Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

This paper discusses the meaning and impact on modernity and  then connects secularism and democracy to the modern world. Modernity creates enormous differences resulting in many losers as well as many winners. It is the losers whose identities have become dubious who are causing problems. Secularism and modernism have created a crisis of religious identity.  

All of the monotheistic religions have a tendency towards supersessionism. Each believes it has a special relationship with God that excludes others. This is the beginning of fundamentalism and Radical Islam.  

Moderate religionists believe in ijtihad (independent thinking) which is about freedom of thought, rational thinking and the quest for truth through an epistemology covering science, rationalism, human experience and critical thinking. The violence behind Religious fundamentalisms is a very modern phenomenon. They operate and engage within modernity.

I use the term created by Oliver Roy distinguishing between fundamentalists – Jihadists and neo-fundamentalists; the latter term for those that support violence but do not act violently. The Jihadists are comparable to the heresy seekers in ancient times. They will destroy all whom they define as infidels, both Islamic, Christian and secularists.

Democracy has begun to be implemented in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt the results may not be consistent with the war against Radical Islam. The war against terrorism may not be consistent with the American policy of fostering democracy. There is no evidence that it reduces or prevents terrorism.  

As a result of globalization modernism is spreading more quickly that ever before. It tends to create homogeneous cultural standards. But cultural differences do matter; some even believe it is the key to Radical Islam breeding alienation which in turn breeds terror.




The enlightenment, begun at the end of the eighteenth century was based on the questioning of authority. Both the French and American revolutions rebelled against the authority of their respective Kings ultimately rejecting their authority. That long century actually ending after WWI radically changed Europe and created with the United States – the West - the center of the world. Religion – the divine right of Kings – was the basis of monarchal authority. In Judaism the King was never God’s messenger and his power was limited by the Prophet and the Priest. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity the Pope and Emperor shared powers. The powers of the Holy Roman Emperor ended before the enlightenment. In Islam the Caliph was the political ruler, but not usually God’s messenger. While the Caliphate ended after WWI some radical Muslims (and particularly Osama bin Laden) seek its re-institution.

Modern thought entails the embracing of reason, rationalism, science, technology and empiricism. Religious authority is based on faith, belief and tradition. Modernism is nor directly related to values, but modernism does damage ‘divinely’ revealed wisdom. No religion is inherently compatible with democracy; believers accept God ordained absolute values. However some believe that the interpretations of these values are to be determined by man in a democratic manner (the Talmud is an example). (It is certainly true that the twin horrors of the twentieth century –fascism and communism – occurred in enlightened Europe, they were neither enlightened nor modern as defined above.)

Marshall Berman described modernity as follows:

“great discoveries in the physical world, changing our image of the universe and our place in it, the transformation of scientific knowledge into technology creating new human environments and destroying old ones, . . immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from their ancestral habitats .  .  .  cataclysmic urban growths, systems of mass communications . . .  mass social movements of people . .  striving to gain some control of their lives’ and globalization. (All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity.)

These enormous differences result in many ‘losers’ as well as many ‘winners’. It is the losers whose identities have become dubious who are causing problems.

Modernity requires pluralism as the criteria for success is merit based.  It employs the systematic skepticism of the scientific method to settle important questions of public policy. It encourages the growth of the free market and individualism, consumerism and gives individuals the freedom to choose among an ever-expanding range of ways to satisfy them.   

What may be universal is not the desire for democracy (as suggested by Francis Fukuyama) but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced - life which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy may not be necessary but it appears to be one of the byproducts of this modernization process.

Modernity developed in the west over a 500 year period – from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment to Modernism. When modernity arrived in the Muslim world it was clearly a foreign concept.

Among the eighteen countries who comprise the Mid East six are monarchies, seven dictatorships and three with one party government’s and two participatory democracies. 1 The two democracies are Israel and non-Arabic Turkey. Consider the fifteen country members of the Arab League: Mauritania (a small country in northern Africa) was ranked highest at 81 by the World Audit (2006) in terms of democracy, Egypt was ranked 104, Syrian 124 and Lybia was last at 148.  (Iran, a non Arab state was ranked 132, Israel 33 and Turkey 62.) 2  The first seventeen countries in the World Audit were countries in the Europe Union, the United States, Australia and Canada.

