Saturday, 19 July 2008

Book Review: Reconciliation - Islam, Democracy, and the West by Benazir Bhutto

This book was finished literally 2 days before Benazir was murdered in cold blood by islamic extremists on December 27th, 2007 just 7 months ago. It was her last message to the world, and a last plea (as I'm sure she knew she had limited time) for peace in the world today. Not only between Islam and the West, but between the 2 divided groups of Muslims that have been at war with each other pretty much since the prophet Muhammad died. What a brave woman Benazir was, and what an incredibly smart woman. Every word of this book has meaning. Benazir was one of those people who doesn't mince words, so if you aren't paying attention for a minute while reading, you'll miss something. The book really opened my eyes. I mean, I understood the basic message of Islam before, but she taught me a lot about the history of Islam, and why things are the way they are now in the world. The reality is - that the extremists who are holding world peace hostage - are not living the prophet's message as he wrote it down in the Qur'an. In fact, they are living according to the lifestyle that the prophet was warning against. They are re-creating the world of tribal warfare that Muhammad escaped in Mecca when he was preaching a new lifestyle of peace, equality (regardless of race, or color, or sex), tolerance, pluralism, and monotheism. That - to me does not sound at all like what Al Quaeda and the Taliban, and other extremists are preaching. Though, this is a common theme among all religions. This is what happens when the philosophies of men mingle with scripture. Men become greedy, and self-centred, and they twist the words of God to turn them into something that serves them. We've seen it in Islam (with extremist groups), in Judaism (Pharisees and Sadducees adding on more to the original law of Moses), in Christianity (the Spanish Inquisition ring any bells?); even in my own religion there have been break-off groups that make Jim Jones seem like he made sense. So, the real issue in world peace has nothing to do with the message of Islam, but the fact that Human beings are greedy, and want to use the power of ideas to obtain power for themselves. They always have.

Benazir goes on to explain how many Islamic nations have tried over the years to form democratic governments (after all, Democracy is an Islamic doctrine). For the better part of the last century, most Islamic nations have had a series of stops and starts that were frustrated by not only Western nations trying to obtain gain (usually to do with oil or other lucrative profits), but also by greedy dictators overthrowing any chance for democracy to thrive, in order - again - to obtain gain, and power. She wrote case studies of each Islamic nation's struggle for democratic reform over the last century. One in particular that stood out to me is the one for Iran. To make a long story short, Iran was on a straight course for democracy with the Mossadegh government in 1953 when the United States initiated Operation Ajax which was a coup designed to remove Mossadegh in an attempt to obtain control of Iranian oil fields and to remove what they saw as a "communist threat". Often, the actions of the west have been inconsistent (to say the least) with what they state are their policies. This has sent some very mixed messages to Islamic nations (heck, all nations), but the truth is that actions really do speak louder than words.

One chapter of Benazir's book is devoted to the Foreign Affairs article written by Samuel Huntington called "The Clash of Civilizations?" Huntington's basic theory is that because of the differences between the culture of Islam and the culture of the west, it is inevitable that in the post-cold war era the two will clash - in a cataclysmicly disastrous war of all out destruction. Huntington believes that more interaction between the west and Islam will just aggravate the conflict and initiate the said clash. This theory is hogwash according to Benazir, and me, and also many scholars of superior intellect to that of Xenophobic - Mr. Huntington. In fact, the theory is dangerous, and could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people who read it - in ignorance of Islam - the more will believe it, and they will make the clash happen - with their own xenophobia and ignorance. Not only in the west, but in Islam as well. I get on the train every day with people of all nations, races, cultures, religion. When I interact with them, we do not clash because of our differences, but we respect each other. That's Canada. The world could learn a thing or two by looking at a case study of multi-culturalism in Canada. I'm not saying we don't have xenophobes, or racism, but overall - we have understanding, and tolerance. The whole idea that civilizations will clash because of the differences between them is the very thing that sparks conflict. It is positive interaction, open-mindedness, tolerance, and respect for all cultures that will solve this conflict. As I said - there is a danger in the "Clash" theory. Stephen Walt - who wrote one of the best articles refuting the clash theory as written by Huntington said...

"If we treat all states that are part of some other "civilization" as intrinsically hostile, we are likely to create enemies that might otherwise by neutral or friendly. In fact, a civilizational approach to foreign policy is probably the surest way to get diverse foreign cultures to coordinate their actions and could even bring several civilizations together against us... In this sense, The Clash of Civilizations offers a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy: The more we believe it and make it the basis for action, the more likely it is to come true. Huntington would no doubt feel vindicated, but the rest of us would not be happy with the results."

The results would be disastrous to say the least. Benazir's solution for the crisis facing the world with regards to extremism is brilliance in itself. The truth is - that countries look out for their self-interests, and they always have, and it would really be in the best interests of every country in the world to solve this conflict. Extremism is a product of poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness. When the people of Afghanistan were hungry and suffering - who do you think it was that set up tandoor oven bakeries in the streets? The Taliban of course, and each oven had a picture of Osama Bin Laden over it. People knew who was feeding them, and the extremist groups gained popularity. Benazir's plan is that of setting up a Muslim Investment Fund - fashioned after the Marshall Plan. Funding would come from wealthy Muslim countries, as well as western countries to fund mandatory schooling for all children, literacy projects for adults as well (for mothers teach their children), also micro-credit programs to fund small businesses to help people get on their feet, and various other projects to improve living conditions, and awareness in muslim countries. This would be in the best interest of all countries as I said, because it would be getting to the root of the problem. I think it's a brilliant plan, and I really really hope that those who follow in this great woman's footsteps will make it happen. I believe that anything is possible.

Those who murdered this great woman have really done themselves a dis-service. For in doing so, they have made a martyr, (people listen to martyrs) and her words live on past death in this great (and important) book. I believe everyone should read it, as the subject matter of Benazir's last words to the world is something that affects every human on the planet. In closing this blog, I'm going to share with you her very last words written in the book...

"In these writings I have tried to trace the roots, causes, and potential solutions to the crisis within the Muslim world and the crisis between the Muslim world and the West. Theology, history, economics, democracy, and dictatorship have all played significant roles in bringing the world to this crossroads. My premise from the beginning has been that extremism thrives under dictatorship and is fueled by poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness. The extremist threat within the Islamic world and between the Islamic world and the West can be solved, but it will require addressing all the factors that breed it. I appreciate that what I propose - from what the Muslim states must do to what the West must do - is huge and may seem daunting and even impossible. I make these recommendations because the times require something more than business as usual. Much of what is recommended is somewhat out of the box. But staying within the box has brought poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, violence, and dictatorship to far too many Muslims around the world. Staying within the box has set Islam and the West on a dangerous and unnecessary collision course. It is time for new ideas. It is time for creativity. It is time for bold commitment. And it is time for honesty, both among people and between people. That is what I have tried to do in these pages. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation."

In Memory of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (June 21st, 1953 - December 27th, 2007)

If anyone is interested in reading an excellent article written by James A. Toronto regarding the Latter-Day Saint (me) perspective on Islam, you can find one here...

No comments: