the Quran, because the recent attacks violated the rules of a Jihad by harming innocents in the name of Islam. "This is what makes the incidents of Sept. 11 by the Quran a terrorist act."

Finally, he said that simply changing the government in Kabul will not solve the problems or eliminate terrorism. Rather, "the long-term solution is a battle of the mind," he said.

The lecture was co-sponsored by Milan, the South Asian students' association and the World Affairs Council.

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