The seventeen leading democratic countries use global and modern techniques and market economies to create the best education, the best health systems and far higher incomes for its citizens than the rest of the world. Given the international information systems this is becoming known though out the world through the internet. (The Arab world has the lowest rate of internet users in the world except for Africa.) It may be that these countries also have the largest breakdown in traditional values – whether modern or post-modern.

It is clear that modernity and democracy are connected.

Modernity is in some ways unrelated to Secularism or democracy. Ayatollah Khomeini stated that ‘technical innovations, new products, new inventions, and advanced industrial techniques which aid in the progress of mankind, then never has Islam or any other monotheistic religion opposed their adoption’. 3 This is the same man who purchased hundreds of thousands of plastic keys manufactured by technological Taiwan. The keys were hung on the neck of children so when they martyred themselves against Iraqi land mines and machine gun bullets they would know that the keys guaranteed that the gates of Heaven were open to them.

 Orthodox – even ultra-Orthodox - Jews in both Israel and America use modernity and technology to its fullest.

However there is a problem; modernity is opposed to tradition. One of the major bases of tradition is religious authority; modernity assumes technical authority. Modernity may be considered anti-traditional. Modernity creates new principles, tends to foster new political authority. Modernity requires independent reasoning. Can that be limited to ‘technical innovations’ and not apply to politics and even to religion?


Secularism in continental Europe bans religion from public life and confine it to the private sphere. It can best be exemplified by France which banned headscarves in public schools. The other democratic country that bans headscarves in public places is Turkey. France has a cultural belief in integration and assimilation; this differs from multiculturalism in the U.K. and Northern Europe. Multiculturalism not only allowed ghetto life but justified it. It allowed immigrants to believe that they could enforce Sharia law rather than adopt western laws and shared values. July 7 in London suggested that multiculturalism has failed.

The French belief in integration equally failed. Their ghettos (in the suburbs) are based on poverty. Their immigrants do not understand themselves as being citizens of the Republic.

The three French schoolgirls who created the headscarf issue by going to their public school spoke fluent French, did not speak Arabic and wore modern dress as well as putting on modern scarves. By publicly claiming a Muslim identity as opposed to a French identity they were rejecting the French assimilationist ideal of homogeneity. A French identity is thus inconsistent with a religious believer; that is a fundamentalist version of secularism.

In the French rioting around the suburbs of Paris (October 2005) they did not rage about issues of the Middle Eastern (Israeli-Palestinian or Iraqi) problems, did not burn flags only cars not caring about Muslim or non-Muslim cars; they were rejecting being treated as minorities.  Very few of them go on a regular basis to the Mosque. They all spoke fluent French, very few spoke Arabic. Their complaint was not being considered French and consequently not being able to find employment.

Both the multicultural and in integration models have failed. (Oliver Roy, Western Suburbs: The De-Territorialization of Islam, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 29, 2006)

Secularism is a very broad term implying many things even to religious thinkers. Harvey Cox in his famous ‘The Secular City’ considers that ‘secularization is the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage the turning of his attention away from other worlds and towards this one.’ 4 It assumes all men and women are created equal. That is a biblical concept; God created a single couple from whom the rest of mankind developed. Secularism grants religion autonomy to all people and gives it the greatest free space.

Secularism seems to imply that religion is a private affair. Perhaps as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that while ‘it is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the collapse of religion in the modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past, when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless’.   5

According to the Pew Global Attitude Report (December 2002) 59% of the population in the United States felt that religion played a very important role in their lives. In secular Western Europe less than 25% had that belief. This seems to suggest that America is a religious (Christian) country and Europe is a secular continent. Islam goes to another level. In the most populace primarily Islamic countries - Indonesia 95%; Pakistan 91% and Bangladesh 88% (the three largest majority Islamic countries in the world) - religion is very important in people’s lives. (27% of Israeli Jews considered religion important according to the 2004 census.)

