As many of you have now heard, the United States has just begun bombing operations against ISIS in Syria. However, the crucial aspect of this is that there are at least four Arab countries who are working with us against ISIS. Of course if the Republicans had their way we would have begun bombing operations earlier, but we would have been fighting alone.
The Obama administration moved more slowly, but also more intelligently. The Muslim world can not merely point to the West as attacking Islam. We have created enough enemies in the Middle East, it is crucial that we not be seen as solely a Western invading force. The other crucial aspect of this is that the countries working together on these bombing raids are Sunni Muslim, rather than Shia Muslims. It is because of the Shia majority in Iraq, which was not inclusive, which is partially responsible for creating Sunni support for ISIS in Iraq. It was a failure of democracy.
However, the real war on ISIS and other fundamentalist ideologies has to be an ideological war. This must come from within Islam itself.
It is time for moderate Muslims to spread the word that what made Islam great in the past was the fact that they were moderate, scientific, and inclusive. Fundamentalist Muslims such as ISIS want to take Islam back to the 13th century. However, what made Islam the great empire in the 13th century was that they were much more liberal than Christian Europe.
The greatest university in the world in the year 1250 was the House of Wisdom at Baghdad. The reason for this is that they welcomed all scholars: not just Islamic, but Christian and Jewish as well. Islam, during this epoch was far ahead of Christian Europe in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, hydraulics, and philosophy.
It was the spirit of the age, which was one of liberalism– tolerant, inclusive, open-minded, and progressive– which made the religion great in the first place. Trying to recreate this greatness through the barrel of a gun can never achieve positive consequences.
The last best step in this coalition would be to get Saudi Arabia and Iran on the same side. However, as I wrote in my last blog, Saudi fundamentalism is partially behind the spread of groups such as ISIS. When they realize that they may have started something that they never intended go this far, they may take a reflective step toward a little more liberalism. As long as there is a religious civil war within Islam there will be no peace. The major step toward this peace would be for Iran and Saudi Arabia to be on the same side.
One of the reasons why young Muslims throughout the world are rushing to fight for ISIS is because of the failures of modernity to create meaningful jobs, a more inclusive culture, and eradicate all forms of racism. But this is not a reason to turn against liberalism, it is a reason to renew the liberal project which was begun in the age of Enlightenment.