Here’s a different way of looking at how the world has changed since 1950. It’s a bit circuitous, but I think it illuminates something. Malidoma Some experienced a very direct effect of the colonialism as an African in a country occupied by the French and their missionaries. The colonial period was ending and he ended up attending the University at Sorbonne. Western countries now frown upon such colonial practices.
Western countries still do enforce their power over less developed nations, but it’s much more subtle. How those less developed nations respond is also complex and varied. I’m not going to attempt to sort out all of those factors, but I will make a broader comparison from the old Western colonialists to the current super powers. They are acting differently and how they are opposed has evolved.
Malidoma talks about the value of indigenous culture and how it can be applied to the modern world. I’m taking that and applying it to the relationship to the Muslim world. Hopefully I explain enough of his story to make this blog coherent. This is the story I’m referring to:
This book describes a major shift in the relationship of the 1st and 3rd world that occurred in the middle of the last century. It does it by telling the story of one man, from his perspective, as he experienced that shift. He was a boy in an African village and was kidnapped by a French missionary and forced to go to their school. The French would train these boys to be priests who would then return to their native villages and attempt to convert more souls to Christ. First, imagine that happening today, and what the world’s reaction would be.
Compare this indoctrination to the indoctrination happening in the Madrasas today. Those African boys in Christian missionaries received a complete education, the actual history of France, all of the corruption and political problems. Young boys in Afghanistan get a very limited view of the world. When they graduated from the French missionaries, they were given the choice of becoming a priest or not, they were not given orders. The Syrian boys might graduate to suicide bomber. The indoctrination was effective enough for most of them. But Malidoma was smarter than average and saw that his teachers could not make good arguments for continuing the French occupation. He saw the changes coming. He escaped back to his village and asked them to teach him their traditional tribal ways.
The closest equivalents we have today to people who have escaped are moderate Muslims. People like Majid Nawaz who once recruited people to the cause of Islamist power but are now progressive and speak against “Islamism”. But people like that learned about Islamic history from “Westernized” “modern” means. There are no traditional villages of Muslims because that religion was born in an empire and it expanded that empire to one of the most successful in history. Islam is not some quaint indigenous culture with ideas about living in harmony with the land. It’s a defeated empire with memories of being defeated by empires that are currently expanding.
The recruiters of terrorism have learned from the history of the colonialists. They aren’t going to teach actual history. They aren’t going to encourage democracy or equal rights or tolerance. They have been training Imams and sending them into the modern world and slowly bringing their version of their religion to the forefront. But they would have lost the battle of ideas if they would have continued to only have a battle of ideas. After a few failed attempts, they have managed to build an army to be reckoned with.
Most of us are not soldiers. But all of us have ideas about what peace is, about what place religion should take in the modern world, about how women should be treated. We can fight those battles every day. We do that by acting peacefully and treating people with dignity. We do that by welcoming strangers and helping those in need. These world-wide struggles for power will continue, but we will always have each other.
In case you aren't aware of how children are indoctrinated into terrorism: