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Soft Power for the Islamic Movement

OurIndonesia – Violence has been widespread in Muslim regions ranges from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia. Terror, bombing, coercion, abduction, and destruction were rampantly committed and indicating a horrifying escalation. This seems to verify several theses saying that Muslim world is the world of violence and barbarism, and Islam is religion that produce violent texts and export militant-terrorists across the globe (Edward Said, Covering Islam).

Because of this phenomenon, the image of Islam as religion of peace, tolerance, and uphold civility began to become overcast. The Islamic slogan as “rahmatan lil alamin” and “peaceful religion” is less popular than the ongoing violence and vandalism committed by radical Muslims in wider part of the world.

It is true that sometimes, the process of western media’s report and the opinion of (some) western orientalist, politician, religious figure, and scholar in general were unfair. They will directly point their fingers and associate any violence with “the nature” of Islam as a violent religion whenever it occurs in the Muslim countries.

But when the very similar violence takes place in non-Muslim countries (such as Israel, North Ireland, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, China or Latin America) they have never associate it to particular religion. When Muslim terrorist attacked WTC and Pentagon on 11 September 2001, many began to find the Quran to check out the relationship between Islam and global terrorism.

The political and religious observers were busy researching the roots of Islamic terrorism. Bernard Lewis book, What Went Wrong? which examined the historical roots of terrorism and violence within Islam became the reference for “anti-Islamic” group to support their argument about Islam as “violent religion”.

Books of Angel Rabasa, a political analyst in RAND Corporation, especially on “global terrorist network”, were often quoted in printed medias. On the contrary, when George W. Bush government attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslims were not that enthusiastic in buying Bible to find the Christian doctrine on war and terrorism.

Several explanations is available behind the increasing violent phenomenon in the Muslim world today. The social gaps between Muslim and non-Muslim, the East and the West, becomes a factor. There is a deep economical gap between the barren “muslim world” and the welfare “western world”. In the cultural aspect, we also see “western culture “ domination is infiltrating the Muslim world.

Technological advance become the main determinant of this cultural domination. Muslim regions have to consume an alien cultures which were “smuggled” throughout TV, movie, internet etc. While in the political aspect, the US infiltration, domination and pressure (as the western symbol) upon the “third word” regions is becoming more apparent.

This fact drives the “multicultural liberal” group to divide the world into two extreme categories namely “the oppressors” which is represented by West-Christian-Jews (mainly US) and “the victims” which is represented by Muslims. This oppression annoyed several “narrow minded” Muslims and incited them to act violently.

In other words, violence can be observed as a “reflection” of their fear as well as their cultural and political incapability to face the domination, hegemony and penetration of the global western culture. Thus, to justify their violent actions, they exploited the Islamic text, doctrine, tradition, history and discourse as the theological justification over their brutal actions. They also misinterpreted the doctrine of jihad as an offensive acts against the so-called “enemies of Islam”.

What we often hear from the Muslim fundamentalist is that they did so for the sake of “defending God” and “the establishment of Islam”. They took confrontation and violence as the only path to demonstrate the Islamic supremacy and power as a religion which is superior to everything (ya’lu wala yu’la alaih). On the contrary, the persuasive, peaceful and nonviolent movement is regarded as a form of cowardness and inferiority.

This is definitely a ridiculous and apologetic paradigm. If Islam were superior, why isn’t there any Muslim country which is progressive and leading in terms of education, technology, culture or economy? Many of Muslim countries were even black-listed because of their poor appreciation upon women and human fundamental rights, the fragility of government bureaucracy and corruption.

In the academic level, none of the Islamic universities which were listed as the international highest standard. Definitely, these complex social matters cannot be solved by yelling “Allahu akbar” and scapegoating the west. Those yells and blames were like an Indonesian proverb “buruk muka cermin dibelah” (ugly face and the mirror is shattered).

In the future, Muslim societies need to reformulate a brilliant, peaceful and civilized strategies for the Islamic movement. Violence only gives Islam a bad name and increases the tension between Muslim and non-Muslim. Violence will breed another new violence and it will afterward entrap humankind in the “vicious circle” of violence.

Violence is also against the fundamental spirit of Islam as “religion of peace”. The word Islam according to The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic means “submission, acceptance, and reconciliation” (upon God’s will) and also “peace, salvation, security, and welfare” (Cowan, ed. 1976: 425-426). Violence is also not the best resolution to solve the problems of the Muslim countries, including Indonesia (Abu-Nimer,Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam).

Thus, the Islamic movements must prioritize soft power approach throughout the mediums of culture, knowledge, education, diplomacy, and political tools which were carried out by nonviolent means and cross-civilizational dialog (Nye, Soft Power: the Means To Success in World Politics).

In order to actualize “soft power” strategy and approach, several NU intellectuals in the United States and Canada have established Komunitas Nahdhatul Ulama Amerika Serikat dan Kanada (Nahdlatul Ulama Community of the United States and Canada). This establishment aims to bridge the tension and gap among Muslim & non-Muslim and also to solve the problems of Islam and humanity.


This article is originally published in IslamLib.