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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

No need to rebuild Islam - understand it

By Siraj Mufti

A new policy document published by conservative think tank the RAND Corp., "Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources and Strategies," presents yet another attempt by the neoconservatives to impose their hegemonic agenda in "rebuilding" Islam by aligning Muslims against each other.

Author Cheryl Benard is otherwise unknown except that she is married to Zalmay Khalilzad, a special assistant to President Bush and the chief official on the national Security Council for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia.

Khalilzad is a protégé of the neoconservative mastermind Paul Wolfowitz and received his training at RAND.

Prior to this, Benard published feminist themed novels that ridiculed Muslim women who wear hijab as a symbol of "female subordination."

Benard's grandiose ambition is to "rebuild" Islam, despite admitting: "It is no easy matter to transform a major world religion. If nation building is a daunting work, religion building is immeasurably more daunting and complex."
The fact that the majority of Muslims are traditionalists seems to frustrate Benard. She is, moreover, unaware that reform movements of awakening (ihya) and renewal (tajdid) are natural occurrences in traditional Islam.

Thus Islamic reform comes from within this traditionalism and has taken place several times in the Islamic history. It cannot be imposed from outside.

In a blind zeal characteristic of neocons, she castigates leaders of the mainstream moderate Islamic reformist movements who are opposed to any acts of violence and committed to bring about the desired change only through democratic means.

These she categorizes as "fundamentalists" who "put forth an aggressive, expansionist version of Islam that does not shy away from violence"- while quite the opposite is the actual reality.

Consider the following quotes by Graham Fuller (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2002), a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.
"Islamism has become, in fact, the primary vehicle and vocabulary of most political discourse throughout the Muslim world. When Westerners talk about political ideas, they naturally hark back to the Magna Carta, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

"Muslims go back to the Quran and the Hadith to derive general principles about good governance (including the ruler's obligation to consult the people) and concepts of social and economic justice."

Moreover, "Non-Muslims should understand that democratic values are latent in Islamic thought if one wants to look for them, and it would be more natural and organic for the Muslim world to derive contemporary liberal practices from its own sources than to import them wholesale from foreign cultures..." (Arizona Daily Star)

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