What makes both religious America and secular Europe part of the West is that both are Modern. Europe is however post-modern accepting moral relativism. They devalue all traditional morality including even tolerance. Thus in Europe the Danish cartoon fiasco instead of accepting freedom of speech as allowing newspapers  to criticize religions the cartoonists were criticized. American being more traditionally religious believe in the traditional morality once called Judeo-Christian values.

Another difference between America and Europe is that in America only a couple percentage of the population is Muslim (double digit percentages include Hispanic Christians); in Europe the Muslims population borders on double digits percentage. These ‘guest’ workers are third generation and French speakers will never be going home, in fact do not have a home. If as projected Muslims will be close to 30% by 2050 a conflict between Secular and Muslim Europe – a conflict of religions if not civilizations - is inevitable. (This may also help explain why European policy towards Israel and the mid-east differ from American.) It is likely that within the next decade, European governments will become more racist and begin to restrict Muslim immigration. America is a country of immigrants; and as such has created an ideology of multiculturalism combined with integration; the use of hyphenated identities (Muslim-American) is quite common. Europe with its separate nationalities in separate countries never has. There is no European nationality and no hyphenated Europeans.

The separation of Church and State, a paradigm of secularism is generally rejected by Muslims. But that separation was never necessary or complete in Europe. At the end of the middle ages, every European prince dictated the religious beliefs of his subjects; the sectarian conflicts following the Reformation led to more than a century of bloody warfare.

It exists in Christianity owing to the fact that all Church’s have hierarchies and therefore can be organized as separate bodies. Islam (with the exception of the minority Shia) do not have a hierarchy and therefore cannot be organized other than by the political hierarchy.

Separation of Church and State is not synonymous with societies of ‘disbelief’. In fact in the United States where a minimalist position towards religion persists constitutionally, more people attend Church, Mosques and Synagogues on a regular basis than in Catholic Italy, France or Spain or even in Muslim Turkey. In Poland religion used their power to legitimatize the restoration movement but when they attempted to control the basis of government authority they failed.

Not all Muslims rejected the separation of the temporal from the religious worlds even early in the History of Islam. Hasan al Askari the eleventh Shia Iman (d. 874) stated ‘My deep conviction is that the Prophet of Islam did not create a state. . . . I believe that Islam can survive without political power, without a state.’ 6

More recently the Egyptian Islamic cleric and Sheik at Al Azhar University, Abd al-Raziq wrote the following just before a ‘Congress of the Caliphate’ in 1926.  ‘Muhammad was solely an apostle. He dedicated himself to purely religious propaganda without any tendency whatever towards temporal sovereignty, since he made no appeal in favor of a government.  . .  the Prophet had neither temporal sovereignty nor government.  He established no kingdom in the political sense of the word nor anything synonymous with it.  . . . he was a prophet only, like his brother prophets who proceeded him.’ 7 Al- Raziq was dismissed for these positions.

Democracy by definition implies that religious believers be guaranteed freedom to worship. However this is in exchange for non-believers entitlement not to worship, thus we have the separation of Church and State. Does religious freedom require religious indifference? Does this mean that the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible and the Koran’s requirement of justice and mercy can no longer be a demand of the state? Is a leading Turkish Islamist Ali Bulac correct in calling secularism ‘Satan imitating God’. 8

The United States is in fact a Christian country, thus public institutions are closed on Christmas Day. The President rarely ends a speech without the words ‘God bless America’. In Israel however, a Jewish State, the Prime Minister rarely mentions God. In Great Britain the Queen is the ‘Defender of the Faith’. However religion in the United States and Great Britain is private. In Israel religion freedom is guaranteed but family law is controlled by each religious community. Yet all are three countries are Liberal Democracies – although certainly not perfect in protecting civil rights of all its citizens.

