Islam and Liberalism today are the two leading socio-political systems, competing with each other to dominate the global society. And Islam is proving to be Liberalism's Achilles heel, with no clue about how to tame and undermine it effectively. Unless effective measures are devised quickly, Liberalism, instead of globalizing itself, may face a crisis of its own survival even in the West, engendered by a fast-globalizing Islam.
There are many, often confusing, definitions of globalization. For simplicity, globalization can be viewed as a process of economic, social, cultural, political and technological integration of nations and peoples of the world. It aims to promote freer exchange and spread of social, cultural, economic and political ideas, values, norms and practices, of technological tools and innovations and of people over all nations of the globe. Such exchanges create a "global market-place" of ideas, values and tools covering almost all aspects of the human life and society—which opens up possibilities for creating a composite and relatively homogeneous society on a global scale. Globalization, therefore, has a universalistic underdone and presents an opportunity of creating a cosmopolitan world society, which has given rise to the idea of global village.
During Enlightenment in the 18th-century Western Europe, liberalism was born as a universalistic worldview, ousting the Christian theological worldview from the political sphere of social and national life. Later Marxism emerged as another universalistic worldview, but after its phenomenal and violent rise and subsequent collapse in the 20th century—the rationalist, democratic and capitalist liberalism has triumphed as a coherent non-theological worldview in the West and is gradually spreading elsewhere. As discussed below, globalization as initiated by the West is basically an effort to spread the ideals of liberalism, such as democracy, capitalism, world peace, human rights, and liberty etc. globally.
Islam, another all-encompassing and universalistic theological worldview with its 1.4 billion followers worldwide, is emerging as a rival to liberalism. Samuel Huntington pointed to a fault-line between liberal Western civilization and the Islamic one as a likely source of major future conflicts. The ongoing Islamic terrorist violence worldwide is explained by many scholars as a response against the globalization of liberal Western culture to Islamic societies. The Islamic terrorist groups see violence as “the only method to preserve tradition and values against a cultural tsunami of Western products and materialism”.
A solidifying rivalry between Islam and liberalism, which is bigger than the violent response of Islamic terrorists against Western cultures, will be evaluated in this essay. First, a brief introduction of the two worldviews, Islam and liberalism, will be given. Then how the ‘globalization project’ initiated by the West seeks to universalize liberalism will be outlined. Finally, how this effort of globalizing liberalism clashes with a globalizing Islam will be discussed.
The Islamic worldview
Islam was founded as a universalistic religion in the 7th-century Arabia by Prophet Muhammad, who allegedly received divine messages from God (Allah), contained unaltered in the Quran, as a divine guidance to mankind. According to Islam, Muhammad was the last prophet sent by the same God, who had earlier sent Moses and Jesus et al. with divine messages. Muhammad was the last in God’s succession of sending prophets for guiding mankind to His path. He was, believe Muslims, the best of all prophets and the highest perfection of human life for all times. The Islamic God affirms this by saying: Muhammad was “an exalted standard of character” and “an excellent example” for the mankind to follow (Quran 68:4, 33:21).
Prophet Muhammad brought the finalized, perfect religion of God, who says: “…I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (Quran 5:3). The earlier monotheistic creeds, namely Judaism and Christianity etc., are also sent by the Islamic God. But they are imperfect and inferior versions compared to perfected Islam. All other religions, particularly polytheistic Hinduism, Animism and Buddhism etc. are false. The Islamic God expects that all imperfect and false creeds be superseded by Islam. Thereby, Islam will be established as the sole religion for all mankind. The Quran says (48:28): “[God] has sent His Apostle [Muhammad] with the guidance and the [only] true religion that He may make it prevail over all the religions.”
Muslims believe that the two foundational constituents of Islam—namely the Quran (purported words of God) and the Sunnah (a collection of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, deeds and actions)—contained complete guidance in the form of moral, social and political precepts and commands for leading a perfect human life. The Islamic holy laws, called Sharia—formulated based on the Quran and Sunnah—contain guidance (i.e. divine laws, protocols and precepts) for human beings to follow in every situation they may find themselves in—be it eating, bathing, saying prayers, fighting wars or anything else.
