The fall of Baghdad is a loss of dignity for the whole Muslim community. The US and British attack will generate feelings of hatred towards both countries, a potentially endless generalized hatred for the “West” however blurred the meaning of the West may be in Muslim minds.
Defeatism is an internalized feeling of defeat, mournfulness and melancholia which eventually imprisons one in a dark everlasting corridor. It is like a labyrinth or a path that splits without end. Once one is trapped in that space, it is hard to get out of there. Defeatism drains the energy needed in order to revive. From this defeatism a collective frustration comes into being and one result of this frustration is to “blame others” without any desire for critical self-introspection.
As discussed by Fouad Ajami in The Arab Predicament published in 1981 (14 years after that bitter defeat), the defeatism which has haunted the Arab nations since 1967 has stimulated Arab fundamentalism. Since then the slogan “Islam is the solution” (Al Islam huwal hall) has become popular.
The liberal notions supported by Arab intellectuals of the 20th century (as recorded by Albert Hourani in Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age) have been discredited and this defeat has raised fundamentalist Islam’s popularity as “an ideological alternative” as well as a dramatic decline in the popularity of secular ideologies.
In attempting to return to “tradition,” a search for authenticity became a major theme in the Arabic nation’s consciousness. Islam has herein come to be seen as a “vehicle” which will redeem that defeat. But as noted by Ajami, Islamic tradition is in itself “fractured.”
On one hand, the Arab nations seek a return to the past, to the perceived bright and pure period of the Prophet, but on the other hand, the facts of the 20th century are that they are dependant upon non-Arab countries. Moreover, Israel’s existence constantly reminds embittered Arabs of their defeat and the fact that Arab nations are ruled by despots only makes things worse.
As a Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, resentfully writes, “I saw nothing but a scaffold/With one single rope for two million necks/I see armed cities of paper that bristle/With kings and khaki”. The desire to return to “tradition” and the search the authenticity (which used to be called as Ashalah in Arab intellectual circles), has only caused more bitterness and increased the defeatist attitude in “the psyche” of Arab nations.
That’s why the rhetoric of anger has dominated the Arab nation’s discourse over the last three decades. The rhetoric has become an Islamic “genre” full of curses and anger directed outwards such that there is no space for critical introspection. This Islamic anger has been “exported” globally.
After the 11 September 2001 tragedy, a mood emerged in the Muslim community for soul searching, self criticism, and the development of a mental willingness to accept the fact that there is something wrong with the Muslim community’s “consciousness,” indeed, that a reformation should be executed.
Everywhere people are talking about the hazard of narrow parochial religious understanding which depends upon literal interpretations and which neglects Islam’s larger vision. I think this is a positive development which has also occurred in Indonesia as a consequence of the Bali blast.
However, that mood seemed to vaporize, substituted by a new rage toward the West particularly toward the US. As a result the urgency of an Islamic reformation is loosing its relevancy. Yet again, people prefer to look to the outside as an enemy rather than to look inwards and transform themselves.
The negative impact of the Iraq War and the fall of Baghdad is a sense of defeat which has turned into a renewed rage towards the West. This has deflated the critical awareness which was appearing after the WTC tragedy. In short, I worry that after Iraq is conquered, the Muslim community will become entrapped by defeatism and then “captured” by fundamentalist religious notions.
In the developing rhetoric within the Muslim society, people who support the Islamic reformation process are frequently observed as agents of foreign nations interests’ or puppet (i.e., the US and Jews). That rhetoric is intentionally blown up to revive the negative sentiment of the Muslim community towards reformation. After the Iraq war, I am concerned that these sort of claims will become increasingly prevalent.
For example, Yusuf Qardlawi, an Egyptian religious scholar, has written a book, Al Hulul Al Mustaurodahabout imported solutions. As a critic of progressive-liberal Islamic notions, he considers them to be imported and thus necessarily bound to fail. Moreover the progressive-liberal Muslims could become targets for the Muslim community’s rage target.
It must be admitted that the modern Muslim community’s consciousness is also influenced by words of rage taken from the West. Karen Armstrong, in the battle for God, illustrates this well in her description of how the Muslim community’s fury is a product of “modernity” divorced from the rewards of liberty and prosperity.
Modernity, to the Muslim community’s collective memory, is represented by the military hardware which kills innocent women and children in Iraq and Palestine. Hence it is not surprising that the Muslim community are looking back to a bright and glittering tradition in the past and full of anger towards the West and the people who are considered as their “agents” and “puppets”.
The question then is this: Should this defeatism be understood as the logical consequence of Western misconduct? For myself there is no other option but for the Muslim community to look for a way out of this defeatism. It will undermine the Muslim community and corner Muslims within a defensive mentality which is hazardous at everyone.
Even though they are hurtful and embittering, Bernard Lewis’s ideas in What Went Wrong should be considered when he wrote that Arab nations and Muslims should discard their rage and feelings of victimhood, solve their differences and re-unite their talent, energy and resources in a creative effort to become a new center of civilization in the modern age as was the case in the classic period.
I have never been fond of that book’s spirit, but Lewis’s suggestion is significant enough to be given attention. Angry rhetoric will never solve the Muslim community’s problems. Defeatism could be overcome if the Muslim community stopped cursing and looking back to the past history, (the Prophet, sahabat, and classic dynasties history) as something “sacred” which should not be observed critically.
The Muslim community should ask as well: Is it true that the jargon of “Islam as the alternative solution” is a legitimate discourse or is it merely a rhetorical strategy to obscure defeat? Will the jargon merely isolate the Muslim community from the creative resources which come from the outside and simply lead the Muslim community deeper into a defeatist mentality?
The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.