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Monday, June 28, 2010

Dysfunction in Muslim Lands

DAILY STAR, Lebanon

The leaders of the Islamic umma, or nation, are fond of telling us that they are keen to defend our lands and promote a prosperous life for their peoples.
It makes no difference who generates such rhetoric. It might come from Sunnis who are in power, in a kingdom like Saudi Arabia, or out of power, hiding out in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It might come from Shiites who are self-styled revolutionaries, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, or masters of a strong state apparatus, such as officials of the Islamic Republic. They voice a determination to champion the banner of Islam and Muslims — they might talk about values or practices, or highlight Muslim culture and civilization. But if they’re serious about doing some good, they have a considerable agenda to confront.

Muslim countries are undergoing dissent and disruption across the board. There are well-known places like Palestine, where political division festers, and Lebanon, where sectarian tension eats away at the country. There’s Iraq, where the Sunni-Shiite divide is joined by other problems: the rivalry with fellow Muslims, the Kurds, and the horrific violence against non-Muslim minorities.

Conditions in Yemen are less than appealing, and while other countries, in North Africa and the Gulf, might lack huge uprisings or civil strife, they’re also plagued by corruption, mismanagement, and the threat of extremist violence.

We’re all familiar with the landscape in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the weak civilian governments are struggling to keep order. Turkey’s most recent experiment with democracy has had its positive aspects, but the conflict with the (Muslim) Kurds hasn’t disappeared, and there’s always the danger of a showdown with the (secular) military.

There are also the less-familiar “Stans” of Central Asia, where it’s difficult to keep up with the latest violence and political unrest in these Muslim-majority countries.

Somalia is another blemish on the record, while an African country like Nigeria suffers from political bankruptcy, rebellion and inter-religious strife. In the Caucasus, leaders of Islamist movements have added savage violence, and little else, to the achievements of the Muslim world.

These countries might all be members in good standing of the Organization of Islamic Conference and a host of other organizations and bodies that seek to champion the causes of Islam and Muslims.

But the sheer scope of conditions of despair and political dysfunction in Muslim countries should give pause to any political leader or official who talks about the problems of the Islamic world. These problems can’t all be laid at the feet of outside powers and conspiracies. We’re all aware of the scope of the problem; what politicians must do is identify and carry out the plan to get us out of the mess that we’re in.

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