The Sharia covers every sphere of the Muslim life: spiritual, moral, social, financial and political. There is no separation between spiritual or religious and the mundane in Islam. According to Professor Sedat Laçiner, Islam is “not only a religion but also the name of a political, economic and cultural system”. Professor Muhammad Umaruddin sees the relationship between Islam and politics inseparable:
“Islam is not a religion in the usual sense of the word. The view that religion has to do only with the inner conscience of man, with no logical relations with social conduct, is completely foreign, rather abhorrent to Islam… It is an all-embracing system, a complete code of life, bearing on, and including, every phase of human activity and every aspect of human conduct.”
This all-embracing creed of Islam is not there for being accepted by people on their own free will. God commands Muslims to impose it upon the unwilling people through the instrument of Jihad or holy war. In initiating the doctrine of Jihad in the Quran (2:193), God instructs Muslims to “fight them (non-Muslims) until there is no persecution and religion should be only for Allah.” It means Muslims must fight non-Muslims until Islam becomes the only religion in the world, marking the end of persecution. 
To Muslims reluctant to engage in violent Jihad, God makes fighting a binding duty, saying: “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not” (Quran 2:216).
God admonishes those, reluctant to engage in violent Jihad, of having a timid heart “fainting because of death” (Quran 47:20). Some of Muhammad’s followers were unwilling to fight, because the opponents were their family members and kinsmen. God ordered them to sever their kindred relationship with their non-Muslim relatives, so that they could fight even their own kinsmen without hesitation or compassion in their heart (Quran 64:14).
The sole aim of Muslims is to dedicate their life (which God has purchased from them) to God’s cause, for entering paradise, as says the Quran (9:111): “[God] hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth, because the Garden (Paradise) will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain.”
God has made Muslims the inheritor of the earth: “[God] hath made you [His] agents, inheritors of the earth..." (Quran 6:165). The Islamic holy war must continue until Muslims wrestle the ownership of the world and Islamic creed prevails over all people and places.
Acting on these divine commands for holy war, Prophet Muhammad embarked on a relentless campaign of raids, expeditions and wars, 70 to 100 of them, between 624 and 632 CE, conquering large territory of the Arabian Peninsula, establishing Islam as a religio-political creed. He exiled non-Muslims en-masse, slaughtered all adult men of a tribe, enslaved the women and children in large numbers and sold them into slavery or kept the women as concubines.
Towards the end of Muhammad’s life, God revealed a series of verses, offering two distinct final choices to Polytheistic (idolaters, pagans, heathen, atheists etc.) and Monotheistic (Jews and Christians) non-Muslims. The Polytheists must be converted to Islam at the pain of death, thereby incorporating their nations and communities into Islam (Quran 9:5). The lands of the Jews and Christians must be capture through war to establish Islamic domination and they must be reduced to lowly and humiliated subjects, called dhimmi, who will also pay extra taxes (jizya, kharaj etc.) to sustain the Muslim community and state (Quran 9:29-33).
God’s command for founding an Islamic imperial state on the global scale was carried forward by successive caliphs and rulers after Muhammad’s death. The Islamic holy warriors burst out of Arabia and within two decades, they overran the mighty Persian Empire and captured a large chunk of territory (the Levant, North Africa) from the mightiest Byzantine Empire. Within a century of Muhammad’s death, they had created a giant transcontinental Islamic kingdom expanding from Arabia to India, North Africa and Spain.
Liberalism, developed in the era of European Enlightenment, is a worldview having ideological projections at the individual, state and global levels. The foundational idea of liberalism is that ‘human beings are rational’. The rational human beings, liberals hold, are capable of thinking, and leading their life, independently. Liberals, therefore, require no supernatural deities to write down a blueprint for life (i.e. religious scriptures) to be followed scrupulously.
