Archive for August 28th, 2009
Imagine an alternate universe where history did not quite unfold the same way as it did for us. In this alternate reality, the Abassid Caliphate continued, there was no Ottoman Empire and its rule of military dictatorship, and Islam maintained and expanded on its tolerant, open approach to people and knowledge, modernizing before Europe. In time, internal conflict weakened the Caliphate, and Persia (present day Iran) emerged as the major world power, with the former Abassid empire maintaining wealth, but losing status. Persian influence spread throughout Southeast Asia, and was the basis of numerous military alliances. After a Cold War with China, Persia became the unipolar power, dominant, with a view of spreading Islamic peace and morality (defined now in a modern sense) to the world.
The Europeans had devolved into a kind of dark ages. Despite the renaissance, internal strife prevented further modernization. After the Hapsburgs put down the protestant political revolt in 1650, they struck a deal with the Roman Catholic church to maintain centralized rule based on a conservative, traditional form of Catholicism. The defeated protestant movement went underground, and became radicalized. Over time Europe’s internal splits and lack of modernization left it vulnerable to Abassid influence, though the Church remained strong enough to prevent domination. European politics, in response to the external threats, veered to military dictatorship, with Christianity used as the rationale for rule. Over time, however, the United States emerged as a new power, meshing radical protestantism with modern technology, and promoting “western, Christian” values. Persia watched the rise of this western power with unease, fearing it could become a threat to the advanced, civilized, Islamic world.
Angered at the hoarding of oil by the industrialized Islamic states, European and American activists accused them of trying to keep the West down. Moderates in the West, emerging finally from centuries of stagnation, hoped to mesh the values of the Islamic secular enlightenment with Christianity to create a peaceful form of modernization that would not be a threat to the Islamic world. But as Islamic values penetrated more deeply into the West, there was a backlash, and radical Christian groups arose, making demands for cheaper oil and less Muslim influence. Complicating all this was a small Sufi colony in southern Greece. Established by a Sufi mystical sect fleeing persecution a hundred years earlier, it developed into a true modern economy in an otherwise backwards Europe. It received military help and cheap oil from the Abassid regime and Persia, but it also emerged as symbolic of the growing hatred of Europeans and Americans for the Islamic world. Greece was, after all, the land of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.
“Reclaim Greece,” was the mantra, and soon radical Christian and western groups engaged in terrorist acts aimed at driving the Sufis out of Greek territory. Persia supported the Sufis, arguing that they had been there for a long time, and had a right to govern that section of Greece. Before they came Athens and the region southward had become impoverished and backwards; the Sufi exiles brought progress and civilization. Because of radical Christian opposition to the very existence of Sufi Greece, some in the Islamic world rejected the idea that Christianity was a religion of peace, saying that the fondness of radical groups for passages in the Old Testament which commanded the Israelites to kill women and children as they devastated a city — verses used by radicals to argue for the violent and uncompromising expansion of Christianity — made the pacifistic verses of the New Testament irrelevant. The prophet had taught a cosmopolitan vision and toleration of other religions, they argued, meaning Jews and Christians in the Islamic world — ones who had modernized — were doing very well, while Christianity was intolerant of both other faiths. Christianity was a religion of conquest, they argued, look at the history of Europe.
The problems reached a climax when a group called “Christian Democracy Now,” headed by a radical named William Jefferson Bush, launched a major terror attack which took down sky scrapers in Tehran using commercial jets. The Islamic world was shocked at the brutality, especially as they saw dancing in the street from members of the Christian minority population in Greece, who were being kept on reservations. They realized the rise of the West was a danger. Then the Americans, while holding on to Christian values and ruled by a radical Protestant regime, started development of a nuclear weapon. The American people were proud that they were standing up finally to Persia; Persia’s nuclear dominance had made it invincible and able to get its way on everything. Moreover, Persian leaders were saying the way to stop terrorism and maintain long term peace was to bring Islam to the West, or, at the very least, mesh Islamic governance with Christian values. This was seen by Americans as raw imperialism and a threat to their identity.
As America got closer to having a bomb, and as radical groups operating from Macedonia and Albania (supported by the American government) threatened Sufi Greece, Persia had two choices; a) launch a pre-emptive strike against America and its nascent threat in order to reshape the western world to fit Islamic values, or b) accept that America would get nuclear weapons, and that the West had to chart its own course of development.
After much debate they realized that “a” would fail — no military attack could force Christians to give up their faith, and western ideas and western culture would be embraced even more tightly by Americans and Europeans in response to raw Islamic aggression, further radicalizing the Christian terror groups, and bringing more danger to Sufi Greece. So they chose “b,” and instead decreased the level of threat, stopped talking about expanding Islamic values into the West, and worked to support American and European moderates who argued that the philosophies of forgotten thinkers such as Montesquieu and Jefferson provided a blueprint for a modernization of Christianity that was neither radical nor violent. They gave statehood to the Christian minority in Sufi Greece (including control of parts of historic Athens), which at first led to a period of real danger from extremists who wanted the Sufis out completely. Over time that danger diminished as relations improved. America did get the bomb, but contrary to the worst Persian fears, did not try to attack Sufi strongholds in Greece, or threaten the Abassid lands or Persia.
Indeed, Persia had the capacity to annihilate America many times over with its vast arsenal; the Persians realized the idea that Americans would commit suicide just to kill Muslims was far overblown. They accepted that Christians also value life. The Persians realized that the fears of a “World War” or the “end of Islam” from this rising western threat were misplaced. After a couple of tense decades, a modern America started to appear, gradually shedding its radical anti-Islamic/anti-Perisan approach recapturing lost traditions from the Christian and western “enlightenment” past. Soon a modern Western way of thinking emerged, something that many in the Islamic world had thought impossible.
When America and Persia signed a treaty of friendship 25 years after America got the bomb, they noted how close they had gotten to a conflict which would have been disastrous for both worlds. And, ultimately the Sufis and Christians in Greece developed good relations and close economic ties, something which at one point seemed impossible. They realized that the Koran and Bible shared a basic wisdom: making war will only lead to more war and anger. By acting according to the best of their values, they could together build a peaceful future.