Much of the discussion in the popular press on developments in Egypt or Turkey or even in Iran is shaped by two things. One is mostly using an Anglo/Saxon lens and other is categorising the entire issue as part of “fanatical terrorism” or linked to Palestine cause or Afghan war.
But the issue is more complicated than what meet the eyes. Islamists or a section of adherents of Islam are actually waging war against westernisation of the world or modernism which is equivalently used by the US/Europe press.
Europe as many are aware has become agnostic and irreligious to the extent that even the Pope complains about people not following Christianity. Europe is godless particularly the northern and middle parts. Large portions of USA is also now Godless and so now one find Jesus as a contestant in all Presidential elections in the last few decades.
With the decline of Christianity or Church based Christianity in its traditional strongholds of Europe and USA, it is trying to spread in Asia and Africa since it is already well established in Latin America.
Islam cannot accept agnostic or atheist society which presents itself as an ideal to be followed. In the case of Islam there is no concept of atheist and a Muslim. It is contradictory since by definition a Muslim is a believer in the all-powerful Allah and Prophet as his last messenger
The worry of many a maulvis etc of Islam is that slowly youth may begin to emulate this aspect of “modernism” of the West namely godlessness. More importantly in the post–contraceptive society the concept of marriage and morals has undergone dramatic changes. All over Europe and US societies pre-marital sex is mostly accepted- and all Government discussions revolve around whether to provide contraceptives inside school classrooms or outside vending machines.
Now Islam has definite views about role of women in society and encouraging pre-marital sex among women is definitely not on the agenda.
In the US 40.8% of all births were to unmarried mothers. Among Hispanics that figure was 53%, and among blacks 73% (figures from 2010)
In other words as it is colourfully put by NYT illegitimacy is the new normal and marriage has become a luxury. Families as we know are an endangered species. The other issue is living together without marrying. This is also considered as a symbol of progressive or modern way of living.
Even in India in metros this is spreading and those who are not in agreement are considered as backward in thinking. Again Islam is not going to accept it under any name since for them marriage is a required contract for civilized Ummah.
The more explosive issue is contraception- which is as common as eating an ice cream -as part of modernism. One Egyptian Professor mentioned to me as early as nineties that the future of Islam is in the wombs of “our” women. He was trying to dramatically emphasise the age old saying that demography is destiny. Islam is not going to accept contraception even though some sections –particularly the elites- might practice it.
The recent last straw on the camel’s back is regarding homosexuality and recognising it as regular/natural relationship and accepting marriage between them. The recent Supreme court Judgement in the USA- widely discussed- in a sense considers their union as good as that of hetro-sexual unions in terms of taxation/property rights etc. What started as homo-sexuality should be de-criminalised has now become accepted demand as regular marriage. Some places in US/Europe same sex marriage is solemnised even in churches.
This is anathema to Islam and it is never going to accept homo-sexuality as part of its practices. Islam’s homo-phobia cannot be easily diluted.
Now the question arises as to how does it matter to Muslims to what Europeans and US people do? But in the globalised world with internet and high speed travel youth begins to emulate “modernism” and so non-western societies have to evolve mechanisms to protect their way of living. Youth icons are typically from Cinema/TV industry and sports. In both of them we find “modernism” abound. Over and above that “modernism” demands that one should not wear burqa or pray on the roads- France as an example.
In some locations either autocratic Kings impose their own version of Islam since unlike Catholic religion Islam does not have a single church. Each according to their own interpretation of the book and the more conservative the interpretation is the more pure it is considered. Hence we find internecine battles between different sects in Islam.
In some other jurisdictions like Turkey and now Egypt army tries to have its own brand of “secularism” or “modified modernism” and prevent the sections of Islam from opposing modernism tooth and nail.
It is important to remember that countries like Egypt /Turkey/Iran are old civilisations having pre-Islamic roots. We are not discussing Pakistan here since it is an aberration and is in ICU with life support systems from USA.
Does India have a problem with “modernism”? Of course yes. Particularly due to English language press and TV channels our world view is shaped by USA and Europe a lot of times.
But we have one saving grace. We accept many things but do not respect them. For instance I accept many of friends who are non-vegetarians but do not respect that habit. When you respect you want to emulate it and even propagate it. I find many non-vegetarians intrinsically respect vegetarianism since they avoid non-veg food say on new moon day or Tuesdays etc. I respect very conservative Jains who do not eat garlics/onion and even cakes and biscuits.
We are not into a debate about eating habits but more importantly understand that in our society one who gives up or renounces is given more respect than one who is less renounced. It is a continuum. Pope with all his splendour and paraphernalia and gowns dazzles his followers but most of our Sanyasis are clad in single cloth clad or as in the case of Digambars or Naga Sadhus even nude. The more you give up the more you are respected. And of course, of human existence food and sex are two things primordial and man struggles to reduce/renounce them.
In the villages in the old times people used to hide their faces with a towel when they go to a drinking bar. It was accepted but not respected, But now the “modernisers” want drinking to be emulated. Laws can be passed to make them “respectable” but core of our society will not respect it in terms of emulating or propagating it. Big corporates may want all to be “modernisers” for their business.
So the modernisers may succeed in getting acceptance from Government by law or from alienated rootless metro wonders but never the respect of society. That is how we will deal with this issue. But Islam is not going to adopt this path since like Marxism or Christianity it is a homogenising system—my way or high way.
In the homogenising system the difference between acceptance and respect is difficult to find since it is one book – one message and so acceptance becomes the norm for emulating and respecting.
The conflict between Islam and westernism or modernism is not going to go away. It will be very long drawn out and like moths attracted to fire we should not be sucked into that. Government may pass hundred laws to make us “modern” but society is not going to accept it. The larger the gap between Government and society the better for our society since our Government is run by rootless wonders who think all solutions to our problems is to be found in Washington or London.
The Author is professor at IIMB-Views personal