The president and his advisers paint Muslims as enemies of modernity. The neglected history of an age of Middle Eastern liberalism proves them wrong
In the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001, amid the grief and rage that followed the toppling of the World Trade Center, President George W Bush did not declare war on Islam. “These acts of violence against innocents,” he told Americans in the week after 3,000 people were killed by Muslim terrorists, “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” The war that Bush went on to declare soon thereafter was not against a religion, but against “terror” – and within that baggy term, he focused on al-Qaida, “a fringe movement”, in Bush’s words, “that perverts the peaceful teaching of Islam”.
Bush’s tact may have been caused by a short-term desire to rein in attacks on American Muslims (and others mistaken for them, such as Sikhs) in the wake of 9/11. But it also served the longer view of the president and his advisers, who believed that the Muslim world, much like everywhere else, was capable of being improved by exposure to democracy, free market capitalism and individual freedoms. In this regard, Bush’s views were in line with the then-influential “end of history” thesis proposed by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama in 1989. With the end of the cold war, Fukuyama argued, it was only a matter of time before western liberal democracy was recognised everywhere as the best form of government. By the turn of the century, the belief that we were witnessing “the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to western liberalism” was never more widely shared, and it lay behind one of Bush’s professed goals in invading Afghanistan and Iraq: to shepherd the Muslim world towards the universal ideology of liberalism.
The clashist view denies the possibility of a sustained and fruitful engagement between the lands of Islam and modernity
Revolutionaries in Iran and Turkey curtailed the powers of their hereditary rulers and set up parliamentary democracies
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