The Drama of the "lslamists".


Tarek Heggy

I have often tried to imagine a scenario in which what I call the 'Islamists' will have achieved all their objectives. The scenario assumes that Osama bin Laden or someone like him get their way and proceed to impose their vision of what the Muslim world should be on the rest of us. The principal features of this vision can be summed up in the following:

  • The departure of the West, particularly the United States, from Muslim lands.
  • The removal of the kings and presidents now in power for being what bin Laden and his ilk see as agents of the Great Satan, a.k.a. the United States.
  • The takeover of power by Osama bin Laden or someone like him, the reinstatement of the Caliphate, the annulment of organic law and the adoption of Islamic Shari'a.

I close my eyes and try to visualize where this would lead. Such a scenario can only unfold in one of two possible ways. One is that it will lead to the complete isolation of the Muslim world from the non-Muslim world in all spheres, scientific, economic, military and cultural. When I take the image further, I see Islamic societies transformed into vast seas of humanity with little knowledge of science or of how its application in various fields can improve the quality of life on earth. Of course, this matters little to a Muslim who is more concerned with what happens to him in the afterlife than he is with his lot in this life, which is but an instant in the greater scheme of things, a passage to the hereafter. Under political Islam, these societies will be densely populated because their rulers will tell them that the Shari'a enjoins Muslims to multiply as this will make the Prophet proud of them on Judgement Day. The living standard of the members of these societies, which will have boycotted sacrilegious Western science, will be dismal in all respects, economic, medical and scientific. But this too is unimportant, because the material world is of little significance to the devout Muslim, who considers life to be but a short bridge he must traverse to reach either Heaven (with its flowing streams, succulent fruits and black-eyed houris), or Hell (with its raging fires). So intensely do I focus on this imaginary scenario that I sometimes manage to conjure up actual images, when my closed eyelids become a screen on which scenes of pitiful suffering and insurmountable problems are projected. I see Muslims staging raids on the world of the infidels and the infidels retaliating in kind, their advanced weapons raining widespread devastation on the Muslim world and turning it into an empty wasteland where backwardness and chaos reign supreme. For the Muslims, who do not manufacture their own weapons but are forced to buy them from their more advanced enemies, have no way of defending themselves against the sophisticated weapons used against them.

I can practically hear the imams in the mosques assuring their congregations that God inflicted the defeat on them to test their faith, and that if they pass the test He would send them a miraculous victory. Thundering from their mimbars, they will paint a rosy picture of the Muslims triumphing over the unbelievers, ending their sermon by calling on God to wreak death and destruction on the pagan Christians and their Jewish lackeys.

As to the second scenario, it assumes that the leaders of political Islam, after achieving the objectives mentioned at the beginning of this article, will not set out to isolate the Muslim from the non-Muslim world. Instead, they will deal with the unbelievers in accordance with an established maxim of Islamic jurisprudence which holds that "necessity overrides taboos." In this scenario, there will be extensive transactions with the non-Muslim world in all sectors: economic, scientific, social, industrial, services and agricultural. The acquisition of knowledge will be a high priority goal on the grounds that Muslims "must seek knowledge, even in China." When I use my modest knowledge of politics, history and modern management to try and envisage where this scenario will lead, I find myself laughing aloud, because it will inevitably take Muslim communities back to where they stood a century ago when it came to dealing with non-Muslims: one party learning from the other, one party buying from the other, one party trying to catch up with the other.

But whether the first scenario prevails or the second, the big question remains the same: why the suffering, the spilt blood, the violence and destruction, the pain, anxiety and misery? I laugh bitterly to myself as I answer the question: for the sake of power! The only difference between the two scenarios I mention and other possible scenarios is who holds power. In the two scenarios, power will lie with the 'Islamists'. In a scenario where things remain as they are, the answer is obvious. But there is a fourth scenario which assumes that Muslim societies will opt for development, progress and democracy, in which case power will lie with the people who will exercise it through their duly elected representatives. Unfortunately, this last scenario is not receiving serious consideration in political circles.

* The Arabic version of this article was published by the Egyptian political weekly magazine ROSE el YOSSEF on 5th March, 2005.