Fukuyama wrote that ‘Modern liberal democracy is based on twin principles of liberty and equality. The two are in perpetual tension: equality cannot be maximised without the intervention of a powerful state that limits individual liberty; liberty cannot be expanded indefinitely without inviting various pernicious forms of social inequality. Each liberal democracy thus must make tradeoffs between the two. Contemporary Europeans tend to prefer more equality at the expense of liberty, and Americans the reverse, for reasons rooted in their individual histories. These are differences of degree and not principle; while I prefer the American version in some ways over the European one, this is more a matter of pragmatic observation and taste than a matter of principle.’ 9

Dr. Abdel Wahab Elmessiri, an Islamic intellectual and not a cleric called this paradigm ‘partial secularism’ and suggests that both Christian and Muslim thinkers can co-exist with this variety of secularism. It is what he calls ‘comprehensive secularism’ – ‘the separation of all values not only from the state, but also from public and private life, and from the world at large – a value-free world’; this ‘man-centered’ and ‘nature-centered’ world is, to him as a Muslim’ unacceptable. 10

Secularism may be the only faith to protect all faiths. Secularism and modernism have created a crisis of religious identity.


All of the monotheistic religions have a tendency towards supersessionism. Each believes it has a special relationship with God that excludes others. Both Christianity and Islam believe that salvation requires their particular belief system. Judaism separates requirements for Jews versus for Gentiles; the former has much stricter ritual requirements than   Gentiles.

Supersessionism is based on seeking the differences between the religions; it is equally possibly to seek commonality. Each of the Abrahamic religions believes in the Ten Commandments, a system of ethics. In the Koran all the Ten Commandments are included except ‘protect the Sabbath’ (Sura 17:23-39). The Christian Bible has Jesus stating that love your neighbor is critical as Rabbi Hillel (the great Talmudic sage) equally stated.

Jessica Stern notes, there are two sides to religion - "one that is spiritual and universalist, and the other particularist and sectarian”. Why do we not seek out the universalist themes rather that the particularist themes?  It is the latter which fosters fundamentalism.

Judaism has had little governmental power for the last 2,000 years and thus kept its supersessionism beliefs internal. Christianity used religion to control the western world and Islam used religion to control the eastern and Mediterranean world. Christianity adjusted to the enlightenment, secularism and modernity. But it did not reject supersessionism towards  the Jews until it accepted responsibility for the Shoah (Nostra Aetate published October 1965 11). Its position towards Islam is less clear.

Islam has not yet adjusted to secularism and modernity and remains tied into medievalism. Most Islamic countries are third world, poor and governed dysfunctionally. Given that Muslims may not yet be able to reject supersessionism. Indeed these failures may be responsible for the rise of fundamentalism and Radical Islam. No form of fundamentalism can tolerate diversity; yet that is one of the signs of modernism.

According to Abdulaziz Sachedina, a devout Muslim non-clerical Shi’ite scholar ‘[T]he categorization of religiously ordained God-human and inter-human relationships in Islamic sacred law, the Shari’a, is an explicit expression of the distinct realms of religious and temporal on earth.’ 12

Relations between God and humans are based on repentance and forgiveness. Inter-human transgressions must be redressed if violated or forgiven by the possessor of the right, if impossible to restore. Maimonides claims that on Yom Kippur the ‘Day of Atonement’ one may not ask God’s forgiveness until one has resolved inter-human issues (as do Islamic jurists13).  Violation of human and civil rights are crimes against religion as ‘they violate the sanctity of the dignity bestowed by God on humankind’. 14 Sachedina eloquently writes about the freedom of religion in the Koran. 15 A ‘fatwa’, an interdict, was issued in order to prevent Muslims from hearing and reading his texts.  

For moderate Muslims ‘ijtihad’ (independent thinking) is about freedom of thought, rational thinking and the quest for truth through an epistemology covering science, rationalism, human experience and critical thinking. It is often espoused by non-clerics and particularly by those who advocate some form of Islamic modernism and liberalism. They define ‘ijtihad’ more broadly.

Muhammad Imara, a rare cleric still writing believed that Islam ‘as a religion has not specified a particular system of government for Muslims, for the logic of this religions suitability for all times and places requires that matters which will always be changing by the force of evolution should be left to the rational mind, to be shaped according to the public interest and within the framework of the general precepts that this religion has dictated.’ 16

This world-view is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Muslim clerical religious thinkers. Islamic clerics tend to stifle independent thought and to confine the right to understand and explain Islam to only other Muslim clerics. It is also opposed to reasoning, because it believes that reason shall be employed only when the texts are silent and if no medieval scholar has addressed the issue under scrutiny. Reason, according to this viewpoint, is the last resort for understanding the will of God. They believe in group think and for them individualism is a form of idolatry.

