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Reviving The Clash Of Civilizations Idea – OpEd


By Alsir Sidahmed

The row between Sudan and South Sudan over outstanding issues following the separation of South Sudan last July took a serious turn. Last month South Sudan President Salva Kiir said, “Our friends behind us think the war we are fighting with Sudan is about us.”

He went on to add that, “The government in Khartoum once said we are the obstacle and if they can defeat us they will expand Islamization and Arabization up to South Africa.” Kiir used the occasion marking the 29th anniversary of the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to send that message. In other words he really meant business.

This looks like setting the stage for Samuel Huntington’s famous dictum and reviving the clash of civilizations idea as Sudan is regarded as one of the fault lines. Whether Sudan ambitions go that far to spread its brand of Islamism and Arabism all over Africa is questionable.

Even if it is true it could be a way to deflect national attention from domestic problems that are not ripe yet for easy solutions; the same could explain the statement by Kiir, who is facing the daunting task of building the newest state on earth from scratch. However, Kiir’s remark underlines the factors that are now at play all over the world moving the political scene along cultural lines, toward more fundamentalism and a growing sense of religious-related identity.

From the Egyptian elections to the declaration of an Islamic state in northern Mali to most parts in the Arab world political Islam is on the rise.

Three main reasons contributed to that rise. Unlike other forces, political Islam somehow managed to have an independent forum, relatively away from government control, in the form of mosques that they managed to utilize to propagate their programs.

Secondly they represented in most cases the known genuine opposition with some popular backing to overthrown regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and so on; and third other political ideologies whether an outcome of a military coup or inherited since independence have been tested over the past 50 years and proven to be a failure.

So in a way it was a rise by default since political Islam has been around for more than 85 years when the Muslim Brotherhood was first established in Ismailyia, Egypt back in 1928.

Under the wing of the Muslim Brotherhood most of today’s political Islam groups mushroomed though not necessarily towing the same party line.

And that will be its main challenge: on how to handle growing problems of nation building, meet people’s aspiration in dignity, decent life and at the same time provide the much required political freedom and accountability for politicians that was at the hallmark of Arab Spring revolutions. And all that should be done along Islamic guidelines.

Revolutions generally face the question of whether to concentrate on domestic front and restrict their activity within the borders of their countries or try to extend their sight and deeds far away and adopt more or less a missionary strategy that hopes to spread the revolution worldwide or at least in the vital nearby spheres.

It was a challenge faced by Stalin and Nasser for instance as well as others at various degrees, with different reactions and mixed results.

This is what makes Kiir’s remark valid in a way and could be tabled before many of the political Islam movements that are already forces to reckon with. Unlike the case of Sudan, where the current ruling political Islam came to power through a coup, many of these movements found their way through popular revolution and have agreed so far to get to power through the ballot boxes.

So they will be relatively restrained and won’t be able to exercise freely any revolutionary, missionary activities even if they wanted to.

However, the best these movements could do is to concentrate on setting up their example of good governance, how they are going to rule and retain the trust of their people.

The spread of Islam itself happened mainly due to good examples set up by early Muslims wherever and whenever they go than through direct missionary preaching or for that matter by sword.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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