Yehezkel LaingYehezkel Laing (Bin-Nun), a marketing writer and editorialist, lives in Jerusalem.
IDF Head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi recently warned that Israel is in danger of being surrounded by Islamic fundamentalist regimes bent on its destruction. "Before our very eyes, at our doorstep, a large-scale center of the global jihad is developing, which may affect not only Syria and not just the borders of Israel, but Lebanon, Jordan, Sinai, and may radiate outward to the entire region," warned Kochavi.
This local trend reflects a much larger one occurring in the Middle East and beyond – the growing wave of Islamic fundamentalism. Over the past few decades Sharia law has been largely adopted by almost a dozen nations: Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar and Yemen. Meanwhile Libya, Bahrain, and Syria all face serious challenges from fundamentalists. Islamists are the main opposition party in many other countries such as Jordan and Morocco. Wahhabism has made significant inroads into Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan and Chechnya.
A modern chronology of Islamic government "takeovers" could include the following. The Iranian Islamic revolution overthrew the rule of the Shah in 1979. Islamists led a coup in Sudan in 1989. In 1994 the Taliban took over Afghanistan. In 1996 Necmetin Erbakan became Turkey’s first Islamist Prime Minister. In 2006 Gaza elected the Hamas to power. Over the past decade, Hezbollah has come to dominate Lebanese politics.
Pan-national jihadist groups are also multiplying rapidly. The Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat noted, for example, that "at the time of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Al Qaeda comprised no more than a few hundred members based in a single country – Afghanistan. Today, it includes entire armies with tens of thousands of fighters and its geographical reach has spread from a single country to some ten countries where its members are fighting on a daily basis."
Why is this Islamic fundamentalist revolution happening now? To answer that question perhaps we should take note of another revolution, perhaps no less dramatic, which has shaken the world – the Western secular revolution.
Most people are aware of the death of religion in Europe. Weekly church attendance in Western Europe has fallen to around 10% and belief in G-d and the importance of religion have dropped precipitously in the younger generations.
Many believe that it is only Europe which has undergone massive secularization while America has largely remained religious. The facts, however, prove otherwise. A recent Pew Research Center poll of Americans found a massive increase in those declaring they had no religious affiliation. The trend is especially strong amongst young adults. This American trend toward secularization has been partly masked by large scale immigration from Hispanic countries of people with relatively traditional worldviews.
Prior to the last American elections, the Democratic Party, the party in power for the past six years, officially voted to remove faith in God from their party platform and only at the last minute backed away. This past year the President of the United States formally declared his support for recognition of "homosexual marriage".
Some would have us believe that the Islamic wave overtaking the Middle East is all just a big coincidence and certainly unrelated to the secularization of the West. Others admit it is a genuine phenomenon, but claim it’s caused by economic factors. Secularists tend to ascribe all human phenomena to materialistic factors.
Islamists in Their Own Words
If we want to find out what is inspiring Islamic fundamentalists, perhaps we should listen to what they themselves are saying is motivating them. The contemporary wave of Islamic revival originated with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s. Chief ideologue of the Brotherhood was Sayid Qutb – a leading secularist intellectual who became a fervent Muslim fundamentalist. Not only does he place Islamic Fundamentalism in direct opposition to Western Secularism – he himself converted to fundamentalism as a result of a visit to America in the late 1940s. In his writings, Qutb severely criticized the West for what he said was its excessive sexual promiscuity, materialism and immorality.
The Secular Obstacle to Peace
In his famous 'Letter to America' Osama Bin Laden explained why he struck the United States in the 9/11 terror attacks. "You are a nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator."
According to an Iranian PressTV story Ayatollah Khamenei, Leader of the Islamic Revolution, recently said the West was doomed because it had abandoned religion. "The prevalence of moral and sexual depravity are the most important signs of the collapse of the Western civilization. The emergence of [so many] problems and decadence in the Western civilization is due to the absence of spirituality in Western society,” he said.
Israel – Biased or Bridge?
How does Israel fit in to this global culture clash? In response to alleged claims of harassment of women by the Haredi community Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the following statement, "Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state. The public sphere is open and safe for everyone – men and women alike. There is no place for harassment or discrimination."
In an interview with a German magazine Netanyahu went even further, "Israel in many ways is the beginning of Europe and the forces of militant Islam that are crashing against us are ultimately directed against you....They want Israel to be eliminated in order for them to continue the march against you. So Israel is the frontal bastion of European and Western civilization."
The question begs to be asked – if Israel is a Western liberal state what in the world is it doing in the Middle East? Perhaps the Arabs are right when they say Israel doesn't belong here? What's more, if Israel was created to be just another Western country – who needs it? Aren't there already enough of them? Instead of copying others perhaps Israel should express its own uniqueness. But what exactly is it?
Unlike the founders of other religions, the forefathers of the Jews are specifically described as being wealthy – implying that spirituality and materialism needn’t be mutually exclusive. "Six days thou shalt work, but on the Seventh day rest." "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands the hands of Esau." Israel wasn’t created to be another Western state, it was created to be a unifying country, a bridge between East and West that would unite the world. Everything about Jewish culture declares the great unity of the spiritual and the material. "Hear O Israel, The Lord your G-d, The Lord is ONE." Even the location of the Jewish homeland bespeaks the Jews unifying role – located precisely between the East and West. Therefore only Israel is capable of stopping the cycle of secular-religious extremism.
Israel's secular leaders are generally afraid of addressing the religious aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They seem to feel that it will open up a Pandora's box of emotion – as if the current situation (i.e. Iranian nukes) can get any worse. However a deeper look may show that far from keeping a lid on the conflict – Israel's secular stance is the very thing which is creating it. As our neighborhood becomes increasingly fundamentalist and the dialogue becomes more and more faith-based, Israel will ultimately have no choice but to address the religious roots of the conflict and perhaps most of all – confront itself.