Why is Islam the fastest growing religion in the world, threatening the two-thousand-year Christian culture of Europe? The medium is the message, and in this case it is the gesture of submission. While Judaism and Christianity emphasize the metaphysical aspect of religion, Islam demands that humans submit to God's command to behave better toward each other.
Although Mohammed was forced to fight several battles in order to safeguard his flock when it came under attack, he was not a man of war. After his death, Islam conquered North Africa and Spain, and later the Ottoman Muslims conquered Eastern Europe, by defeating reigning kings, but at a time when atheism is on the rise, Islam is making individual converts because of its teachings. No religion remains exactly as its founding prophet conceived it, but the basis of Islam's teachings, which is peace, has been stood on its head by fundamentalist terrorists. In the climate of fear promoted by Western governments, it is unlikely that non-Muslims will discover, that, as British religious scholar and author Karen Armstrong points out, Muhammed is actually A Prophet for our Time:
"His life was a tireless campaign against greed, injustice and arrogance, a struggle against the early 'market economy' of Mecca, which depended upon ruthless competition, greed and individual enterprise." [tag]
In Mohammed's time, most Arabian tribes led a hardscrabble life in an inhospitable desert, where survival required pride, courage, devotion to one's tribe, the basic social unit, and, within that unit, equity. But new-found wealth gained from trade and the servicing of caravans enabled the merchants of Mecca to live in unheard-of luxury, resulting in the abandonment of those traditional values. For Mohammed, "ignoring the plight of the poor... exploiting the rights of orphans and widows, absorbing their inheritance into their estates, signaled a time of ignorance, or 'jahiliyyah'". The revelations he is said to have received from God and which are compiled in The Qu'ran "gave Muslims a mission to create a just and decent society in which all members were treated with respect."
In addition to the relevance of Islam's teachings to today's strife-torn world, it would seem, from Armstrong's research, that the licentious culture of modern societies is comparable - all things being equal - to that which held sway in seventh-century Mecca. This makes Muslim disapproval of Western mores - along with that of various other polities in which a significant proportion of inhabitants practice a religion, such as Russia - as logical now as it was then. What is different is the political climate: in Mohammed's time there was no political ideology per se. Notions of justice and fairness were propounded by religion.
A few days ago Wolf Blitzer interviewed Malala Youssefzai at a camp for Syrian refugees. The CNN host may have been antsy hearing her preach restraint and the pursuit of a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict, but he knew he would look very bad if he tried to cut her off. Since being shot in the head by the Taliban, the Pakistani teenager, who underwent multiple surgeries in Britain, appears to have taken to the spotlight; however, she clearly has a mind of her own. Malala's intellectual family allowed her to become both knowledgeable and mature beyond her years, and I don't think she is being manipulated when she preaches for girls to be educated while wearing a headscarf.
Yesterday a former Italian Prime Minister, the former President of the European Commission who ushered in the Euro, the center-left politician Romano Prodi, published an Oped in the New York Times calling for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine. It was Prodi who took Italian troops out of Iraq, stating that the war had been a "grave mistake that has not solved but increased the problem of security". Though a former Goldman Sachs employee and associate, Prodi is a good example of the enduring strength of the socialist ethos, which does not exist among Americans with similar professional back-grounds.
When discussing the crisis in Ukraine, pundits invariably claim that it's the Ukranain people who want to have closer ties to the West, just as they claim that the alliance between Assad and the Iranians with Russia is a matter of opportunism. But that is because they know little about history, fascism, or the socialist ethos, and probably nothing about Islam. To make sense of the current array of forces on the world stage, one has to know that center-left forces worldwide share a commitment to equity that supersedes socialism's long tradition of secularism. As long as our own 'time of ignorance' endures, the global merchants will be able to continue their aggressions unopposed.