Americans should have learned three major things about Islam and Muslims in the decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And those lessons should have come not by what happened, but by what did not happen.
First, the Arab world did not embrace Osama bin Laden. He believed that al Qaeda would lead a new pan-Arab Caliphate to attack the United States and drive it out of the Middle East. It didn’t happen. In Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East where al Qaeda recruited forces to fight, they soon became repugnant to most Muslims because they indiscriminately killed fellow Muslims and imposed an austere form of Islam that stifled individual freedoms. Muslims rose up against al Qaeda forces in Iraq. That created a semblance of order that allowed the establishment of a democratic government. No widespread outpouring of grief or rage followed bin Laden’s death. Muslims as a whole do not embrace the radicalism of either al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Second, American Muslims were as loyal -- or more loyal -- to the United States as any large ethnic or religious group. Fears that American Muslims would join in attacking the United States from within never materialized. With a couple of exceptions -- most notably Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s attack at Ft. Hood -- the thousands of Muslims serving in the U.S. military and the 7 million Muslims living in the United States rejected Muslim extremism and embraced American values. They did that in the face of some humiliating attacks by conservative groups in the United States that tried to paint all Muslims -- and the entire Islamic faith -- as evil. These attacks were not just ignorant and misguided, but were damaging to the American concept of religious freedom.
Third, the concept of the “Clash of Civilizations” has been discredited. This theory, proposed by Samuel Huntington in the 1990s, insisted that Muslims and the West would always be in conflict. The great religions, he said, were the fault lines of civilization, incessantly grinding against each other. It is not happening. What the Arab Spring has taught us is that Muslims want the same things as Westerners -- freedom of expression, a government that serves them, and economic opportunities to improve themselves. The outcome of the revolts is far from certain. But the Arab Spring has shown us that those who want to topple governments are not doing it in the name of radical Islam, but in the hope that they will be able to enjoy more freedom and opportunity. And while deep distrust against the United States and the West among many Muslims in the Middle East still exists, the United States and NATO’s engagement in helping the push for liberation of Muslim peoples will rapidly regain that trust.
I do not look at the world with rose-colored glasses and say we are close to all joining hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Terrorists still threaten the United States. The Taliban will keep fighting to impose its will on Afghanistan. But Americans should come away from the last decade understanding that radical Islam is a small and increasingly spent force. Muslims and the West are not intractable enemies but can find ways to work together. The battle is not between Muslims and the West but between moderates and radicals on each side. And religion - far from the enemy - can help build the peace.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the Founder of Cordoba Initiative, an independent, multi-faith, and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations, and author of Moving the Mountain, forthcoming by Free Press.
More On Faith and 9/11:
Desmond Tutu: Our post-9/11 failures
Thomas Monson: Rebuilding our souls
T.D. Jakes: Spirituality after the attack
Feisal Abdul Rauf: Radical Islam on its way out
Donald Wuerl: Peace begins internally
Katharine Jefferts Schori: Live the memorial
Mark Driscoll: Death and the hope of resurrection
Karen Armstrong: Unite through compassion
Deepak Chopra: Divided hearts, divided world
Yasir Qadhi: Americans still don’t know Islam
Feisal Abdul Rauf | Sep 8, 2011 11:00 AM