The Koran (as does the Bible) has contradictory views on religious tolerance. One sura (chapter) states ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (2:257) and ‘I have my religion, and you have your religion (109:6). And ‘if God had wished, He would have made all humankind one community’ (11:118; 16:93; 42:8). ‘The people were one community (umma) then God sent forth the Prophets, good tidings to bear and warnings, and He sent down with them the Book with the truth, that He might decide the people touching their differences’ (2:213). 17 ‘Our [Muslim] God and your [Jewish and Christian] God is one; and it is to him we bow’ (29:46).

Do these not imply the people of the world as one community, prophets coming from the different religions and books with truth? 18 Does this not imply tolerance and pluralism?

The Koran, however also states ‘If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of Him; and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (3:85). Muhammad is reputed to have said ‘he who changes his religion must be killed’ 19 and in Muhammad’s farewell statement ‘I was ordered to fight all men until they say, 'There is no god but Allah’ 20

Religious identity creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’. In almost all of the world’s conflict areas religion is part of the problem not part of the solution. 21

Religious zealots are not easily assimilated nor do they belief in multiculturalism. In fact they are resolved against co-existence.

Radical Islam:                

The violence behind Religious fundamentalisms is a very ‘modern’ phenomenon. They operate and engage within modernity. Religious fundamentalism, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic answer similar needs and occupies a shared theology and psychological territory. They all believe in a theological ‘sacredness’ which is inviolable and nonnegotiable and a psychological need that centers in their religious identity. In both Israel – a Jewish state – and Iran – an Islamic state – the issues of being Israeli (as opposed to being Jewish) and being Persian remain contentious.  

For religious fundamentalists, the claim is based on the demand that the word of their God must be taken literally. Fundamentalists are absolutely certain about their beliefs and destinies. ‘We’, the rest of us – non-fundamentalists - cannot quite achieve this level of certitude. Thus fundamentalists believe in religious ideologies that are always just beyond the grasp of those excluded from their literalist system of belief. Thus to Hamas believers it is literally true that God gave to Islam the land that they call Palestine. To Jewish (and some Christians) believers of the Greater Israel thesis it is literally true that God gave the land they call Israel to the Jews. We have our Bible and they have their Koran. A modernist has no way of proving either belief since scientific proof is a tenet of modernity. The democratic government of Israel has given up on Greater Israel. Will Hamas ever acknowledge and agree to live in peace with a Jewish state that has been established in the midst of the Muslim wafq?

Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many (in fact almost all) recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic and secular Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy is likely to mean more alienation, radicalization and terrorism.

Islam traditionally divides the world into the Muslim World and the non-Muslim infidel World. Under the best of circumstances the Muslim World can only have a truce with non Muslims. This is a form of imperialism and the height of supersessionism. Can an independent non-Muslim nation state or civilization develop and maintain a peaceful relationship with Islam?

The real problem is the violent form of fundamentalism known as Radical Islam. However it also includes those you support violence even if they do not themselves act violently. Followers of Saudi Arabia Wahhabism may not in themselves be violent but have for decades supported violent fundamentalism. Wahhabism can be understood as a return to medieval purity and piety. The most quoted Sheiks consider themselves Wahhabees. (Salafism is a non-Saudi Arabian mutant of the same disease.) Since bin Laden, 9/11, consistency has reigned between Salafism, Wahhabism and Radical Islam; they all believe in theological totalitarianism. As an example it was against the law for President George Bush to bring a Bible into Saudi Arabia or pray at a thanksgiving dinner at a U.S. Base. He had his dinner on an American ship.

These Muslim extremists are bent on purging Islam (and the infidel world) of anyone who does not subscribe to their particularist and intolerant views. Today Sunni jihadist terrorists in Iraq have begun to use apostate (‘takfir’) as a rallying cry for violence against the Shiites as the Shia do against the Sunnis. Ayman –al Zawahiri, the Emir of Iraq (appointed by bin Ladin), has stated as his objective the prevention of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis uniting. Bin Ladin has accused the Saudi’s (the founders of Wahhabeeism) of apostasy.  They demand the death penalty against apostates.  

