America is not Bin Laden's principle enemy
Photo: Reuters
No culture war with Islam
Muslims are far more likely to kill other Muslims than they are Westerners

Those who think the Western world is engaged in a culture war with Islam have no lack of proofs to support their thesis: al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, violent riots over the Mohammed cartoon affair, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements on a world without Israel or America, Hamas' victory in the PA to name but a few.


But the situation is more complicated than that. If there is a war – and there is – it is not between Islam and the West, but rather a war inside the Islamic world.


America is not Bin Laden's principle enemy. Rather, it is the Saudi dynasty – an oppressive Islamic regime based on a fundamentalism even more extreme than that found in Iran (for example, with regard to elections, women's rights and non-Muslim's rights in society).


Around the Muslim world


In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood fights the Mubarak regime, despite the fact that the regime recently gave in to Western pressure and eased up a bit on the Brotherhood. But in general, Mubarak continues its Nasserist pursuit of the organization.


The current government in Turkey, based on an Islamic party, is threatened by Islamic radicals that have staged murderous terror attacks more than once. And in Pakistan, fundamentalist groups view President Pervez Musharraf as their mortal enemy.


And last but not least – Iraq. Sunni terror is directed not only at American occupiers, but mainly at the Shiite majority and the Kurdish minority.


Sunni-Shiite clashes


We must understand what has happened in recent times – Sunni terrorists have blown up on of the holiest Shiite mosques in the world. Shiites responded in turn by attacking and burning dozens of Sunni mosques in Baghdad and other cities.


Therefore, the Muslim world is in turmoil, and without pluralistic institutions, violence and murder gain the upper hand.


But the murder is directed first and foremost at other Muslims – more moderate ones, secular ones, members of other Muslim groups. Of course, the West and Israel are targets – but this is mainly an intra-Islamic struggle.


No reformation


The reason for this is simple enough: Islam has not undergone the same changes as the West – following the Protestant reformation, the enlightenment and the French Revolution – that produced a secular, democratic, tolerant, liberal culture.


On the other hand, the Muslim world – and especially the Arab world – has yet to deal with the challenges of modernization, and Arabs and Muslims feel degraded and hurt.


It remains to be seen whether the current upheaval will produce the same political frameworks and pluralistic values that crystallized in the West.


But even if we can't know who will win this intra-Islamic battle – radicals or moderates – we must remember that what is happening now in the Muslim world is rooted in an internal battle for the make up and future of that society. It is not a battle against the West.


Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem


פרסום ראשון: 03.12.06, 08:57
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