Muslim world and Americans should write a new history

Muslims around the world have many grievances against the United States such as the country’s occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The list can be long, but likewise, Americans also have many grievances against the Muslim world. Talking with Americans, I hear complaints about how Muslims demonize the United States and the West, Muslims support conspiracy theories often over fact and many Muslim countries engage in state-sponsored anti-Semitism. The most serious suspicion is that Muslims would seek to destroy Israel and even the United States, if they could.

Are Muslim nations and the United States destined to follow a path of confrontation, or are we willing to shape our own destinies and seek a path of compromise? Let us not forget the recent struggle against communism that effectively united the Muslim world with the United States, a long alliance both sides seem to have forgotten with astonishing speed. Instead of continuing that alliance, both sides emerged from it filled with pride that it was they who were to be the sole rulers of the world. The emerging conflict took shape with the United States, a superpower, holding the upper hand and the Muslim Mujahideen returning, ready to take over the reins of their countries to start the final showdown between East and West.

In the Muslim world, the argument for confrontation with the United States is taking shape similarly to how the argument took shape 1,008 years ago in medieval Europe. That was the beginning of the Crusades when Christendom rallied to fight the heathen Turks and Arabs.

The popes and priests gathered support in their quest for power, glory and the Holy Land by preaching a version of Christianity that was intolerant and aggressive. The targets were the Muslims, who had spread like wildfire throughout the East and were swiftly encroaching on the West. The popes demonized the Muslims to garner support to go fight them.

Now the United States is encroaching into Muslim lands; similarly, we see many mullahs demonizing the West to get support from Muslims to prepare for jihad. In both the historical Crusades and the present jihads, passionate pleas have been made to purge “our land” of the infidels, killing noncombatants is authorized, Jews are made out as accomplices, and both fight a war at the cost of the very morals they had sought to protect. Amazingly, the word “jihad” has a similar menacing sound in the ears of Westerners as “Crusade” does to Muslim ears.

In the Muslim world it is widely regarded that the calls to jihad are being made by extremists. In the process of inciting the masses, “zealotism” – a psychological state as unmistakably pathological as it is unmistakably exaggerated – is being fashioned.

The zealots seek to foster a society that can do battle with the adversary. The preparation for this battle requires the strict adherence of the society, willingly or unwillingly, to the aspects of religion that the zealots themselves define. Inevitably this results in forcing religion down people’s throats, inducing many of them to vomit again; such is the resilience or perversity of human nature.

The success of the Crusaders was dubious, as was their intended goal to drive out the heathens. Europe was only free from the rule of the sultans after a long and arduous process of decay of the sultans.

Similarly, Muslim lands escaped from colonial rule only after the colonial powers had lost the will and ability to govern. Can the same prophecy be made about the end of the U.S. foray into the Middle East?

No doubt, there are problems, real and imagined, between our two worlds, but let us be people who write a new history rather than live one that has transpired.

Adeel Ahmed is a graduate student at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. He welcomes comments at [email protected]