Liberals emphasize on “social progressivism,” which holds that traditions and social practices do not carry any inherent value and they should be continuously readjusted for the greater benefit and progress of the human society.
The autonomous nature of the individual in liberalism demands that the society and state exert least influence on one’s personal life allowing maximum freedom to the individual, as long as it does not harm others. State’s duty is to serve the individuals who create it, as stated by Einstein, “The only justifiable purpose of political institutions is to insure the unhindered development of the individual,” and "The state exists for man, not man for the state”. Apart from liberty, individual rights, equal opportunity for all, freedom of thought and expression, and free exchange of ideas etc. are some basic demands of liberalism.
Politically, liberals advocate for participatory democracy, guided by a constitution. The state must institute a transparent system of governance exercising limited power and the rule of law. Liberalism rejected earlier well-established forms and concepts of governance, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary monarchies, and the role of religion.
In economy, liberals seek open competition in the market where individuals, who are self-interested, will work hard for their own good to generate competition, enabling themselves to contribute maximally and increasing productivity. Self-interested individuals, thus, can produce beneficial outcomes collectively. Liberals, therefore, promote capitalism, and free-market or mixed economy. The state will set rules and regulation for a fair competition. When those rules are breach, the state should intervene.
There are two major strands of liberalism, classical and social, differing sharply in economic policies and wealth redistribution, and government’s right to interfere in these processes. The classical liberals support free private enterprise, open economic policy, and oppose the welfare state. They support equality before the law, and open and fair competition in the market. They hold any economic inequality that arises from such competition as a natural and acceptable outcome. But the social liberals advocate for greater state intervention for more equitable redistribution of wealth and welfare amongst citizens. They demand that the state ensures education to all, and many of them support unemployment benefits, housing for the homeless and medical care for the sick by taxing the well-off.
Globalization as globalizing liberalism
Liberalism incorporates a universalistic undertone by demanding inalienable human rights to all individuals, transcending social, cultural and national boundaries. This universalistic undertone can be traced in the debate of liberal philosophers of the Enlightenment era about establishing a just, orderly and peaceful world. German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s most influential essay, the Perpetual Peace, outlined a systematic and thoughtful early account of the problems of world peace. For creating a peaceful international order, liberals have emphasized on creating non-monarchic, non-authoritarian republican democratic states guided by a system of laws or constitution. It is obviously easy for authoritarian rulers, with absolute power and little or no accountability, to violate human rights of their citizens and wage wars against outsiders. Not to concentrate political powers in a single hand, liberals therefore argue for establishing constitutional democracies with distribution of power among a number of interdependent state-agencies—the head of state, the judiciary, the congress, and the senate etc. Constitutional or republican democracies obviously make it more difficult for governments to wage wars and violate citizens’ rights because of weakened powers and accountability to the voters. Michael Doyle’s conclusion that liberal democratic states do not fight wars against one another for narrow self-interest supports the liberal peace theory.
The horrific scale of senseless destruction of life and properties in the First World War (WW I) brought a new urgency amongst liberal thinkers to find ways of preventing conflicts between states. They focused on instituting the rule of law and on fostering mutual respect between states by increasing cooperation and interdependence, as well as creating international institutions for providing a semblance of stable and peaceful international order. They created, based on the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s recommendations on international reform for achieving a peaceful world-order, the League of Nations (1920) as a platform for international diplomacy, and as an institution for providing collective security to weaker states against their aggressors. Liberals hoped that such an institution will help create a world-order conducive to peace and security. The outbreak of the Second World War (WW II), however, dealt liberalism a big blow.
After the WW II, liberalism lost favour in international relations to ‘realism’, which holds that states in the global anarchic system are, by nature, self-interested and driven by power, and that they will pursue their self-interest to the detriments of others without regard to the constraints of law or morality. Despite the WW II setbacks, the mission for globalizing the liberal worldview has continued. The League of Nations saw its rebirth as the United Nations (U.N.) for international cooperation and with some teeth for ensuring world-peace. Europe witnessed the birth of the European Union (E.U.). To reduce the chances of war, liberals in the post-WW II era have argued for diluting the power of states by surrendering certain elements of their sovereignty to international bodies, namely the U.N. or E.U. etc.
