The Conspiracy Collision

June 5, 2009 at 11:54 am | Posted in Economics, Science, Theology | Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting observation courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor:

In Islam there is a necessary link between religiosity and worldly power and success. The prophet Muhammad founded a religion and an empire, which lasted for a millennium. Jews and Christians, by comparison, experienced existential crises early in their histories and, as a result, developed narratives whereby God regularly tests his people with hardship or exists in a realm separate from man’s tribulations – the Kingdom of Heaven. Not so in Islam.

As a result, many Muslims ask themselves: How can Christians, Jews, and atheists dominate us – the greatest community, the one most connected to an active God, the one with a right to rule the world in the name of justice? Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi, one of radical Islamism‘s founders, sermonized: “Your honor, which no one dared to touch, is now being trampled upon.… You are Muslims and yet are slaves! This situation is impossible as it is for an object to be white and black.” 

There are three general paths out of this cognitive dissonance for Muslims.

The first is to secularize, to argue that Islam doesn’t entail earthly power. The unsuccessful Arab nationalists, communists, and liberals in the Muslim world have taken this view, holding in various ways that Islam is separate from politics.

The second is to pin blame on unfaithful adherents. Radical Islamists argue that if true Muslims are granted great power, then contemporary believers must be Muslims in name alone. Only by returning to the pure faith, which they interpret wildly into a totalitarian ideology, will the practical problems disappear.

The third solution – compatible with the first two, and the easiest one to adopt – is conspiracy theories. If Muslims are the preeminent community and deserve great success, evil forces must be suppressing them. Muslims will rise again, the argument goes, once they purge themselves of these shadowy foes.

Westerners often perceive Islam as a millenarian cult, while in fact it’s a rather practical religion. Social failure is so hard for many Muslims to swallow because Islam guarantees prosperity and justice. Conspiracy theories rationalize this failure by placing the blame apart from Muslims themselves and safeguarding the necessary connection between Islam and earthly success. Coupled with the real threats outsiders have posed, the theories seem reasonable to many Muslims.

This worldview, importantly, is not unique to radical Islamists. I spent a year studying the Muslim community of Mauritius, an island-nation in the Indian Ocean. I spoke to many liberal Muslims there, people who worked to create Mauritius’s effective and inspiring multicultural democracy. They often introduced conspiracy theories to explain away perceived Muslim failings.

All of this makes it difficult for Obama to speak directly to Muslims without them twisting his words and motivations into an American plot to destroy or at least dampen their communities and faith.

I find this to be a rather fascinating observation of the collision of world and worldview.  I would imagine that wherever conspiracy theories abound, there is such a collision lurking in the background.


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