On the dangers of binary conflict

by iyusufphd

The 20th centuries saw one major international binary conflict between Communism and the “Free World” or capitalism or any non-communist nation. The 21st century has ushered in a new binary conflict of the West and “Islam” or the “Muslim world” or “jihadists” or “terror”.

The successive binary conflicts – cold war and West -v- Islam – were very different. The Cold War didn’t have as much of a religious as political, economic and strategic edge to it. (Though one could argue that the atheism and anti-religion in communism brought Islam and Christian forces together as shown in the Afghan jihad and the close ties between the US Christian conservatives and Saudi Arabia.)

The recent post-Cold War conflict goes to heart of religious heritage and historical conflicts such as Crusades.

The binary nature of the Clash of Western/Christian and Islamic Civilisations thesis may reflect a minority academic position but it certainly holds true with many influential policy makers, many of whom were advisers and decision makers during the Cold War and hence more accustomed to more simplistic views of the world as opposed to nuanced discussions of scriptural and jurisprudential interpretation. (Yet any understanding of how Muslims understand jihad must involve at least some reference to scripture, sacred law (sharia) and sectarian factors as well as the competing historical narratives underlying the sectarian differences between Sunni and Shia.)

BB Koshul & S Kepnes (eds), Scripture, Reason , and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the “Other”, Understanding the “Self” (2007) Palgrave Macmillan, NY.