For promoting the free-market economic policies globally, liberals have created new economic institutions, namely the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the eventual outcomes of the multilateral negotiations at the Bretton Woods (USA) in 1944. IMF has acted for ensuring stable international trades under difficult circumstances by offering economic assistance to states in difficulty. The World Bank, created for distributing aid for the reconstruction of devastated economies of Europe, has later offered investment, aid and loans to developing countries. The WTO acts on promoting freer international trades by bringing down tariffs gradually and as a negotiating platform for protectionist states to liberalize their economies.
While the World Bank, IMF and WTO act as liberal agents for globalizing the economic principles of liberal, the U.N., in principle, has become a paramount institution for promoting liberalism’s sociopolitical regime, comprising democracy, rule of law, justice, human rights, equal citizenship, liberty, freedom of expression, and self-determination etc. The U.N. human rights charter promotes ‘the principles of human rights and self–determination of peoples’ (Articles 1) and ‘human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinctions’ (Article 55). It also promotes freedom of expression (Article 19) and freedom of religion or belief (Article 18). The U.N. binds the member states, through their signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with legal obligation for ensuring these rights within their national boundaries. In the 1960s, liberals pushed through further declarations on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights. The U.N. charter aims to institute a universal human rights standard across the globe.
Liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, also facilitate the promotion of liberal values, such as human rights, justice, and liberty, by acting as watchdogs. Although globalization is seen by many in the narrower sense of economic and technological liberalization and integration of the world, in actuality, globalization covers the whole ‘regime’ being undertaken by the neoliberal economic institutions and the U.N. for spreading globally.
The clash of globalization and Islam
The economic globalization pushed through various liberal institutions has achieved greater success in recent decades, while the socio-political globalization pushed through the U.N. has been less successful. For example, the economic integration and liberalization of China has achieved substantial success, while political liberalization remained rather static. The sociopolitical globalization project of the U.N. has met its worst failure in the Islamic countries. While the surviving 20th-century authoritarian rulers of Europe and Asia, such as Spain, South Korea, Japan and Thailand, have either abandoned dictatorial rules or made significant progress towards political openness, the Muslim countries of the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE etc.)—emerged as authoritarian monarchies in the first-half of 20th century—have made little progress towards constitutional or republican democracy.
When the European colonialists withdrew, many independent nations emerged as secular democracies. The non-Islamic ones amongst them, with rare exceptions (e.g., Zimbabwe), have either maintained or strengthened their liberal-democratic credentials, but the Muslim ones have witnessed deterioration in democracy and other liberal principles. For example, both India and Pakistan emerged as secular democracies, while gaining independence in 1947. India has maintained and even strengthened its credentials in democracy and other indicators of liberalism since then, but democracy in Pakistan (and its offshoot Bangladesh) has been frequently interrupted by military dictatorships, while human rights, rule of law, justice, liberty, and freedom of expression etc. have progressively deteriorated. Malaysia has maintained a semblance of democracy since independence in 1957, but introduced positive discrimination (1971) against non-Muslim minorities in state-sponsored economic and educational opportunities. This has robbed the human rights, justice and equal citizenship of non-Muslim Malaysians, turning them into state-legislated second-class citizens. Malaysia has incorporated many Sharia provisions in the legal system, while rising Islamic intolerance progressively curtails liberty and freedom of expression and belief in Malaysia. This trend continues across all Islamic nations.
Liberalism is failing and retreating in the Islamic world, while making reasonable progress in non-Islamic countries with rare exceptions. Similarly, whilst the Hindu and Buddhist immigrants assimilate easily in the West, Muslim immigrants clash with their liberal host societies. Obviously, there is an irreconcilable contradiction between Islamic and liberal ideals.
The Islam-Liberalism Clash at the U.N.
