The stakes could not have been higher. Pakistan under military dictatorship had become the epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims. First, the extremists’ aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world, uniting the Middle East, the Persian Gulf states, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and parts of Africa. And second, the militants’ aim to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity. The goal — the great hope of the militants — is a collision, an explosion between the values of the West and what the extremists claim to be the values of Islam.
Within the Muslim world there has been and continues to be an internal rift, an often violent confrontation among sects, ideologies, and interpretations of the message of Islam. This destructive tension has set brother against brother, a deadly fratricide that has tortured intra-Islamic relations for 1,300 years. This sectarian conflict stifled the brilliance of the Muslim renaissance that took place during the Dark Ages of Europe, when the great universities, scientists, doctors, and artists were all Muslim. Today that intra-Muslim sectarian violence is most visibly manifest in a senseless, self-defeating sectarian civil war that is tearing modern Iraq apart at its fragile seams and exercising its brutality in other parts of the world, especially in parts of Pakistan.
And as the Muslim world — where sectarianism is rampant — simmers internally, extremists have manipulated Islamic dogma to justify and rationalize a so-called jihad against the West. The attacks on September 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation; the Crusades in reverse. And as images of the twin towers burning and then imploding were on every television set in the world, the attack was received in two disparate ways in the Muslim world. Much, if not most, of the Muslim world reacted with horror, embarrassment, and shame when it became clear that this greatest terrorist attack in history had been carried out by Muslims in the name of Allah and jihad. Yet there was also another reaction, a troubling and disquieting one: Some people danced in the streets of Palestine. Sweets were exchanged by others in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Condemnations were few in the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia. The hijackers of September 11 seemed to touch a nerve of Muslim impotence. The burning and then collapsing towers represented, to some, resurgent Muslim power, a perverse Muslim payback for the domination of the West. To others it was a religious epiphany. And to still others it combined political, cultural, and religious assertiveness. A Pew comparative study of Muslims’ attitudes after the attacks found that people in many Muslim countries “think it is good that Americans now know what it is like to be vulnerable.”
One billion Muslims around the world seemed united in their outrage at the war in Iraq, damning the deaths of Muslims caused by U.S. military intervention without U.N. approval. But there has been little if any similar outrage against the sectarian civil war, which has led to far more casualties. Obviously (and embarrassingly), Muslim leaders, masses, and even intellectuals are quite comfortable criticizing outsiders for the harm inflicted on fellow Muslims, but there is deadly silence when they are confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence. That kind of criticism is not so politically convenient and certainly not politically correct. Even regarding Darfur, where there is an actual genocide being committed against a Muslim population, there has been a remarkable absence of protests, few objections, and no massive coverage on Arab or South Asian television.
We are all familiar with the data that pour forth from Western survey research centers and show an increasing contempt for and hostility to the West, and particularly the United States, in Muslim communities from Turkey to Pakistan. The war in Iraq is cited as a reason. The situation in Palestine is given as another reason. So-called decadent Western values are often part of the explanation. It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to accept responsibility ourselves.
First Chapter of Bhutto’s recent book, courtesy the NYT