Skip to main content.

Back to: >> Editorial


Revision: 7 July 2007

"Some people called me a fanatic,
but fanaticism is important
when life on earth is in the balance."

Helen Caldicott (Gandhi Peace Prize & more)

Reform is necessary not only for most parts of the world as well. The confluence of extremism and nuclear weapons is the singular threat to mankind if not to life on Earth. Islam has demonstrated the power of suicidal terror. The rest of the world has yet to come to grips with solutions, nor is there anything close to an awareness that reforms need to occur. The rest of the world has been too busy achieving empire to empathize with Islam. For if we are to understand our "enemies," we must know them as they know themselves. Only then can we progress in the realms of hearts and ideas. A western mind-set must be altered as well as an Eastern one.

Empathy is for sissies, the mind set goes.
And therein lies the problem.

At least one Islamic power has tested nuclear weapons; more will surely follow. Madness can happen anywhere, witness North Korea. The world-wide reforms needed to counter the collision between terrorism and nuclear weaponry cannot begin soon enough. The Islamic world, and an Eastern dictator threaten both the East and West. The problem is world-wide. Only the great powers can lead the necessary changes.

See Nuclear Terror and Nuclear Pakistan for further discussion of the nuclear equation. See also Hope and Solutions for a positive slant on things.

As with every choice there are usually many aspects. In Islam, fundamentalist Muslims believe that the Qur'an provides both the first and last words on individual and societal behavior. And like Christians in their belief in the Bible, different Mullahs see different meanings in the Qur'an.

Christianity has its share of fundamentalists as well. Islam, however, has a tighter grip on the individual through its rituals of daily prayers and the togetherness these rituals engender. The strongest psychological need we all have is the need to belong. Islam provides this for its practitioners.

Islam arose originally as a solution to both the political and moral needs of Arabic society and quickly transcended and supplanted the Christian faith in the Middle East. Islam became an empire longer lasting than the Roman and second only to that of Britain in extent. By the end of the first millennium, the Islamic world provided the foremost culture on Earth even as its conflict with European Christianity was beginning to escalate. Islamic scholars contributed significantly to medicine, metallurgy, mathematics, and other intellectual disciplines.

From the Eleventh Century on there came a gradual, then accelerating decline for many reasons.

A web site Islamic Law - The Sharia has this to say:

      "Fourteen centuries ago Islam was a spiritual, social, and legal revolution. Its potential for effecting progress remains unchanged. This is essentially the belief of enlightened fundamentalist Muslims. Islamic fundamentalism is not, therefore, a regressive view of history and contemporary reality. Islam at the height of its civilization, between the seventh and eleventh centuries, was neither repressive nor regressive. It was a progressive, humanistic, and legalistic force for reform and justice."

There is great truth here and there is also great illusion. Islam was indeed an awakening for many. The problem is that the religion to this day remains stuck in the eleventh century, which in our times is the illusion that the Qur'an provides answers to all things when science and technology say otherwise. Perhaps that should be no surprise for Islam and its rituals permeate individual lives, society, and politics as both the first and last words. Daily adherence to Islam becomes the measure of a person. Islam does not allow the types of questions that lead to progress in literature, art, and science; it stifles them. So its potential for progress HAS changed because times have changed; opportunities for change have changed. Instead of being sought out for its new revelations, Islam is playing catch-up in all the fields of endeavor that make for progress of humankind, almost no matter how one defines the term "progress".

Conflict came early to Islam, not just on the battlefields but internally over who the rightful successors to Muhammed would be. That schism continues to this day. Unlike the Popes in Europe, who were equally warlike, the Mullahs of Islam were able to maintain their choke hold (through the Sharia) on governance that persists down to this day.

Religious terrorism has some of the earmarks of the Inquisition. Surely some type of reformation is in the offing if it is not already here. It can hardly come peacefully. It did not for Christianity, though there are signs that the Christian fundamentalism seriously needs a makeover.

Forward-looking modernists realize that societies that question, whether in regard to science, sociology, or politics, are the societies that progress in the sense of finding new and better answers to age-old plagues and problems. Progress in this sense is measured by how well governance systems inspire ethical behavior and individual relationships to create new science and technologies that serve humankind in positive ways. Thanks to the Reformation, Europe began moving down that more inspired path in the 16th Century. But in North America, a backlash is brewing involving the extreme Christian right. The "Us versus Them" mentality of the Bush Administration has inflated the danger from this movement.

