When I began reading up on Islam in the late 1980s when I was living in Germany, I was struck by how many books and articles on the subject only had references to works in English, French and German, while sources in Arabic, Turkish and Persian were conspicuous by their absence. I only know English, German and Russian, but no academic working on, say, the Third Reich, would be taken seriously if s/he only relied on English sources. I am still unsure if these books were written by real experts or not.
One of the few experts who immediately struck me as having genuine expertise was Bassam Tibi. He was virtually the only expert who had actually read fundamentalist literature, talked to members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to find out what they thought – and why – and actually cited sources in Arabic., Indeed, he explains and translates the terms and neologisms used in fundamentalists literature and puts them in the context of both the Koran and the hadith and subsequent Islamic philosophy and political thought. As noted, this is a far less frequent occurrence than the uninitiated might believe!
This degree of empirical research with primary and original sources stands in marked contrast to countless other commentators who commit the non sequitur of assuming, without a scrap of evidence, that Western intervention in the Middle East + Poverty = Fundamentalism.
Tibi argues that in fact, fundamentalism was (and still is) a cultural defensive reaction against modernity and represents a politicisation of Islam.
But Islam’s decline from its medieaval Golden Age to its current “subordination” to the West (and increasingly rising powers such as China and India) stands in stark contrast to the Koranic assertion that Muslims are above everyone else.
Since they are obviously not, fundamentalists argue, Muslims must have deviated from the straight and narrow path of religion and are being punished by God – which is the same argument of divine retribution St. Augustine used when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410AD.
Needless to say, the large gap between claim and reality leads to profound problems of cognitive dissonance for fundamentalists.
Tibi published this warning in 1992 – a warning that has been consistently ignored:
If the people in the scientific and technologically advanced hegemonic West… do not dial back their arrogance and megalomania and fail to understand the underdogs better… it is likely that religious fundamentalism in the 21st century will remain the response of these people. [emphasis in the original].
Globalisation cannot be reversed… but can be reduced to a minimum by joint efforts. That is the only hope. Otherwise, the 21st century will see global civil war due to the grave population increase in the world of Islam, which is doubling every 25 years, and the resultant migration to the rich lightly-populated Western industrial countries.
Bassam Tibi, Islamischer Fundamentalismus, moderne Wissenschaft und Technologie, 1992, p. 184.
It would be easy to assume from this that Tibi blames the West, but the blurb from the same book states unequivocally that:
I believe that Muslims cannot solve their problems by acquiring the technology and science, i.e. weapons technology, of the West. Modernity is also a cultural project whose highest civilisational achievement is the norm of subjective freedom which is materialised in the western tradition of individual human rights et al. Muslims must introduce substantial innovations into their own cultural system which liberates them from their self-imposed chains.
He made a similar warning in 2002:
…it should be remembered that there are one and half billion Muslims whose material conditions are increasingly deteriorating and who are therefore emigrating en masse to the industrial countries.
No one who has any more than armchair expertise about the North-South conflict — which is how to understand the Muslim resistance against the existing world order — has any solution.
The defensive cultural reanimation of Islam is the expression of the current problems in the world of Islam and the search for the guilty party — which ends in the West.
With time, the defensive aspect could assume offensive forms; the attacks in New York and Washington were only a preliminary warning.
Bassam Tibi, Die fundamentalistische Herausforderung. Der Islam und die Weltpolitik, 3rd updated and expended edition, 2002.
In spite of these warnings, both ISIS and the mass immigration of Syrians to Europe in 2015 took the West almost totally by surprise. Fifteen 15 years on, and still, no one has any solution, still Islamists believe the West is to blame for all the problems, and still the West has little understanding of Islam(ism) and the risk to its own societies.
In 2015, Tibi argued that Syrian migrants arriving in Europe cannot be integrated due to their socialisation, non-existent education, religion and culture of domestic and public violence, including in particular towards women:
While German politicians and German do-gooders… talk about tolerance and the plight of refugees, many Islamists laugh contemptuously and call these debates “Byzantine chatter.”
The origin of the term is revealing.
In 1453, the Byzantine capital Constantinople was besieged by an Islamic-Ottoman army. During this siege, Byzantine and Christian monks engaged in exhausting debates on magical and religious formulas despite the seriousness of the situation.
In the same year, 1453, the Muslim Sultan Mehmed II successfully conquered Constantinople and transformed the city into Muslim Istanbul.
Since that time, Islamic historians call such debates “Byzantine chatter.”
As a Syrian from Damascus who has been living in Germany since 1962, I know that patriarchally-minded men from a misogynistic culture cannot be integrated.
A European, civil Islam, which Muslim officials in Germany reject as Euro-Islam, would be the alternative.
Currently, it has no chance.
My teacher [Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School] called Europe an “island of freedom in the ocean of tyranny.”
I now see this freedom at risk.
And despite this warning, Germany continued to admit streams of Syrian and other refugees not only against Tibi’s advice, but also that of the country’s own security forces and some of its economists.
Tibi was not the only one in the 1990s to point to explosive population growth as a major threat to the West.
In 1995, Gary Fuller described the youth bulge as an expansive pyramid, and in 2003, the German sociologist and economist Gunnar Heinsohn argued that too many young adult males with no outlets for their energies turn to religion or political ideology, which in turn results in social unrest, crime, war and terrorism – as we are now seeing in many Muslim countries with very high birth rates and lamentable economies.
The West, and in particular Europe, has still barely woken up to the huge risk it faces as the world’s population is about to shoot up from 7.6 billion in 2017 to some 9 billion in 2050 and possibly 11.2 billion in 2100.
It negligently failed to understand the “heterogeneity among civilisations” about which Raymond Aron warned in the 1960s and has effectively lost 25 years during which it would have been much easier to tackle the twin problems of explosive population growth and lamentable economies in the developing world.
The problems are about to get much, much worse.