THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
January/February 2008
Foreign Policy

A World Without Islam

by Graham E. Fuller

Imagine, if you will, a world without Islam - admittedly an almost inconceivable state of affairs given its charged centrality in our daily news headlines. Islam seems to lie behind a broad range of international disorders: suicide attacks, car bombings, military occupations, resistance struggles, riots, fatwas, jihads, guerrilla warfare, threatening videos, and 9/11 itself. Why are these things taking place? "Islam" seems to offer an instant and uncomplicated analytical touchstone, enabling us to make sense of today's convulsive world. Indeed, for some neoconservatives, "Islamofascism" is now our sworn foe in a looming "World War III."

But indulge me for a moment. What if there were no such thing as Islam? What if there had never been a Prophet Mohammed, no saga of the spread of Islam across vast parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa? . . .

But the question remains, if Islam didn't exist, would the world be more peaceful? In the face of these tensions between East and West, Islam unquestionably adds yet one more emotive element, one more layer of complications to finding solutions. Islam is not the cause of such problems. It may seem sophisticated to seek out passages in the Koran that seem to explain "why they hate us." But that blindly misses the nature of the phenomenon. How comfortable to identify Islam as the source of "the problem"; it's certainly much easier than exploring the impact of the massive global footprint of the world's sole superpower.

A world without Islam would still see most of the enduring bloody rivalries whose wars and tribulations dominate the geopolitical landscape. If it were not religion, all of these groups would have found some other banner under which to express nationalism and a quest for independence. Sure, history would not have followed the exact same path as it has. But, at rock bottom, conflict between East and West remains all about the grand historical and geopolitical issues of human history: ethnicity, nationalism, ambition, greed, resources, local leaders, turf, financial gain, power, interventions, and hatred of outsiders, invaders, and imperialists. Faced with timeless issues like these, how could the power of religion not be invoked?

Remember too, that virtually every one of the principle horrors of the 20th century came almost exclusively from strictly secular regimes: Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo, Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It was Europeans who visited their "world wars" twice upon the rest of the world - two devastating global conflicts with no remote parallels in Islamic history.

Some today might wish for a "world without Islam" in which these problems presumably had never come to be. But, in truth, the conflicts, rivalries, and crises of such a world might not look so vastly different than the ones we know today.

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[Graham Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.]

Paul R. Dunn, "Islamic Fascism: The Propaganda of Our Times," The Wisdom Fund, September 6, 2006

Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Terrorized by 'War on Terror'," Washington Post, March 25, 2007

John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, "Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think," Gallup Press (February 28, 2008)

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