Islam has yet to transform itself to enable progress as measured above. The single most important reform in the Christian world was the development of secular governance separate and distinct from matters of faith. That distinction did not come quickly or easily and its effectiveness was only slowly realized after long and bitter wars, remnants of which persist to this day. The Reformation enabled the likes of Newton, Jefferson, and Madam Curie. The Muslim world could take note.

Followers of Mohammed set down the Qur'an long after his death. They established the Caliphate, analogous to, but quite different from, the Papal system employed by the Roman Catholics. Caliphs were both the religious and secular heads of Islamic society with governance vested in the ummathe community of believers. The umma is bounded only by the Qur'an, the literal reading of which produced the Shariah Law. These laws transcended all other forms of governance in the Middle East. That feature made the very concept of the state unnecessary and secondary in any event for some 1400 years. The concept of nationhood still sat uneasily on the societies of Islam.

The unity of governing power and religious faith has always been much stronger in the world of Islam than elsewhere, especially after the Reformation in Europe. This union is a fundamenal feature in the slow and continuing demise of Islam since the 11th Century. Islamic theocracies have been even less successful than monarchies and other forms of government common in Europe.

The unity of Islam under the Caliphates lasted until 935 CE at which time local leaders established dynasties in various parts of the empire. Islam itself was never quite monolithic. Within about 30 years of Muhammed's death, the Sunnis elected to follow the Caliphs while Shi'is followed the Imams, the decendents of Ali. Their primary differences therefore concern which traditions are recognized; the Qur'an provides inspiration for both. Shi'is are the minority and are often picked on by Sunnis who are considered to be the orthodox branch. Each sect has had its schisms, like Christianity and Judaism.

It is proper to think of Islam as an empire because the Muslims themselves see it that way. The modern secular state was a European innovation that has not yet served Middle-Eastern people well. Perhaps this is to be expected. Islam itself consists of two main branches each of which has offshoots that transcend national boundaries. Middle-Eastern governance today still reflects the Middle Ages; theocracies, monarchies, and dictatorships vie with each other even as each accommodates to or recognizes Islam as ultimate law. Secular governments are universally opposed by the Mullahs. Only Turkey has succeded in loosening religious rule to any degree for any lenghth of time. Islam provides cohesion that bonds Middle-Eastern countries in spite of their differences. Democracy has not taken root; it is not yet a tradition that comes close to that of Islam. The dream of the young terrorist today is often to reestablish a Caliphate in the whole of the Middle East, and, by extension, the World.

In a way, Islam is similar to Judaism. Each requires members to live in a certain way rather than accept credal propositions (Karen Armstrong, Islam.)

Even as the Ottomans emerged, the Islamic empire as a whole gradually fell behind. After rejecting the earlier innovation of gunpowder, they rejected the printing press only to see newsprint spread new ideas everywhere except to Islam. Printing presses, of course, promoted discourse and materially hastened the rise of science and industry. Technology provided more effective tools for progress and war than did the Qur'an. These events exacerbated Islam's backwardness in governance and trade.

The Ottoman Empire invigorated imperial Islam for a time (1500-1700.) Gunpowder, spurned earlier, made this feasible. It could be used to control the populace even as it protected them over large areas.

Islam remains insular in our day. Middle-Eastern museums virtually ignore all cultures except their own. Their educational system does likewise; its strong focus on Islam excludes learning much about anything else. Women remain second-class citizens in most of Islam. Iraq was a partial exception until Bush came along. Women in Iraq are once again second-class citizens. Women in Islam are all too often undereducated, if educated at all.

With its focus on the Qur'an, Islam provided a poor basis for the free and unbridled thinking necessary for innovations in politics, science, and technology. So Islam lagged and that trend worsened in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Ottomans declined in influence and disappeared after World War I.

While Islam held onto the Qur'an and the Sharia for governance and inspiration, Europe and North America found better ways to foster science and industry. The effective separation of church and state enabled the combination of freedom and enterprise to lift their peoples both intellectually and economically.

This very real conflict between styles of governance is still raging in the form of immigration from the Middle East to America and Europe. This conflict, driven by disparate views of society and unequal distribution of wealth and power, has now escalated in a new dimension: terrorism. Terrorists of the mid-20th century were largely secular; now they are mostly religious.

Middle-Eastern governance is still autocratic and quasi-feudalistic in nature where the "big man" or family usually rules. An Islamic education is still held in highest esteem with Muslim clerics either running the governments and educational systems, or influencing them greatly. Mosques often preach hatred of the Infidel. Of the 22 Islamic countries, only two nominally separate Church and State in their constitutions. All Islamic governments heed or incorporate the Qur'an to a significant degree.

