Just a few quotations that I culled from a book that I didn’t expect to find so persuasive: Graham E. Fuller’s A World Without Islam.
Fuller is a former career officer with the Department of State and certain, ahem, other organizations. (He was, for example, the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan.)
“Islam seems to offer an instant and uncomplicated analytical touchstone for most affairs in the Middle East, by which to make sense of today’s convulsive world. By referring to Islam, we can reduce things to a polarized struggle between ‘Western values’ and the ‘Muslim world.’” (3)
“If there had never been an Islam, if a Prophet Muhammad had never emerged from the deserts of Arabia, if there had been no saga of the spread of Islam across vast parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, wouldn’t the relationship between the West and the Middle East today be entirely different? No, I argue, it might actually be quite similar to what we see today.” (4)
“The West, and especially the United States, has shown no serious or sustained interest in the Middle East until the last half century. We tend to be comfortably ignorant of the history of Western interventionism in the region over centuries—or even over a millennium. We are only superficially aware of Middle Eastern critiques of Western policies that touch on oil, finances, political intervention, Western-sponsored coups, Western support for pro-Western dictators, and carte blanche American support for Israel in the complex Palestinian problem—which, after all, had its roots not in Islam, but in Western persecution and butchery of European Jews.” (5)
Islam “has primarily served as flag or banner for other, deeper kinds of rivalries and confrontations taking place.” (5)
“In the end, I hope to persuade the reader that the present crisis of East-West relations, or between the West and ‘Islam,’ has really very little to do with religion and everything to do with political and cultural frictions, interests, rivalries, and clashes.” (16)
“Yet the real issue is not the danger of religion per se, but of dogmatic thinking. The true horrors of the twentieth century have almost nothing to do with religions: two world wars, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Rwanda—the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, all involving secular, even atheist regimes that seized upon dogmatic ideas and brutally implemented them at all cost.” (17)
“If there had been no Islam, the world would have been less rich culturally and intellectually, but the cultural and theological groundwork of thinking in the Middle East might not have been vastly different.” (36)
“It is like a furious marital blowup in the kitchen over whether the pasta is overcooked: the anger is very real, but outside observers instantly grasp that something more is going on here beyond whether the pasta is al dente.
So in the case of the Middle East and its religions, it is not the theology that really represents the source of conflict. Other things are obviously at stake: identities, communities, states, politics, power, regional nationalisms. Religion serves as a handy tag, constitutes an important element of identity in which the specific theology is really only incidental.” (37)