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Publication: ViewPoint
A World Without Islam Pt. 2

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"Exploring The Powerful Issues & Emotions of The Middle East" 
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Editor's Note:

This is the second part of a two part Viewpoint entitled, 
A World Without Islam. We are getting unprecedented 

Part 1 can be seen by visiting: A World Without Islam Pt. 1 

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A WORLD WITHOUT ISLAM Pt. 2 - By Graham E. Fuller

In a world without Islam, Western imperialism would have 
found the task of dividing, conquering, and dominating the 
Middle East and Asia much easier. There would not have 
remained a shared cultural memory of humiliation and defeat 
across a vast area. That is a key reason why the United 
States now finds itself breaking its teeth upon the Muslim 
world. Today, global intercommunications and shared 
satellite images have created a strong self-consciousness 
among Muslims and a sense of a broader Western imperial 
siege against a common Islamic culture. This siege is not 
about modernity; it is about the unceasing Western quest 
for domination of the strategic space, resources, and even 
culture of the Muslim world--the drive to create a "pro-
American" Middle East. Unfortunately, the United States 
naively assumes that Islam is all that stands between it 
and the prize. 

But what of terrorism--the most urgent issue the West most 
immediately associates with Islam today? In the bluntest of 
terms, would there have been a 9/11 without Islam? If the 
grievances of the Middle East, rooted in years of political 
and emotional anger at U.S. policies and actions, had been 
wrapped up in a different banner, would things have been 
vastly different? Again, it's important to remember how 
easily religion can be invoked even when other long-stand-
ing grievances are to blame. Sept. 11, 2001, was not the 
beginning of history. To the al Qaeda hijackers, Islam 
functioned as a magnifying glass in the sun, collecting 
these widespread shared common grievances and focusing them 
into an intense ray, a moment of clarity of action against 
the foreign invader. 

In the West's focus on terrorism in the name of Islam, 
memories are short. Jewish guerrillas used terrorism 
against the British in Palestine. Sri Lankan Hindu Tamil 
"Tigers" invented the art of the suicide vest and for 
more than a decade led the world in the use of suicide 
bombings--including the assassination of Indian Prime 
Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Greek terrorists carried out 
assassination operations against U.S. officials in Athens. 
Organized Sikh terrorism killed Indira Gandhi, spread 
havoc in India, established an overseas base in Canada, 
and brought down an Air India flight over the Atlantic. 
Macedonian terrorists were widely feared all across the 
Balkans on the eve of World War I. Dozens of major 
assassinations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries 
were carried out by European and American "anarchists," 
sowing collective fear. The Irish Republican Army employed 
brutally effective terrorism against the British for 
decades, as did communist guerrillas and terrorists in 
Vietnam against Americans, communist Malayans against 
British soldiers in the 1950s, Mau-Mau terrorists against 
British officers in Kenya--the list goes on. It doesn't 
take a Muslim to commit terrorism. 

Even the recent history of terrorist activity doesn't look 
much different. According to Europol, 498 terrorist attacks 
took place in the European Union in 2006. Of these, 424 
were perpetrated by separatist groups, 55 by left-wing 
extremists, and 18 by various other terrorists. Only 1 was 
carried out by Islamists. To be sure, there were a number 
of foiled attempts in a highly surveilled Muslim community. 
But these figures reveal the broad ideological range of 
potential terrorists in the world. 

Is it so hard to imagine then, Arabs--Christian or Muslim--
angered at Israel or imperialism's constant invasions, 
overthrows, and interventions employing similar acts of 
terrorism and guerrilla warfare? The question might be 
instead, why didn't it happen sooner? As radical groups 
articulate grievances in our globalized age, why should 
we not expect them to carry their struggle into the heart 
of the West? 