Some 18 centuries ago, Judaism was replaced by Christianity as the most popular faith and moral directive in the region that is now Palestine. With that and similar events, political power that lasted for over a millennium came to the Catholic Church in Western and Northern Europe. In the seventh Century, Islam defeated the Christians and Jews in the Middle East and Islamic Arabs established their own empire. These events combined to scatter the Jews into more or less dispersed enclaves, a diaspora, throughout Europe and, later, the Western Hemisphere. Only a small remnant remained in the area that is now Palestine among a much larger Arabic population that provided political governance for Arab and Jew alike.

That was the situation until the early 20th Century. Palestinian Arabs feel that Palestine is their home, having lived there for some 14 centuries. That is certainly a justified belief.

Meanwhile, Jews existed on the fringes politically. They lived in something of a love-hate relationship in the lands of both Islam and Christendom. With the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate, Britain became a sponsor for Jewish recovery of a homeland long since lost. The holocaust then turned world sympathies in favor of a Jewish state which came into being in 1948 with the endorsement by the General Assembly of the UN.

Many in Islam see Israel as an invader who has established a militarily-strong and religious outpost in their midst. There is justification for such an Arabic view when one considers the population of Palestine up to about 1918, the histories of Jewish immigration, and the physical displacement of Muslim citizens in 1948 and 1949.

The gap between the Middle East and the modern Western nations has now become too extreme for Islam to ignore. While the disparity in Palestine helped trigger conflict, the disparity is Islam-wide. And the Palestinians are supported by all of Islam. Privileged classes are common; extreme gaps in wealth exist in most Islamic societies. Islamic terrorists target their own privileged classes as well as American and Western European citizenry.

"History repeats itself, but only in the large" (Durant). In this view, there is a parallel between the aims and means of Islamic Jihad and the Inquisition; Mustafa Kemal Ataturk roughly corresponds with Martin Luther of Protestant-Reformation fame in that he, Ataturk, broke with Islamic preaching and established a secular government with some effective separation of Church and state. The Palestine conflict roughly parallels the Thirty Years' War in effects and length; terrorism accompanied both events on both sides.

We seem to be in fact in the midst of an Islamic inquisition with terror its expression. Is a reformation in the offing? Are student demonstrations in Iran the opening salvo? One hopes so, but no follower of Ataturk is in sight. There is no clarion call of the magnitude of that from Martin Luther. There is some opposition in "exile." For one example of an effort toward reformation see "Toward an Islamic Reformation." . At home it is too often another matter; harsh fundamentalists totally intimidate the majority.

In a "New York Times" column, Thomas Friedman wrote that it is the religious leaders, pseudo-intellectuals, pundits, and educators who primarily inspire terrorism. He reported:

      "I got an e-mail note from a young Saudi woman (who signed her name) that began: "Thank you as a moderate Saudi for your efforts to expose what's going on in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Friedman, our schools teach religious intolerance, most of our Mosques preach hate against the non-Muslims, our media is exclusively controlled by the government and religious people. Our moderate ideas have no place to be presented. Our government is not doing anything really to stop the religious control from paralyzing our lives. Mr. Friedman, we need help."

This communication provides piercing evidence of the need for a modern day reformation in Islam.

Friedman concluded, in effect, that until we can effectively counter this war of ideas, there will be plenty of suicidal terrorists ready to do their things, and there will never be enough FBI agents to counter or find them all.

This is not to say we must counter propaganda with propaganda. Rather, novel ideas and actions are needed that can lead to policies having broad appeal that both the governed and those governing can support and implement.

A reformation of Islam can only come from within the Islamic world itself. But we in the West must be receptive and empathetic with those who would implement change, just as we need to be severe in dealing with those who practice terror upon us from any direction. Empathy for other societies -- in the sense of feeling with and understanding -- is the reformation we in the West must accomplish in kind. Violence only begets violence. That is the history, whether we like it or not.

Much is made of the economic gap as the root cause for terror. In a sense this is true in that an extreme economic gap brings with it feelings of helplessness along with a miserable life. For a people in such a state, suicidal terror seems like a welcome option, especially when martyrdom is encouraged with heaven as reward.

