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    Inside Muslim Extremism

    Recently the Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies, the Center for India Studies, and the Charles B. Wang Center hosted the distinguished diplomat and former adviser to three Pakistani Prime Ministers, Husain Haqqani.

    Haqqani took this opportunity to educate the audience of students and faculty on the underlying causes of terrorism; he has written books about Muslims all over the world. As a journalist he covered the war in Afghanistan, enabling him to acquire a deep understanding of militant jihadi groups.

    According to the speaker, to understand the current situation in the Middle East, you have to understand 1,400 years of history.’ As a guest on a program, he was asked to sum up the relationship’ between India and Pakistan in a 30-second dissertation. What he asked people to’ picture the worst divorce possible between a married couple, and then give both of the divorcees nuclear weapons. In his lecture at’ SBU, Haqqani’ elaborated a’ little on his thinking.

    The main cause of discontent within the Muslim world as, Haqqani has come to see it, is from the current place’ Muslims have in the world. He said that 14 centuries ago, Islam became a vibrant expanding society. It contributed to building of the world’s most valued library, and it was in the midst of a golden age. This society invented had one of the most knowledgeable universities in the world at the time, said Haqqani.

    Of the 1.5 billion Muslims today, 50% are illiterate, said Haqqani. That statistic is even worse for women. The average annual income in the Muslim world today is $3,000. The combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP)’ of the 57 countries in which Muslims are the majority, is less than that of France.

    Haqqani explains this turn of fate in terms of a willful rejection and ignorance about the outside world. For example, when the printing press was invented, it was outlawed by the Ottoman Empire. The Mongols who invaded and burned down the library converted to Islam, resulting in a complacency of the people to their foreign ruler. Around this time the focus of the Muslim world changed to expensive manifestations of glory to the ruler, rather then a pursuit of education and enlightenment.

    So when the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe, the Middle East missed out and became vulnerable to imperialism. This holds many parallels to the fate of China around that time. So if the source of discontent in the Muslim world is this fall from glory, the fracturing of the Muslim world comes from the different ideas on how to regain it.

    Haqqani broke these different philosophies into four different camps: Secularists, Traditionalists, Modernists, and Revivalists. The Secularists wish to do away with Islam. According the Secularists, Islam had nothing to do with the golden age of the Muslim world, and the way to prosperity is to oppose the religion. This is not separation of Church and State; this is the State actively trying to destroy the Church.

    The Traditionalists wish to be traditional. Although the rest of the world has changed, the Muslim world should not change with it. Their basic creed is to ignore the West and’ stay with Islam. Haqqani belongs to the Modernist camp.’ They wish to learn from the West and adapt Islam to modern times. This is a reformist approach, which’ believes that change is not bad, and that religion has to evolve with a changing world.

    The Revivalists wish to actively fight the West and bring Islam back to what it was in the first 33 years of its creation. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda belong to this ideology. Revivalists depict the West as evil and blame the entire problem within the Muslim world on the West without taking any responsibility themselves. The origin of Revivalism came in the Wahhabbi Movement in Saudi Arabia.

    The problem, as Haqqani sees it, is that the West has always supported the Secularists, which drives the Traditionalists to become more radical. This also prevents Modernists from having any voice within the Muslim world. Haqqani makes a very important point that the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. The problem is that a majority of them don’t have to be for there to be a major threat. In a world of 1.4 billion Muslims, if 1% of them were violent Revivalists engaging in terrorism, around 14 million people would be in there ranks. That is an extraordinary number when you consider the 14 terrorists involved in ‘ 9/11.

    In his dissertation, Haqqani asks the world to wake up and come to understand and tolerate each other. He sees education as being the major tool of change. He points out that if you could get all the Revivalists in one building, and bomb it, then maybe a military solution alone would make sense. Islamic Revivalism, though, is an idea; the way you fight an idea is with an idea and by living that idea. The Revivalists, as Haqqani put it, are ahistorical, ignoring 1,400 years of history and development within the world.


    Haqqani’s speech was met with applause, and then followed by tough engaging questions from the audience. Throughout the dissertation, he was informative, as well as entertaining.

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