Secularism vs. sectarianism

The clashes going on around the world between the forces of Islamic
terrorism and Western civilization, can be regarded in several different ways.
One of the most popular is that of a “clash of civilizations,” or of Islamic
expansionism vs. Western imperialism (under the guise of ‘globalization’).
Another is a political clash between Islamic authoritarianism and Western
democracy. Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist, said it best on Al
Jazeera TV last week that the clash is between Western civilization and Muslim
backwardness. (see attachment).
The problem is not “occupation” of Muslim lands, but Muslim backwardness
that makes them weak and vulnerable, something they instinctively realize but
cannot quickly change. You can see this also in the readiness with which
Sunni and Shia Muslims attack and kill each other in Iraq. This is a general
case of primitive sectarianism, something that the Christian West, for all its
barbarous reversion during WWII, has gradually overcome. It is the growth
and power of secularism, based on a scientific culture that has given the West
the power and the affluence it has, that is the hallmark of Western
civilization, that is lacking in the Dar al Islam.
Democracy is not simply the result of a vote, as Hamas keeps emphasizing, it
is the liberal protection of minority sects and peoples, as well as adherence
to laws of conduct that include human rights and the ability to dissent.
These ideas are simply foreign to the Arab/Muslim peoples. In the final
analysis it is not Christianity or Judaism that the Islamists are most afraid
of, but secular society that would allow freedom of speech as well as action.
Sectarianism is well represented by the situation in Iraq, where the Sunni,
Shia and Kurds are practically in a civil war, with the American-sponsored
Iraqi Government trying to hold the secular line. India is a good example
where democratic secularism has helped a fractious country to hold together.
But, in the Muslim world there are a lot of sectarian schisms, for example in
Lebanon, where the four main groups, Christian, Sunni, Shia and Druse, are
currently trying to hold together in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal.
There are very few countries on earth that do not have a history of sectarian
strife and do not have minorities of different ethnic language or origin.
Incorporating these distinct groups together in a new sovereign nation can
only effectively be done when they have rights, as in a secular democratic
society. This is the lesson of Western history and one that the Muslims will
have to learn, but at some cost.


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