To progress in winning hearts and minds, the West must stand ready to provide conditions for economic growth for the disadvantaged. For its part, Islam must provide an environment and build elements of trust that can enable economic development of the kind that creates capital, that does not just burn it. In this light the fundamental issue is medieval governance that still has its grip on the lands of Islam. Many terrorist organizations recognize this and go after their own secular rulers as avidly as the go after the West.

The reformation issue facing Islam, while similar to the one accomplished in Europe, is rather different in that it pits religion against progressive secularism in governance. As with the European experience, it is the religion that must accommodate.

The Internet provides one means to lift the awareness of the citizens of the world. Conversation in Dialogue is another.

Awareness within Islam, however, is the paramount issue. Economically, the average Muslim is only too aware of his/her plight. Politically, the handwriting has been on the wall for at least two centuries. Again the average Muslim only sees the contrast between wealth and misery.

The Terror Equation

Technically, the Internet is now THE medium for information flow of any type. Socially, the young people of Iran know how to stay in touch with the rest of the world. Self-education is the mode of today. Young Iranis are examples of the main problem facing the conservative Mullahs in Islam today. Keeping the young in the fold seems to be obsessing the Mullahs in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt especially. They still operate in a Talibanic mold. Streams of young Muslims become radicalized and suicidal terrorists, even though the Qur'an forbids suicide.
Terrorism is a game of high return--the reason it is played. Consider the leverage factor, 19 hijackers took out some 3000 people and erased untold billions of wealth in one bold stroke on 9/11. Al Qa'ida numbered some 10,000 well-trained terrorists at the time. This is why so many Islamic nations reacted as they did in the General Assembly by jumping on the anti-terrorism bandwagon. Their regimes are far more vulnerable than we are! It is also imperative that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of the likes of Al Qa'ida. Nuclear weaponry is so awesome that it needs its own international governance. Controlling all things nuclear for the salvation of humankind is the primary reformation required of the modern world.

Equally imperative, the World must realize that as long as huge economic gaps persist, they will breed the hopelessness and despair that fuel radical movements and terrorism that Mullahs instigate. This is what makes the political lurch to the right in America so dangerous.

The World needs more than a Band-Aid
of violence-in-kind.

A bright side is that the Mullahs are fighting a losing game. Most of their charges do not take the bait. The West is well advised to nurture reforms in Islam. We are less able to accomplish now that we have kicked out Hussein and ignored the fundamental problem of reformation. Invading Iraq is worse than a replay of Palestine and Vietnam rolled into one, only this time it is we who would live in a Green Zone behind the Iron Wall. Invading Iraq played into the hands of the radical Mullahs. It has begun to destabilize the Middle East and is impossible to contain--analogous to Vietnam.

Societal reformation requires dialogue person-to-person across borders and between nations on the civilian as well as the diplomatic level. It requires all sides to focus on common issues and interests.

An indication that an Islamic reformation may have begun in the minds of some is clear from visiting: ISLAMIC REFORMATION MOVEMENT where specific modernizing suggestions are made. The author is quoted: "Please understand that this appeal being launched, is not a vilification of Islam or any of its adherents who are not to be blamed because they are brainwashed. The accusation is leveled more at the "god" we have chosen, the mythical "Allah" but, more particularly, his power-brokers, the Ayatollahs, Imams, and Mullahs, who use the Koranic threat of apostasy and its sentence of death to oppose all critics of the cult."

As for the world, our time requires more than a military buildup and more than an intellectual Band-Aid. It requires all nations to focus on the greatest threat ever faced by humankind, nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. Countering this threat for all time will require significant modification of world governance; a bit of sovereignty must be given up by each nation in common for the sake of humanity and life on Earth.

If we opt for the Iron Wall, terrorists will sooner or later find the ultimate gun and use it to "purify" humankind even if that means wiping it out along with themselves. See also: Suicide Terrorism.

Dialogue, Hope, and Solutions are some places to look for guidance. For one take on how this situation came about see Homo sapiens.

For a critical summary of where America is headed see: American Values.

Amnesty International, in 2005, had this to say about Sharia Law "The [Nigerian] Federal Government will most likely not interfere in a judiciary case until Amina has run out of appeals and the death sentence has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. Then, the President would have the power to pardon her.

Amnesty International went on in 2005: "While this represents a positive attitude from the Federal government, it does not address the inherent problems in the application of justice in Northern Nigeria, the lack of equal protection of human rights for women and persons of Muslim faith and the use of the death penalty. It also does not address the fact that there are currently three other persons facing death by stoning in Nigeria who will have to go through this cruel process all over again. Further there are other death by stoning cases in countries like Sudan where the risk of death sentences being carried out is substantially greater so it is essential that pressure be maintained to save Amina Lawal, the others facing similar punishments and change the way Shari'ah laws are enforced."

