In recent years, political experts and the media have paid much attention to the so-called Islamic factor that objectively plays an increasingly more important role in the political and social life of our civilization. New concepts and terms have become a part of our everyday life, for example politicized Islam, Islamist parties and groups, Islamic extremism, Islamic radicalism, jihadism, etc. As a rule, these phrases are mentioned mostly in a negative context, as those threatening national and international security.
Indeed, some Muslim groups (Salafis, Wahhabis and others) have radical views on the state and social system and are used by certain political circles to retain or win power in one or another country or region. Today Islam is the state religion in a number of countries in the Middle East (the Gulf monarchies, Pakistan, Iran, etc.), their law is based on the Sharia (Islamic law), and we can see the desire of these countries to extend the influence of Islam as far as possible in the world, up to the creation of a new Islamic caliphate. The implementation of these plans is promoted by the continued growth of population in the majority of Muslim countries, significant flows of Muslim migrants into Europe and America to obtain education and jobs.
In Germany alone, the number of Muslims increases annually by 60–80 thousand, and has already reached 4 million people, Islam is recognized as the official religion at the regional level (local parliaments), new mosques are built, while 400 Catholic and over 100 Protestant churches were closed in Germany at the same time. It is planned to close another 700 Catholic churches within the next few years. Muslims are willing to buy buildings of the former cathedrals and convert them into mosques. A similar situation can be observed in the majority of the EU countries. In fairness, it must be said that that the proportion of Muslims in Russia is constantly increasing as well, both due to the growth of the population in the North Caucasus and in other traditionally Muslim regions, and due to the continuing migration of foreigners from Azerbaijan and Central Asia into Russia. We can expect that the migration flows will only increase under the conditions of increasing globalization of all world processes and the demographic crisis in European countries, and respectively, the Islamization of Europe and a part of the former Soviet Union will continue.
What are the other reasons for the continued expansion of Islam in the world? The political and ideological confrontation between capitalist and socialist systems stopped with the end of the Cold War. The collapse of communist ideals and the Marxist-Leninist theory, which were quite popular in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, discrediting of the Western lifestyle (pornography, pedophilia, homosexual marriages, promotion of sexual promiscuity, profanity and violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, organized crime, corruption, mockery of religious beliefs, and other similar phenomena) prompted the search for new moral and ethical guidelines and values. The American agency Associated Press reported, citing documents from the Vatican, that the predecessor of the current Pope Francis-Benedict XVI allegedly had to purge 384 priests for rape and molestation of children in 2011-2012 alone. The figure for those two years was higher than in 2008-2009, when the church purged 171 pedophiles from its ranks. The recently released American movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” was banned in Malaysia and Nepal, while in India and Lebanon only a trimmed-down version has been released. The reason was the abundance of undisguised sexual scenes, and it seems that the characters of the movie are competing in swearing: variations of coarse swearwords are used 569 times in the film. However, the movie was nominated for the Oscar in the categories of Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. This is a vivid example of the degradation of Western culture.
The facts of demonstrative public burnings of the Koran by Protestant priests in the U.S. have become widely known, similar provocations were arranged by the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and public opinion was shaken by the replication in American mass media (Internet) of the film about Prophet Muhammad, offensive to Muslims. Previously, cartoons of Muhammad have been repeatedly spread in some European countries. Muslims and the entire world community were outraged not only by the facts of the insulting of Islamic sanctities by some individuals, but also by the belated and sluggish response of the authorities of Western countries to these events. It turns out that Western democracies allow mocking religious beliefs, and most provocateurs, inciting religious hatred, remained unpunished. Naturally, these events caused a strong response from Muslims, and spontaneous protests swept across the globe.
Islam, like any other religion, cannot pose a threat to humanity by itself. People have searched for meaning in their lives for a long time, trying to find their way to God, and this is quite natural. There are no calls for religious intolerance or violence towards members of other religions, faiths and even atheists in the Koran, the holy book of the Muslims, as well as in the Bible. It admits that God is one and a person has the right to choose his own faith, the main thing is to follow the commandments of God and to lead a righteous life. It may be no accident that conversion to Islam was really an escape from the moral emptiness and loneliness even for many Europeans and Americans, as it helped them find a spiritual support in their lives.
Among other things, the politicization and radicalization of Islam is largely promoted by the attempts of the U.S. and its Western allies to impose artificially their Western models of democracy in the Middle East. It may be no accident that the ruling elites and regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, overthrown with the help of the West, were replaced not by pro-Western regimes, but by Islamist parties and groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. An active participation of the U.S. and NATO in the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya boomeranged against them with the murder of the American ambassador and several other U.S. diplomats in Benghazi by Islamists. Washington also has to admit that there is a real danger that power in Syria will be seized by radical Islamist groups closely associated with Al-Qaeda, such as the Dzhagbu en-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. For a long time, Washington and its allies pretended they did not see the billions of financial aid provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to militants of the aforementioned groups, recruiting new jihadists around the world, including in Western countries. Only when tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries had become the third force in the Syrian conflict, and begun fighting not only against the government troops, but also against the pro-Western armed opposition Free Syrian Army, Washington sounded the alarm. Only then did the U.S. State Department remember that these groups were included on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The Afghan scenario is being repeated, when the Al-Qaeda, created with the help of CIA using money from the Gulf monarchies, headed by Osama bin Laden, soon went out of control and unleashed a war of terror against its former sponsors and hosts.
Thus, the spread of Islam, as the world’s youngest and most popular among the masses religion, can be considered a natural phenomenon that does not constitute any threat to humanity. However, the desire of the ruling circles and the opposition in some Middle East countries to politicize Islam and to use it in their struggle for power is increasingly destabilizing the region and the whole world. Heating up of the Sunni-Shiite hostility by Riyadh and its partners in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) can be considered one of the most dangerous experiments with Islam. Arab Muslims (Sunnis, Shiites, and Alawites) have shed their blood in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon for several years already. Spontaneous actions of Shiites were suppressed rather harshly by the authorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Attempts of accelerated or even forced democratization of the Middle East, after Western patterns, also lead to an increase of the influence of the radical Islamist groups and movements in the Islamic world, closely associated with international terrorism forces.
Stanislav Ivanov, leading researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies RAS, PhD in History, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.