Today marks not only the ninth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, but also Eid ul-Ftir, which is the biggest holiday on the Islamic calendar. Eid is a three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan when Muslims fast all day, every day for a month. The holiday moves every year, sometimes it coincides with Christmas, sometimes with Easter, and at everyplace in between. This year the holiday concludes on 9/11. This is unfortunate, because it has forced many American mosques to cut back on their festivities out of fear that some non-Muslims would accuse them of celebrating the 2001 tragedy.
Despite George W. Bush’s repeated insistence at the time that Islam as a religion was not to blame for the attacks, he made the grievous—some would say calculated—error of treating the mass murder like an act of war. Only nations can engage in war, and al-Qaeda did not have that standing, The attack was a criminal act, and should have been labeled as such. It was wrong to elevate a band of terrorists to nation-equivilance. Now, here we are.
With misunderstanding poisoning the air already, I thought this might be a good time to speculate on the future.
The first hard fact is that Muslim populations are growing. Western populations are stabilizing or falling. The amount of potable fresh water in the world is declining. People who live in places that are historically dry are already migrating to places with more rainfall and fresh water resources--not to mention jobs and political freedom.
The Middle East, the land of Arabs, Persians and Turks, was once the scientific center of the world. There was also a vast Ottoman Empire the stretched from Caspian Sea to the Horn of Africa, from Hungary to Algeria. Islam was embraced by people from China to Spain. Then came the crusades, with the lesson that education is less important than religious solidarity and military might. The empire deteriorated and the momentum of scientific achievement moved across the Mediterranean to Europe.
There are those in the Muslim world, al-Qaeda among them, who would like to see their empire rise again. Waves of babies and immigrants will cause a number of changes, but they are not going to bring about a new empire to counterbalance the West.
To create a pan-Islamic empire, first, Muslims have to stop killing each other. In the old empire, everything was ruled by a Sultan who was also Caliph. As sultan, he managed secular affairs, and as caliph, he was the leader of the faith. With todays hardened sects, who would lead Islam? A Sunni or a Shiite or something else? Until the warring parties can unite and declare that all Muslims are Muslims, there will not be an empire.
They will also have to stop killing their women and their children. Oppression of half the population is an incredible waste of human resources. Independence of thought and action is not incompatible with Islam, but it is essential to modernization and the economic independence from the West. Education must be more secular than religious, including science, history and advanced mathmatics. Muslims in the United States, Canada and Europe have proven that these goals can be achieved without destroying the faith. Now, the Middle East must learn the same thing.
If these changes occur before the oil runs out, then a new Islamic empire can arise—if that’s what they really want. Personally, I don’t see it happening. Therefore, we had better learn to live together.