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Javier Gil, researcher del Institute for Culture and Society

Islamic enlightenment

Fri, 13 Dec 2013 11:10:00 +0000 Published in Las Provincias, Ideal de Jaén and Heraldo de Aragón

Why Al Qaeda, why the Arab Spring, why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Islamic terrorist phenomenon and the conflicts plaguing the Middle East, rather than a harbinger of a religious society on the rise, should be interpreted as symptoms of a profound crisis of Islam. The instability in the region is the manifestation of a depleted model . The Muslim dilemma is similar to that experienced by European society in the 18th century in the face of the phenomenon of enlightenment that made possible the process of secularization.

Like the West then, Islamic societies are at a crossroads: clinging to old habits and customs or embracing change. On the one hand is the well-trodden path of dictatorships and theocracies and on the other that of liberal democracy. Continue to hide behind prejudices or embrace globalization. Muslim society, once a prisoner of hermeticism, has been exposed for decades to the technical advances and social progress of the West. The reaction has been twofold: on the one hand, those dominated by fear have tried to declare war on the West; on the other, those who have chosen to embrace and imitate the good that the West has to offer.

Muslims can no longer remain oblivious to the changes that have taken place in the world: television, Facebook, Twitter, cinema, music... the Western lifestyle no longer has barriers to make itself known in the world. This has led society in the Middle East to be exposed to new ways of understanding women, Economics, freedom, politics and even science.

The phenomenon of Al Qaeda, Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood would be the response of the Muslim immobilist sector that refuses to accept the new reality. Trying to maintain the purity of society, they use violence or coercion to eliminate or silence all those who want to open up to the world and to new ways of understanding society. Christian minorities in Egypt and Lebanon, people defying terror by exercising their right to vote in Iraq and Afghanistan, Saudi women fighting for their right to drive a car, Pakistani and Afghan girls going to school, Iranians demonstrating against the ayatollahs... are just a few examples of a new Muslim society trying to break through.

It is not an easy task. In addition to overcoming the fear of confronting power and terrorism, there are tough psychological barriers to cross. Adopting Western models of operating and thinking means in part recognizing the failure of the traditional Islamic approach. It means admitting Israeli social, economic and technological progress and understanding why it has taken place there and not in neighboring Syria or Jordan. It means, at final, recognizing one's own mistakes made throughout history. What is it about Turkey that makes it different from Libya or Pakistan? What decisions did Turkey make as a country and society that Iraq or Algeria did not make?

The main challenge right now is for Muslim society itself to take the lead in bringing about real change. The West's financial aid to implement liberal democracies in the Middle East has its limitations. Iraq and Afghanistan are examples that change is possible, but if change comes only from foreign hands it risks not being lasting. For the idea to fall on fertile ground there must be indigenous elements that embrace it and take it as their own. That is why cases like that of the girl Malala are so important, demonstrating that there is a silent Muslim majority ready to stand up to the Taliban.

However, there is a lack of a movement to lead the fight for change. A figure to inspire and shock. As in Europe and America in the eighteenth century, the Muslim world is in need of intellectuals and opinion leaders to push for an acceleration of events. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before a future Muslim John Locke, Adam Smith or Edmund Burke emerges; in the meantime, the West should continue to support those who are trying to be Muslim.