The disagreement of Islamic nations with the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) helps one understand Islam’s clash with liberalism. While most Muslim countries grudgingly voted for the bill, Saudi Arabia, along with the communist-block countries and South Africa, abstained. The reason for the abstention of apartheid South Africa and communist countries are easily understandable. But the disagreement of Islamic countries lied in the clash of many demands of the UDHR with Islamic divine laws (Sharia). The disagreement has continued, indeed intensified, ever since. Although many signatory countries have failed to implement the rights enshrined in the UDHR satisfactorily, the Islamic countries have faired worst. Indeed, their implementation has gradually worsened in most Muslim countries over the years.
The UDHR has been recognized as the greatest charter on human rights, particularly in secular democracies of the West. Even Pope John Paul II, on 5 October 1995, called it "one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time." However, its principles conflict so sharply with Islamic laws that Muslims states—namely Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—have continued their vocal criticism of the bill, charging it as "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition," the implementation of which violates Islamic laws. Muslim countries, challenging the UDHR, created a new document, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, 1990. It calls for ensuring freedom and rights to individuals in accordance with the Islamic Sharia law (Article 24 & 25). “There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari'a,” says the Islamic charter (Article 19.d).
Muslim countries aim to standardize gradually the human rights at the U.N. in accordance with Islamic laws. To that end, they recently pushed through, against opposition of European countries, a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council prohibiting criticisms of religion, contradicting Article 19 of the UDHR on the freedom of expression.
Historical clash between Islam and liberalism
This clash of Islamic holy laws with liberalism has a long history, going back to the 18th century. In exercising God’s command for founding a global Islamic kingdom, Islamic holy warriors first assaulted Western Europe, the birthplace of liberalism, as early as 652 CE and overran Gothic Spain in 711. The unprovoked and aggressive brutal Islamic assaults on Europe continued for nearly a millennium. Europe, while defending itself, also sometimes launched counterattacks, the Crusades for example. One crucial victory for Europe was the defeat of the Muslim invaders in 732 at the Battle of Poitiers in central France by General Charles Martel. If not for this victory, wrote Edward Gibbon:
“…perhaps the interpretation of the Quran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford and her pulpit might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”
Muslims eventually overran entire Eastern Christendom, centered in Constantinople. In Europe, they captured the entire Balkan Peninsula, moved towards Russia capturing Crimea and laid unsuccessful siege twice on Vienna, the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1529 and 1683. Muslims at some point ruled the whole of Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. They ruled parts of France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. This reduced Western Europe to a truncated and cornered Christian landmass, resisting desperately to an inescapable takeover by Islamic armies. Busbecq, the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Istanbul (1554–62), went on to say that it was only the threat from Persia (to Ottoman Turkey) that saved imminent conquest of Europe by the Turks.
The fortune dramatically changed in Europe’s favour. The 1683 retreat of the Ottoman army from Vienna for the second time decisively proved Europe’s military supremacy over the Ottomans. The Ottomans were progressively expelled, eventually from all parts of Western Europe. They continued ruling in some Balkan regions until the early 20th century, which ended when the Ottoman Empire was partitioned by the Anglo-French allies after the WW I.
Muslims were not only expelled from Western Europe, starting in the mid-18th century, Britain, Holland, France, Italy and Spain eventually captured most of the Islamic lands. Russia took large parts of central Asian and eastern European regions, while China, Burma and Thailand also captured lands, previously conquered by Muslims.
Fallen to so-called Barbarians from the North and mired in religious obscurantism, Europe, at the birth of Islam, was a backward continent sunk in darkness. Muslims, with good deal of justification, considered Europe “an outer darkness of barbarism and unbelief from which there was nothing to learn,” awaiting “incorporation into the domain of Islam and conversion into the faith of Islam”. The Levant and North Africa were at the time the leading Christian civilizations with key institutions and cultural centres. The Muslim holy warriors conquered these and the remaining great civilizations of Persia and India. The Islamic world, therefore, acquired the immense wealth and the cultural and intellectual treasures of world’s greatest civilizations, becoming world’s most advanced civilization itself for many centuries. However, by the early 18th century, religious obscurantism, disinterest in learning and innovation, administrative corruption and moral decay had miserably weakened Muslim states, enabling their easy conquest by European powers. The pursuit of learning had come to such low ebb in Islamdom that Napoleon, upon conquering Egypt in 1798, could not find any suitable Arabic-speaking Egyptians to fill the positions of authority and administration and had to employ Turks, Albanians and other foreigners.
