The War Islamism is Waging on Independence of Thought ‎

By Dr Sabah Salih –  Dr. Sabah Salih is Professor of English at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania, USA.

Islamism, by its own self-definitions, is an effort to put the human mind in chains. Its simplistic and totalitarian slogan, “Islam is the answer,” makes prohibition on thinking mandatory for all; whatever it doesn’t go with this severely limited mindset, it attacks in the name of Allah, turning silencing dissent by whatever means into a religious duty. The West only recently has been experiencing the rage of Islamism, but Islamism has been in this game for a long, long time in Muslim-majority countries.

One day it’s liquor stores the Islamists attack. Another day they go after women who refuse to allow their bodies to be imprisoned in clothes alien to them. But most of the time their targets include products of human creativity and thought: a newspaper article, a book, a lecture, a poem, a painting, a play, a movie, a photograph, to name just a few.

The Islamist goal is to crush all opposition through fear, intimidation, blackmail, violence, and legal action, but its ultimate goal is much more drastic: a complete overhaul of society and the fashioning of a new national mindset. That’s why Islamists are so eager to put the educational and legal systems, along with the media and public spaces, under their sole control. Such mindset would be anchored in a series of simplistic and rigid absolutes that would have no room for things that help society move forward: debate, argument, and freedom of inquiry.

Already, in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia so many things that people used to take for granted a year or so ago are now unsayable, unprintable, unpresentable.

Muslims who do not approve of the politicization of their faith are already under threat; all across the Middle East their holy sites are being attacked or demolished.

To put non-Islamist Muslims further on the defensive and to portray themselves as the only legitimate voice of Islam, the Islamists never miss an opportunity to be seen attacking Western targets; their message is, If you’re not with us, then you’re with our enemies. And when Western governments offer unconditional apologizes, wittingly or unwitting, these governments leave non-Islamist Muslims with no option but to sheepishly follow the Islamist line; they don’t even have the option to be silent. One day Obama’s and Clinton’s words will come back to haunt them.

To be seen attacking Western targets also helps the Islamists tap into the attractive narrative of the revolt of the oppressed against the oppressor. The intellectual climate in the West in the last 20 years or so, which tends to be very critical of Western culture, gives Islamists reason to believe that theirs is the laudable struggle of a once colonized people against their former oppressors; in this climate Western culture (movies, styles of living, the internet, McDonalds, matters relating to the body and human sexuality) is routinely seen as a new form of imperialism whose overriding goal is the destruction of so-called Muslim societies within. Recent comments by many in the media and the academy in response to the situation in Egypt and elsewhere make it glaring clear how much this deeply flawed and unexamined accusation has become the norm in the West. This situation has resulted in the liberal West turning its back on non-Islamist Muslims in Muslim-majority countries; now it is the Islamists that the liberal West is championing—the very people who want to criminalize criticism of religion. These people seem to have forgotten that article 19 of the United Nations declaration of human rights explicitly states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression . . . . This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

There is also another benefit for the Islamists to be seen challenging the West. In countries like Egypt, for example, there is a population explosion; millions of youth will never be able to get a university education, let alone jobs; millions cannot read and write. Demonstrations against the West can help deflect attention from these miserable conditions; for millions and millions of people accustomed to thinking in simplistic absolutes, pinning their hopes on the promises of Islam can be seductive. These people will do what they are told and think what they are told to think.

When addressing Western audiences, Islamists pepper their language with borrowings from the language of democracy; they know westerns can easily fall for that. But when addressing local audiences, Islamists are indistinguishable from those who want to control not only what you do and wear but also what you think and read. If Islamists want to slavishly submit themselves to the dictates of their faith, that’s their business; but they have no right to expect others to do abdicate thinking.