Akbar Ahmed: Islam Under Siege

What does a leading scholar and author think of the pressure being put on Islam?

July 20, 2003

What does a leading scholar and author think of the pressure being put on Islam?

Some people around the world view the age of terrorism as the age of Islam. This does not mean that Islam has benefited from terror acts. On the contrary, many Muslims feel that their religion is under pressure like never before. In this Globalist Interview, Akbar Ahmed — author of "Islam Under Siege" — explains why and how Islam is under siege.

Where does Islam rank on the world agenda?

“The 21st century will be the century of Islam. The events of September 11 saw to that.”

Have there been early prophecies about the perception of Islam?

"The Prophet Mohammad said: "There will be a time when your religion will be like a hot piece of coal in the palm of your hand. You will not be able to hold it.”

What is the relationship between Islam and other major religions?

“For the first time in history, Islam is in confrontation with all of the major world religions: Judaism (in the Middle East), Christianity (in the Balkans, Chechnya, Nigeria, Sudan and sporadically in the Philippines and Indonesia), Hinduism (in South Asia) — and even Buddhism, after the Taliban blew up the statues in Bamiyan.”

Why is Islam under siege?

"Muslims — whether living as a majority or a minority — felt especially vulnerable after September 11. Any expression of Muslim identity risked the fear of being suspected as "terrorist" activity. Muslims felt that their religion Islam was under siege."

How did Osama bin Laden's terror acts harm Muslims worldwide?

“Bin Laden’s actions reversed the processes of globalization for Muslims. They now face intractable problems at every border.”

How are Muslim perceptions of globalization shaped?

“Islamic societies — like other world cultures influenced by traditional religions — are reacting to the global transformations taking place. The reaction is a mixture of anger, incomprehension and violent hatred.”

How has that influenced Pakistani views of President Musharraf's support for the war against terror?

"Pakistanis contemptuously call Musharraf 'Busharraf'."

What is the situation in non-Muslim countries?

“Although globalization has brought many benefits for countries such as China and India, for most people in developing societies globalization is something akin to Armageddon.”

Why is globalization hard to tackle?

“Globalization is part promise, part reality — and part imagination.”

What is the U.S. position in this global world?

“If the world is a global village, then the United States has become the equivalent of the small and rich elite ruling the village.”

Is globalization's future secure?

“Globalization lies wounded in the ruins of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Whether this is a fatal wound will depend on how world leaders react to it over time.”

What unites the 9/11 perpetrators and U.S. terrorists?

“Like McVeigh, the hijackers of September 11 defied conventional ideas of what motivates people to acts of violence. They came from middle-class backgrounds.”

How does terrorism impact civil liberties in the United States?

“The practice of the midnight knock has arrived in the United States after having been discredited with the fall of the Soviet system — and people are not even aware of it.”

Are the media helping us to understand what is going on?

“One of the main problems of our time is the preference the media give to the "exclusivists" — that is, people who are opposed to the values of inclusion and global integration."

What was strange about the 9/11 events?

“It was no coincidence that the dramatis personae on the world stage after September 11 were mainly male. It's George Bush, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld in the United States, Tony Blair in the UK, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein and the two Abdullahs in the Middle East — and Osama bin Laden.”

And finally, do you think that your field of expertise is much in demand?

“Anthropology has much for which to thank bin Laden. After decades of criticism, anthropology was on the ropes not long ago. September 11 changed all that. Suddenly, the main interests of anthropology — ideas of ethnicity, group loyalty, honor, revenge, suicide, tribal code, world religions — were discussed everywhere.”