Oliver Roy called those fundamentalists involved in Violence as neo- fundamentalist’ while those that support violence but do not act violently simply as fundamentalists’.22 Both oppose any form of secularism, modernity (despite using modern techniques) and democracy. They all believe they alone speak for God and a literalist Koranic text. They do not believe in any man made innovation. Neo-fundamentalists do not believe in national or tribal cultures, different legal schools, philosophies or theologies. They reject all forms of Occidentalism and Orientalism, Bin Laden the icon of neo-fundamentalist believes in the universal Caliphate. Neo-fundamentalists believe only in ‘good Muslims’ – their kind – all else are infidels and apostates. They are firm believers in Jihad being required individually by all ‘good Muslims’. They are equally opposed to the ‘near enemy’, Muslim run states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel of course and to the ‘far enemy, the U.S. and Europe.

Fundamentalists as defined by Roy consider Jihad a collective duty, not an individual duty; neo-fundamentalists consider suicide bombing an individual duty.

Neo-fundamentalism is an apocalyptic movement one of whose objectives is the destabilization of the West and everything modern. They wish to destroy all and begin anew. They are a new version of the medieval Christian millennium thinkers. Or even earlier ancient thinkers. Think of the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their absolutist hostility toward fellow Jews or ancient Christian heresy seekers such as Augustine hostility towards the Manicheans.  The neo-fundamentalists are defenders of the faith renewing the Crusader Wars. They believe another Saladin will arise to lead the battle.

These new apocalyptic people appeal to the disenfranchised and alienated and uprooted - as a new communal identity. They appeal to the failures of globalization – to those in need of a reconstructed identity.23

The community these fundamentalists are building is not a polis; it's what they call an ummah, the global community of Muslims, and it is open to all who share their faith. (In this way it is comparable to Communism.) They are global Muslim fundamentalists. The ummah's new globalists consider that they have returned to the fundamentals of Islam; much of what passes for Islam in the world, much of what has passed as Islam for centuries, they think a sham. Roy has observed, these neo-fundamentalists wish to cleanse Islam's pristine and universal message from the contingencies of mere history, of local cultures. For them, Roy notes, "globalization is a good opportunity to dissociate Islam from any given culture and to provide a model that could work beyond any culture." It is interesting that both fundamentalism and globalization disconnect religion and culture.

But societies have always been made of continuities and discontinuities  and the identity of a society survives through the changes. Progress continues because people and consequently societies grow. Societies without change are not more authentic; they just do not know they have died (like the aborigines). Progress is not evil, it simply is reality.   

The neo-fundamentalists identified by Roy claim to be anti-modernists and yet they use modern techniques. They extensively use the Internet, chat rooms and cellular messaging, international banking and modern bombing techniques. They are western trained using modern technical and analytical skills. They differ from us in having radically different value systems. They can blow themselves up in the midst of a crowd of women and children. Christian martyrs were willing to die for their faith, Jihadists are willing to die for their enemies death.

The Arab world claims to define Islamic identity. Arabism is a culture not a religion. There are Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Jewish Arabs and secular Arabs. Arabism is characterized by collectivism rather than individualism; it discourages dissent and initiative; innovation and social change and emphases family, clan and tribal cohesion. It would appear that there is something in Arab political culture that has been more resistant to democracy. It might well be a cultural obstacle that is not related to religion, such as the survival of tribalism

Does Islam define its identity as Arabism? Globalism discouraged exactly these characteristics. Do the Muslims of Indonesia the largest Muslim country in the world and relatively democratic; define their political identity so? According to Ralph Peters (‘Rolling Back Radical Islam’, Parameters, Aug. 2002) only 20% of Indonesian Muslim population follow the accepted rituals of Sunni Islam. The majority do not speak or read Arabic, pray to shrines and Saints, drink alcoholic beverages and few of even the minority wear the burka.

Khaled Kelkal one of the first French Islamic Radical said in a paraphrase of Al Banna ‘I am not French, I am not an Arab, I am a Muslim’. Hizb ut-Tahrir, the missionary neo-fundamentalist organizations states it thus: ‘Our Brotherhood is Real and their Citizenship is False’. 24 Its motto seems to be ‘If you don't volunteer to be my brother you should die’.