The Muslim creed and society were born with the divine sanction to conquer, rule and dominate the infidels of the whole world and eventually turn them to Islam. Muslims achieved unbelievable success in this pursuit not only in conquering world’s greatest civilizations and half of the known world, but also in converting a great multitude of vanquished people to Islam. Now they had to suffer the bitter humiliation of subjugation to intolerable infidel rules. Muslims did not consume this defeat easily, posing strong resistance to the colonial rulers. Hindus and other non-Muslims, who constituted 80% of India’s population, were more accepting of British rule, while the minority Muslims incited the ‘Indian Mutiny’ in 1857 in the name of Jihad for wiping out the infidel rule. Similar trend existed elsewhere, such as in the Philippines.
The 18th-century European colonists, particularly Britain, France, Netherlands and Italy, brought liberal secular system of governance to their Muslim colonies, which collided with the Sharia in many instances. Sharia demands exploitation and dehumanization of dhimmi subjects (Jews/Christians), amputation of limb for stealing and robbery, confinement of women at home, stoning to death for adultery, public flogging for fornication, execution of homosexuals, death for apostasy or proselytization of Muslims, and beheading, crucifixion, and public flogging etc. for various crimes. Many of these practices were abhorrent to European rulers, but they had to careful about disbanding them, not to antagonize their intractable Muslim subjects. To appease Muslims, the British and French rulers incorporated the acceptable parts of the Sharia laws in the legal system, but discarded those that were irrelevant (alcohol ban) or repugnant (slavery, stoning, amputation etc.) to them. In independent Muslim countries, Europeans used diplomatic pressures to abolish persecution and inequality of dhimmi subjects and slavery etc.
The European rule and influence, despite facing stiff resistance from Muslims, caused significant liberalization and secularization of Islamic societies, while engendering three kinds of responses amongst Muslims: secularist, reformist and fundamentalist. The secularists, impressed by liberal Western ideas, found Islam abhorrent and sought complete separation of religion from the state; the reformist understood the essentiality of secular laws and sought to give Islamic colour to those laws to achieve acceptance amongst Muslims; the fundamentalists completely rejected the infidel laws and influences in their private and national life and demanded a return to the Sharia. The secularists and reformists saw solution to the Muslim world’s woeful state of affairs in following the liberal West; the fundamentalists blamed distraction from divine laws for all their worldly problems and called for a return to fundamental Islam for the salvation in this and the next life.
Secularist Kemal Ataturk of Turkey blamed Islam for the miserable state of affairs in Muslim countries, denouncing it as “the rules and theories of the immoral Arab sheikhs”. He abolished the Ottoman Islamic caliphate and single-mindedly secularized and modernized Turkey into a French-style republic. The secular autocratic Shahs of Iran ruthlessly de-Islamized and secularized the country. Colonel Gaddafi experimented with socialism while the radical secularists in Afghanistan tried communism. But none of these experiments with Western ideas has solved the woes of Muslim nations.
In the midst of these crises in Islamic countries, fundamentalism—ascendant since the 18th century—continues consolidating its appeal politically amongst Muslims. In the early 20th century, the fundamentalists in India started the ‘Caliphate Movement’ (1919–24) for uniting all Muslim lands into an Islamic superstate under the existing Ottoman caliphate. When Ataturk abolished the caliphate itself in 1923, the disappointed fundamentalists took to national politics forming Islamic parties. Islamists in Egypt founded the transnational Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, aiming to return to pristine Islam by ridding the Arab world of Western influence. Muslim Brotherhood has inspired the creation of Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah and other fundamentalist parties in Arab countries. More radical fundamentalists, such as Al-Qaeda and like-minded groups went the violent Jihadi way of the old, which had orchestrated Islam’s Middle-Age domination. The fundamentalists captured power in Iran, Afghanistan (Taliban), Sudan and Palestine, while consolidating themselves in other Islamic countries.