[Amina Lawal's "crime" was having a baby out of wedlock. The father simply denied it and escaped similar charges. Males cannot be convicted without four witnesses to the act! A mere pregnancy by anyone other than her husband, condemns a woman regardless of how it occured.]

See also Women in this regard.


11 Sept 2001 ended Pax Americana; this event immediately changed the direction of history in several important ways. A reformation of sorts has already begun:

Before 11 Sept 2001 After 11 Sept 2001
Americans felt safe from direct attacks; no war on home turf for six generations Americans realize they are vulnerable to most any kind of attack
Freedom expressed and rejoiced Freedom is curtailed considerably
Lagged UN dues obligations Dues partly paid up
War conceived as armies in battle Terrorism against the people became new battleground
Politicians argued over insignificant issues
Politicians unite against terror, divide over social issues and need for war against Iraq

World Reformations Needed Specific actions appearing below are possible in principle, consistent with individual freedom of expression and equal opportunity, and are surely possible. Certainly some of these avenues are idealistic, but we feel there is too little idealism in the world.


Present Policy

Future Vision

Policeman only for own interests Policeman for world civilization
Refusing to address or going slow on environmental issues vital to life on Earth Immediately accept our full responsibilities like world citizens. See: WorldWatch Institute
Largely ignoring, even worsening, buildup of greenhouse gases Broad front program to develop clean energy sources, conversion, and waste recycle; limit emissions; increase use of renewable sources
Walked out of UN conference on anti-racism Build on American example of very real integration success
Arrogant behavior; little introspection Accept others as individuals and their societies as states in equality with us
Refusing to sign the Women's Rights Treaty Sign this treaty as a start to reclaiming the moral high ground
Multi-polar political alliances; including despots Unify in democratic format; oppose despots; reclaim moral high ground
Increasing gap between haves and have-nots Assist third world in bootstrapping their own infrastructures
Plutocracy fostering monopolies crowding out equal opportunity Strictly limit corporate excesses; encourage entrepreneurship and creativity
Above the UN Embrace UN; work to modify UN for managing nuclear threat; foster democratic world governance
Political expediency Think twice, think long, and think deep before committing to a decision being late is better than making mistakes
Too Many Americans
Americans become part of world family
Supports despotic governments out of self interest Support democratic movements worldwide
Largely ignoring genocide Address genocide in timely manner with UN support
America too insular for its own good Civilization comes first while our freedoms are defended
Reacting in ways that increase religious polarization Proactively seek world reformations; address threats to mankind


Present Situation Future Vision
Society governance permeated by Islam; non Muslims excluded Separate church and state; integrate all ethnic groups into secular governance
Autocratic and despotic governments the norm Replace force with individual freedom, equality, and enterprise that operates under a system of constitutional law
Fundamentalism endangers civilization Moderate influence of religion over society; develop means for individual grow and fulfillment in a secular governance
Islam discriminates against women Reformation is needed as a practical matter of survival
Violence as means to settle differences permeates society Reformation is needed as a practical matter of survival
Culture largely closed to outside ideas Open doors to the arts, science, and cultural innovations of other nations
Reliance on oil for exports Develop infrastructure to support non-petroleum industrial base; critical in combating fundamentalism

Israel and Palestine.

Present Situation Future Vision
Segregation along ethnic lines Integration at all levels has demonstrated its power
Societies caught up in revenge cycles that dominate news and politics Revenge cycle replace with dialogue; moderate governance supported by society
Fundamentalism breeding terrorists, extremists direct response Moderated extremism
Gross diplomatic inequality Establish trade and cultural relationships

Because reform is always controversial, it will not come easily nor will it please everyone. Nevertheless, the need for a world reformation is compelling; in fact it is mandatory that we find workable formulas. Communicating a better life is our strongest attraction. Working to reduce our own excesses and publicizing our progress is most useful. Invite others to participate. Initiate cultural exchanges to counter mullahs preaching hatred and the likes of Pat Robertson preaching assassination.

We believe it is time that reasonable people, the moderates among us, seized the initiative from those on the left and right extremes and move forward with agendas for peace and prosperity for all. People on the extremes should find it easier to accommodate a centrist agenda than those of each other. See Solutions and Hope.


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.