If Islam hates modernity, why did it wait until 9/11 to 
launch its assault? And why did key Islamic thinkers in 
the early 20th century speak of the need to embrace 
modernity even while protecting Islamic culture? Osama 
bin Laden's cause in his early days was not modernity at 
all--he talked of Palestine, American boots on the ground 
in Saudi Arabia, Saudi rulers under U.S. control, and 
modern "Crusaders." It is striking that it was not until 
as late as 2001 that we saw the first major boiling over 
of Muslim anger onto U.S. soil itself, in reaction to 
historical as well as accumulated recent events and U.S. 
policies. If not 9/11, some similar event like it was 
destined to come. 

And even if Islam as a vehicle of resistance had never 
existed, Marxism did. It is an ideology that has spawned 
countless terrorist, guerrilla, and national liberation 
movements. It has informed the Basque ETA, the FARC in 
Colombia, the Shining Path in Peru, and the Red Army 
Faction in Europe, to name only a few in the West. George 
Habash, the founder of the deadly Popular Front for the 
Liberation of Palestine, was a Greek Orthodox Christian 
and Marxist who studied at the American University of 
Beirut. In an era when angry Arab nationalism flirted 
with violent Marxism, many Christian Palestinians lent 
Habash their support. 


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Peoples who resist foreign oppressors seek banners to 
propagate and glorify the cause of their struggle. The 
international class struggle for justice provides a good 
rallying point. Nationalism is even better. But religion 
provides the best one of all, appealing to the highest 
powers in prosecuting its cause. And religion everywhere 
can still serve to bolster ethnicity and nationalism even 
as it transcends it—especially when the enemy is of a 
different religion. In such cases, religion ceases to be 
primarily the source of clash and confrontation, but 
rather its vehicle. The banner of the moment may go away, 
but the grievances remain. 

We live in an era when terrorism is often the chosen 
instrument of the weak. It already stymies the unprecedent-
ed might of U.S. armies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and else-
where. And thus bin Laden in many non-Muslim societies 
has been called the "next Che Guevara." It's nothing less 
than the appeal of successful resistance against dominant 
American power, the weak striking back - an appeal that 
transcends Islam or Middle Eastern culture. 

But the question remains, if Islam didn't exist, would 
the world be more peaceful? In the face of these tensions 
between East and West, Islam unquestionably adds yet one 
more emotive element, one more layer of complications to 
finding solutions. Islam is not the cause of such problems. 

It may seem sophisticated to seek out passages in the Koran 
that seem to explain "why they hate us." But that blindly 
misses the nature of the phenomenon. How comfortable to 
identify Islam as the source of "the problem"; it's certain-
ly much easier than exploring the impact of the massive 
global footprint of the world’s sole superpower. 

A world without Islam would still see most of the enduring 
bloody rivalries whose wars and tribulations dominate the 
geopolitical landscape. If it were not religion, all of 
these groups would have found some other banner under which 
to express nationalism and a quest for independence. Sure, 
history would not have followed the exact same path as it 

But, at rock bottom, conflict between East and West remains 
all about the grand historical and geopolitical issues of 
human history: ethnicity, nationalism, ambition, greed, 
resources, local leaders, turf, financial gain, power, 
interventions, and hatred of outsiders, invaders, and 
imperialists. Faced with timeless issues like these, how 
could the power of religion not be invoked? 

Remember too, that virtually every one of the principle 
horrors of the 20th century came almost exclusively from 
strictly secular regimes: Leopold II of Belgium in the 
Congo, Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Stalin, Mao, and Pol 
Pot. It was Europeans who visited their "world wars" 
twice upon the rest of the world—two devastating global 
conflicts with no remote parallels in Islamic history. 

Some today might wish for a "world without Islam" in which 
these problems presumably had never come to be. But, in 
truth, the conflicts, rivalries, and crises of such a 
world might not look so vastly different than the ones 
we know today. 

Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National 
Intelligence Council at the CIA in charge of long-range 
strategic forecasting. He is currently adjunct professor 
of history at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He is 
the author of numerous books about the Middle East, 
including The Future of Political Islam (New York: Palgrave 
Macmillan, 2003). 

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