The rising fundamentalism in Islamic countries has intensified an anti-liberalism backlash. Most Muslim nations emerged as relatively moderate countries and some even as secular democracies when European powers withdrew. Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey—never colonized—were the most liberal Muslim countries until 1970s. Wiping out the vestiges of liberalism, the Islamists in Sudan and Iran have reinstated the Sharia—including stoning, amputation, beheading, ban on alcohol etc. The Taliban did the same in Afghanistan, while Nigeria’s Muslim North and Algeria are reintroducing these abhorrent laws. In other moderate Islamic countries—namely Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia etc.—the rising power of the fundamentalists and popular appeal of Islam pressurise the governments to introduce Sharia laws bit by bit. Human rights violation, particularly of women and non-Muslim minorities, is worst in Muslim countries, likely to deteriorate further in coming decades.
Islam's exploitation of globalization for undermining liberalism
Certain principles of liberalism—namely international trade, pluralism and multiculturalism, tolerance, self-determination etc. spread through globalization—are being exploited by Muslims to undermine liberalism itself. For example, international trade with the oil-rich Middle East has created huge wealth in those otherwise impoverished Muslim countries. This has enabled Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya spend billions of dollars annually in propagating puritanical and extremist religious teachings in Islamic countries and in financing violent Islamic movements in Palestine, Lebanon, Kashmir, Mindanao, and Southern Thailand etc. Saudi Arabia poured $10 billion between 1973 and 1975, mainly to support Muslims, and Islamic causes. Iran is allegedly pouring $2.5 billion a year to terrorist groups fighting western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The religious propaganda, powered by Saudi money, is transforming relatively liberal and tolerant Islamic countries into dens of intolerance, extremism and violence, thereby banishing all traces of liberalism. The oil-money is also poured liberally into funding mosques and Islamic schools, educational institutions, and research centres in Western countries, to spread religious bigotry, intolerance and obscurantism, which are ascendant among Muslim immigrants creating troubles for liberalism in its heartland. Muslims amongst immigrant communities of the West are specifically clashing with the values and norms of Western societies.
Multiculturalism has enabled Muslims assert their cultural values in public spheres, often undermining the Western liberal mores, deemed sinful and unacceptable by them. Multiculturalism assists Muslims to bring their theology-related anti-liberal customs and practices—polygamy, female circumcision, forced marriages, honour killing, cultural conservatism, and intolerance etc. to the West. It may eventually enable them wipe out certain un-Islamic liberal mores and , namely mixing of sexes, free movement of women, alcohol, nightclubs and bars, beach culture, entertainment industries etc.
Globalization’s agenda of spreading democracy, when somewhat succeeded in certain Islamic countries, worked to the detriment of liberalism. Democratic elections in Palestine, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon have brought to power, or helped empower, the anti-liberal fundamentalists, dumping the seculars. Fundamentalists are consolidating power through democratic elections elsewhere (i.e., Bangladesh, Pakistan & Egypt).
The Muslim-minority areas in non-Islamic countries—such as Kashmir, Chechnya, Southern Thailand and Mindanao—have been seeking independence through the instruments of violence and terror, mainly because of their general intolerance of non-Muslim rules. The liberal principle of self-determination, enshrined in the U.N. Charter, has helped Muslims advance their intolerant and divisive agenda, contrary to a tolerant, inclusive and cohesive world liberalism aim to foster. Muslims in Kosovo recently succeeded in their goal. Most likely, the U.N. will be supporting Islamic self-determination movements in Manchester, Bradford, London, Brussels, West Berlin, Saint-Denis (Paris) and Dearborn (Michigan) in a few decades, when Muslims become the dominant population in those areas (see below).
