Sunday, 22 July 2012

Islam’s civil war and the post 9/11 dialectic

Near term, it's difficult to be optimistic about the Islamic world. Virtually all corners of this diverse grouping face issues of some sort. The latest entrant to the a-list of Muslim problem countries is Syria.

Syria has slowly but surely descended into a chaotic civil war.
The sad fact is that Syria, along with Tunisia and Iraq were relative success stories for the Islamic world. These were reasonably integrated nations with high percentages of non-Muslim minorities living peaceably in their midst. Women's rights were well respected. Physical infrastructure was, if not good, at least passable; certainly, at 'Second World' standards and at par with many parts of Eastern Europe.

Our Lady of Dormition Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchal Cathedral, Damascus, Syria.
Unfortunately, bad politics makes for bad economics. And when politics deteriorates into wars and endemic civil unrest then economics becomes a subservient part of the national development equation.
Syria must be analyzed within the wider context of the Saudi – Iranian rivalry for regional dominance. Whatever comes next in Syria, one fact is clear: reactionary Islamists will increase their influence in an otherwise socially progressive part of the Arab world. That Saudis bankroll a large part of the rebel Syrian army should be a good indicator of future influence in Damascus.
For its part, Iraq may be on the mend following the US inspired Iraq war. However, if things get ugly in Iran, Iraq cannot escape its geography. Iraq's large Shia population will ensure the country pays a price for any Israeli - US intervention in Iraq's eastern neighbour, Iran.
The drama unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt foreshadows similar encroachments by Islamists in other parts of the Islamic world. More religious interference, formal and informal, in state affairs is a certainty in most Muslim countries.
Few will escape Islam's 'new normal.' Gone are the old post-colonial westernized political elites. These cast members have long been replaced by home grown, often petrodollar sponsored, religious conservatives fed on a staple of Muslim Brotherhood style ideology.
Amongst the most dangerous recent developments, the dialectic between Muslim and Non-Muslim nations has dramatically changed since 9/11. All western actions are put through an Islamic 'religious' paradigm. Likewise, the western world also tends to think in terms of a monolithic Islamic world. Islamic extremists from geographies as diverse as Algeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Indonesia are unceremoniously lumped into the same 'dronable' problem. As far as Islamists are concerned, the maxim that 'all politics is local' has been conveniently discarded.

Statue of Saladin in Damascus, Syria.
Undoubtedly, the Islamic world is in a mess – and Muslim pride and egos are at low ebb. Muslims themselves must accept a large portion of the blame for the current state of affairs.
Nevertheless, it is darkest before the dawn. Given the depths to which parts of the Islamic world have recently plummeted I presume it can only get better from here.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at   

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