By James M. Dorsey
As the states of the Middle East attempt to deal with their political and security differences, the Muslim-majority countries regroup along a fault line that separates the supporters of various concepts of an authoritarian but religiously and religiously “moderate Islam”. socially more tolerant of those who advocate a stricter adherence to intolerance. , non-pluralistic strands of faith.
The fault line grows in prominence as various Muslim-majority states compete in their efforts to define Islam in the 21stst century in a geopolitical as well as ideological struggle. The importance of the battle is further amplified by the fact that diplomacy, economics, public affairs and soft power increasingly take center stage as countries like Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates united, Turkey and Iran seek to manage their differences in order to prevent them. to get out of hand.
The default fault line divides supporters and detractors of political Islam and shifts the epicenter of religious ultra-conservatism in the Muslim world from the Arab Middle East to the non-Arab Middle East and extends it to the ‘South Asia.
The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, cemented by the American withdrawal in August and coupled with the multiple measures taken by the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan which encourage and embolden religious ultra-conservatism and activism underline Asia’s new place South in the Muslim competition for ranking on the order hierarchy of a new world order.
Concern that Afghanistan could become a hub of cross-border and transnational political violence and lead to militancy and bloodshed in Pakistan, associated with an upsurge in attacks in Kashmir these last weeks worsens the positioning of South Asia. The attacks suggest that India’s decision in 2019 to end Kashmir’s autonomy and deprive it of its statehood sparked renewed activism.
Analysts fear that the discriminatory Hindu nationalist policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi may encourage radicalism elsewhere in India, where the third largest Muslim population in the world. Retired Indian Lieutenant General HS Panag warned of the threat posed by “the cracks that are growing in the minds of the larger Muslim community because they are targeted by lumpen ideological elements of the majority community.” That these elements enjoy the policy / the state clientelism only supports the theory of the persecution of radical Islam. ”
What the religious fault line does not do is point to two blocks. Rivalries within rivalries play out on both sides of the divide. These include the competition between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in geopolitics, economic and religious positioning and sports diplomacy, as well as the growing tension between Turkey and Iran. This tension was manifested last month by rival military maneuvers along the Azerbaijani-Iranian border. In addition, relations between Iran and the Taliban are fragile given Iranian concerns about the fate of the Persecuted Hazara Shiites in Afghanistan.
What the religious divide means is that the Taliban are in good company in a swath of land stretching from Istanbul to Islamabad when it comes to restricting social behaviors, like preventing girls from going. at school, ban Western music and hairstyles, and forbid men to shave their beards.
Likewise, Mr Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, made waves earlier this year with his misogynistic claim that the growing number of assaults on women was because they wore “very little clothing”. Mr. Khan has since hailed the Taliban victory as “breaking the chains of slavery”.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s religious guru Hayrettin Karaman, an 84-year-old Muslim scholar, recently bolstered the club by saying that a Sunni Muslim man cannot marry an Alevi woman.
Alevis, who represent up to 25% of the Turkish population, adhere to more liberal and tolerant religious precepts than those propagated by traditional Sunni Islam as well as by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). by Mr. Erdogan. Mr Karaman’s fatwa threatened to fuel Turkey’s cultural wars at a time when Mr Erdogan flounders in the polls.
Education is a major marker of the different worlds reflected in the religious division. The restrictions placed on the education of girls and women in Taliban Afghanistan and Pakistan’s introduction of a unique national curriculum that merges secular and religious education and seeks to Islamize it contrasts sharply with the Gulf emphasis on modern science education and the establishment of local campuses of major Western universities.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear scientist, human rights activist and frequent commentator on education issues noted that the Ottomans and others had failed in their attempts to join mainstream schools and religious seminars into one system. .
“This is why the Arab countries of today are rapidly transforming their study programs into modern ones. Pakistan tries to be an exception, but it will pay a heavy price. Masses of unemployed SNC graduates – even those with doctorates – will be the result of a failed experiment, ”said Hoodbhoy, referring to the unique national program by his initials.
A study published earlier this year suggested that Turkish textbooks replaced Saudi texts like the bull’s-eye of criticism of supremacist and intolerant curricula in the Muslim world.
The study found that Turkish curricula, once a model of secularism with an education system that taught evolution, cultural openness and tolerance towards minorities, had increasingly replaced these concepts with notions of jihad, martyrdom in combat and neo-Ottoman and pan-Turkish. ethnoreligious worldview.
“The idea that the war of jihad is now part of the Turkish curriculum, that martyrdom in combat is now glorified, is perhaps not surprising given what we know about Erdogan… But seeing it in black and white is a shock“said Marcus Sheff, CEO of Impact-se, the group that sponsored the study.
Dr James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.
Dr James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.