Professor Tariq Ramadan foresees a revival of Islam in Europe based on the ‘pure faith’, while Professor Fouad Ajami sees a similar prospect but with alarming consequence. In the eyes of pious Muslims, such a Bradford Imam, the liberal Western societies, Britain for example, “is a sick and divided nation” in need of saving by Islam. Dr Kalim Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute (London), sees the aim of Muslim immigrants is to “define, defend and promote Islam in Britain.” They must destroy the liberal “political, social, economic, cultural, administrative and military systems” in the process.
The Muslim communities of Europe, Australia and North America are working on altering the secular-liberal mores of Western societies by increasingly enforcing their religious obligations and values in public spheres even through violence. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for making a film on the mistreatment of women in Islam, the widespread violence and/or death-warrants for drawing and publishing Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in Danish papers (2005-6), and the death-threats and large-scale vandalism over Salman Rushdie’s novel (1989) are but a few examples. These incidences underscore the kind of challenge liberalism already faces in its own heartland. According to a 2006 poll, 40 percent British Muslims prefer governance by Sharia laws, the implementation of which is “unavoidable” in the UK, said Archbishop of Canterbury in February.
In 2007, the Little Mermaid statue at the entrance of Copenhagen Harbour was found draped in Islamic veil and naked statues around Germany were left veiled with Islamic garbs overnight. These veiling incidents highlight how Muslims want to change the mores of the liberal West. When Muslims cannot tolerate uncovered lifeless statues, how long will they tolerate the liberally (scantily) dressed real women walk on the streets of Europe?
Given the way a small number of Muslim immigrants terrorize critiques, writers and intellectuals in the West and show defiance to local political norms and cultural values, it will not be difficult to grasp what would transpire if they become dominant in number. Current demographic trends suggest that Muslims may become the dominant religious community in Western Europe and Russia by 2050, resulting from immigration and higher birthrates. For example, Muslims constitute 8 percent of the French population, but about 20 percent newborns are Muslims. A recent census in Britain found Muslims growing ten-time faster than the rest of the society. In Manchester, having the highest Muslim density in Britain, the whites are projected to become minority in 2024. The higher birth-rate amongst Muslims results from Islamic prohibition of birth-control, which, particularly in the West, is also actively encouraged by radical Islamic preachers so that Muslims can take over the West for instituting Islamic governance as soon as possible.
The Islamic revivalism is also helping rightwing nationalist forces, seen as deterrence to Islamization of Europe, gain popularity in Austria, Britain, Netherlands, and Switzerland etc., which is not a good news for liberalism either.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are a few success stories of liberalist globalization in Asia, while Singapore, India and Thailand are emerging successes. Former communist countries of Eastern Europe are on a fast-track to globalization, while countries like China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia etc. would likely emerge as globalization’s further success stories eventually.
The Islamic world will remain globalization’s invincible front for a long time to come. While the rest of the world increasingly embraces liberalism, the Islamic world moves away from it, plunging itself into religious bigotry and obscurantism. Liberalism faces a challenge from Muslims at all levels: the extremists, elite Muslim leaders (such as at the U.N.) and the majority of common Muslims. Even in the West, many core principles of liberalism are facing an Islamic challenge, which will intensify in coming decades. An understanding of why Islamic ideology and culture collide with liberalism is urgently needed for developing effective strategies for succeeding globalization of liberalism in Islamic societies. Journalist Judith Miller argues that a liberal militancy or a militant liberalism is needed for liberalism to succeed in Islamic societies. But the liberalist neocon agenda (spread of democracy and human rights etc.)—unfurled by the Bush administration following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S.—has succeeded little; instead, it has, to a large extent, worked contrary to its intended goal.
As of now, Islam obviously remains liberalist globalization’s Achilles heel, without having a clue as to how to tame and undermine it effectively. However, unless effective measures are devised, and put in place within a short period of time, liberalism, instead of globalizing itself, may face a crisis of its own survival even in the West, engendered by a fast-globalizing Islam.
[written Feb 2008]
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