Radical Islam is an ideology like fascism or communism; none trust individual human beings or communities to determine their own lives. They all assume humans will choose the ‘wrong’ alternative. It is a form of intransigent homogeneity.

Radical Islam will not succeed; anymore than the Luddites in the nineteenth century could by destroying new machinery. A prosperous society, in fact desired almost universally by all who are aware of it, requires technologically advanced modernization. And more and more are becoming aware daily.

Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian born psychologist stated in an Al Jazeera T.V. interview: “The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness . . . between barbarity and rationality . . . between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings."

In March 2006 Abdul Rahman, an Afghan was on a trial for his life for converting to Christianity. Only the West who have supported Afghanistan independence with billions of dollars (as well as its blood) rejected this medievalism, not a single Muslim majority country publicly rejected this travesty. He was released based on insanity – after all why else would a Muslim convert to Christianity! He has been given asylum in Catholic Italy.

Both Sultan and the incident involving Rahman represent medieval ideologies. It is probable that the only way to communicate the reality of the modern world to these imperial theocrats of Radical Islam is the current fight to the death.

We should also distinguish between territorial Jihadists (Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, and Kashmir) and theological Juhadists. The former can be rightly or not be viewed as ‘freedom fighters’, the latter are simply imperialist terrorists. Recently Nawaf Mousawi, a leading Hizbollah spokesman said his organization feared assassination at the hands of the theological Jihadists (Mark Perry and Alastair Cooke, Asia Times, March 31, 2006).


Modern ideas have always spread throughout world. The scientific method has much more to offer in the every day reality of people’s lives than older and traditional thought. Thus it was not surprising that according to the United Nations Development Report on the Middle East (2002) in virtually every Arab country a majority of respondents would emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. The overwhelming majority of Arab youth aspire more to the values and lifestyles of western societies than those symbolized by austere Jihadists theocrats.

As a result of globalization modernism is spreading more quickly that ever before. Take China and India as examples of two countries that represent 40% of the world’s population. Thirty years ago both countries were poor third world countries. Thirty years from now both will be superpowers in a multipolar world. There are hundreds of millions of poor people in these countries who have been left out of their incredible economic growth. But they do not wish to pull down those succeeding but to join then; and slowly they will. Jihadists prefer their hatred bred of resentment to a rational discussion of improvement. (The changes in India may be particularly interesting since it has the second largest number of Muslims in the world. While religious conflict does on occasion break out between Hindus and Muslims, the level of tolerance in secular India is quite high. The conflict is largely revolves about disputed Kashmir.) Coping successfully with globalization is possible for the leaders of China without what the West defines as liberal democracy. They opted for a combination of authoritarian and market rules and so far they are succeeding. Since modernization requires meritocracy and individualism they seem to be slowly democratizing.

Cultural differences do matter; some even believe it is the key to Radical Islam. Globalization tends to create homogeneous cultural standards and this breeds alienation which in turn breeds terror (Roy and Fukuyama). Slightly more than 15% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs; 60% are Asians almost all Sunnis and almost all influenced by Sufism. Arab Sufism almost does not exist. Indonesia the largest Islamist country in the world is democratic and its culture includes elements of Asian folk and populism in its Islamism. As an example honor killing does not exist in Southeast Asia. The same is true of Malaysia. (Robert W. Hefner, ‘Asian and Middle Eastern Islam’, May 30, 2006, Foreign Policy Research Institute)

Singapore (a majority Chinese country), Malaysia (a primarily Islamic country) and India (a primarily Hindu country) all have had recent significant economic growth..  Iraq and Iran, both majority Shia religious neighboring countries have vastly different cultures, one Arabic and one Persian.

Radical Islamists are largely Arabic for reasons that are cultural rather than religious. It is difficult to weigh the importance of religion versus culture.

Democracy has begun to be implemented in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt – the results may not be consistent with the war against Radical Islam. The war against terrorism may not be consistent with the American policy of fostering democracy. How democracy is implemented is critical;   free elections should be the culmination of the reform process, rather than the starting point. Free elections in Iraq have exacerbated sectarian and ethnic fault lines of the Iraqi society and fostered terrorism. Imposing democracy is to quote Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State an oxymoron.

Democracy and especially liberal democracy as a world order may not succeed and certainly is not ‘The End of History’. Liberalism cannot be completely even-handed toward different cultures, since it itself reflects certain cultural values and must reject alternative cultural groups that are themselves profoundly illiberal. 25 Despite the Arab street and even Islamists recognizing that their ruling autocrats have delivered dysfunctional government and tyranny. Liberal democracy as an alternative is connected with Western political hegemony, occupation and domination.

Democracy is not a default position when other systems fail. The Arab governments may be dysfunctional, that does not mean that democracy will correct the problem. Furthermore there is no evidence that it reduces or prevents terrorism.

The American invasion of Iraq (wrongly or rightly) seems to have unfrozen the Arab the system of government but did not necessarily project western democracy. It may have even increased religious identity. Will the victory of the Shia religious parties in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine guarantee minority rights or develop a system of intolerant ‘majoritarianism’?

It is worth noting than in addition to the Radical Islamists noted above there are moderate political Islamists in Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan and Algeria that are part of a pluralistic political governmental process. Whether these groups have embraced democracy and pluralism or are using the political process to create Islamic states denying democracy is as yet unknown. Does a moderate theology, one in which reason is a basic tenet exist? It takes a very sophisticated reading to find tolerance or democracy in the Koran or in its commentators. The overwhelming majority of Islamic clerics find democracy inconsistent with Sharia – Islamic – law. Could Islamic moderation be a real mutation or ought the West to be aware of ‘Greeks bearing gifts” - the Trojan horse strategy?

It took centuries for liberal democracy to develop in Europe; perhaps with technological advances it may only take decades to develop some coherent system in the Arab world or perhaps it never will. Can the Arab world develop there own efficient and functional governmental systems? That is dependant more of them than on the West.

1 Esposito,J.L., Islam and Politics, Syracuse University Pres, Syracuse, 1991, pg. 4


3 Eickelman, D.F., and Piscatori, J., Muslim Politics, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996, pg. 22.

4 Cox, H., The Secular City, Macmillan, N.Y., 1966, pg. 15.

5 Heschel, A.J., God in Search of Man, Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, N.Y., 1955,  pg. 3.

6 Hasan al ‘Askari, Verse et Controverse: Les  Musulmans, (Paris, 1971) pg. 132-133, quoted and translated by Cragg, Kenneth, Muhammad And The Christian, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1984, pg. 49

7 Quoted in Esposito, Islam and Politics, pg. 69. It should be noted that Raziq later rejected this idea.

8 John Keane in ‘The Limits Of Secularism, from Esposito, J.J. and        Tamini, A., eds., Islam and Secularism in the Middle East, Hurst & Co., London, 2000, pg. 36.

9 Francis Fukuyama, After the End of History, Open Democracy, May 2, 2006.

10 Abdelwahab Elmessiri, ‘Secularism, Immanence and Deconstruction, in Esposito and Tamimi, Islam, pg. 69-80.


12 Sachedina, A., The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, pg. 5.

13 Sachedina, pg. 111.

14 Sachedina, pg. 111.

15 Sachedian, pgs. 83-97.

16 Ayubi, Nazih, N., Political Islam, Routledge, London, 1991,  pg. 64.

17 Sachedina, pg. 22..

18 See also 21:92; 49:14.

19 Little, D., Kelsey, J., and Sachedina, A.A.,  Human Rights and the Conflict of Cultures University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 1988, pg. 7.

20 Efraim Karsh, Kings College, University of London, ‘Islamic Imperialism: A History’, Yale University, New Haven, 2006, pg. 26.

21 Some wit said the Bible should come with a note ‘dangerous to your health’.

22 Roy, Oliver, Globalized Islam, Columbia University Press, N.Y., 2004,  pgs. 232- 288.

23 Roy, pg. 269-270.

24 Roy, pg. 274.

25 Francis Fukuyama, After the end of History, Open Democracy, May 2, 2006.