Munif Atassi

Advanced Technologies | Deloitte Consulting

“The struggle between Islam and the West has now lasted fourteen centuries. It has consisted of [rather than included] a long series of attacks and counterattacks, jihads and crusades, conquests and reconquests. Today much of the Muslim world is again seized by an intense— and violent— resentment of the West. Suddenly, America had become the archenemy, the incarnation of evil, the diabolic opponent of all that is good, and specifically, for Muslims, of Islam. Why?”  -Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage” Atlantic Monthly, September 1990.


“The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture, and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”  – Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), p. 217.


Few authors have been able to frame the conflict between the West and the Muslim World in the Western mind as successfully as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington starting in the early 90’s.   Their seminal work offers clues today’s discussions of “Islam”, “Islamic Extremism”, “Islamic Terrorism” and other similar telling contrived epithets.

Unfortunately, the West currently remains entrapped within the constructs of Lewis and Huntington since the early 1990’s – outlining every discussion about the West’s relationship with Muslims across the globe.  These constructs have resulted in the unfortunate consequence that framed the view of Muslims through the prism of distrust and cynicism.

Conflicts are easily created but almost impossible to completely eradicate.  The human mind has an inherently negative bias.  Unpleasant news, experiences, and pictures stay in our minds much longer than pleasant one.  There is compelling body of research and scientific evidence proving that we react, take positions, and activate actions based on unpleasant, negative imageries and stories. There is no shortage of negative views of Islam across the West and some of the conflicts we see today – including violence can be traced back to such calamitous views.

Islam and Christendom have a long history dotted with theological, political, economic, and military conflicts that date back to the seventh century when Muslim armies of worriers defeated the Byzantine Empire.  Armed conflicts continued for another 200 years during the Crusaders era and the expulsion of Arabs and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula during the fifteenth century.  Later the defeat of the Ottoman Empire marked the return of the Western powers to the “lands of Muslims” in the Middle East in 18th and 19th centuries continue until today.

The West and Islam seem to be living in a perpetual state of bouncing between open hostilities and mild friendships with more of the former and less of the latter.


The 5 Myths of Islam 

  1. Muslims around the world are united in their hatred to the West.   Contrary to what Lewis, Huntington and scores of Western scholars have tried to argue, monolithic Islam does not exist and such a myth exists only in the mind of Western opinion makers.  Never in the history of Islam has there been a united front poised at destroying the Western values and freedom.  Such a homogeneous and monolithic view of Islam is easy for the public to adopt and it avoids the strenuous critical thinking required to distinguish the beliefs and activities of the majority and a minority of extremists who use religion to justify their criminal acts of aggression and violence.
  2. Islam is incompatible with democracy. As witnessed in the latest presidential election cycle in the US, the word Islam has been used conveniently and repeatedly to create an enemy worthy for the population to unite together, under the leadership of a party and a president, to fight and exterminate once and for all.  What is worth noting is the presence of the word Islam rather than Muslims as the enemy.  Islam, the text, the idea, the set of divine edicts is therefore the enemy.  Therefore, we are told, Islam is incompatible with democracy and there is no hope.  This construct is also much easier to create and transmit because it creates a convenient perpetual enemy worthy of the continuance of collecting taxes and building an ever-stronger military.The fact is that democracy, just like Islam, Hinduism, and other forms of ideologies and religions are just textual concepts and ideas that come to life through the actions of their adherents and practitioners.  During the Golden Age of Islamic literature, science, and the arts Islam was a good and liberal religion.  When Christian Europe sold deeds in the Heavens to enrich the Catholic Church, Christianity was bad and worthy of revolts and reformation.If we are to discuss democracy in the Muslim world, we need to discuss the state of mind of the Muslim at that time and which part of the textual Islam they happened to be practicing at the time. There is no incompatibility of any religion with modern thinking.  Rather, the incompatibility stems from the maturity of the people regarding adopting or rejecting any concept – democracy included.
  1. Islam aims to take over the world.   But maybe some Muslims do believe in this myth.  However, for each Muslim that believes in such a myth, there are probably 10 Westerners who do believe it as well.  This myth is easily propagated as each political system searches for a perpetual enemy to keep its population united under an artificial sense of fear and in dire need of security.  Again, the myth that Islam and Muslims are just one monolithic bloc of a single happy family is often portrayed by Western scholars, researchers, and even Hollywood movies.  If such a monolithic Islam and Muslims did truly exist, maybe the world would have been safer because such myths would never stand a chance to exist.
  2. Islam is a threat to modern societies. Islam as a way of life does provide Muslims with a sufficient body of practices that cover many aspects of life from cradle to grave.  But nothing But as Christians, Jews, Hindus, and other religions were used by their adherents to commits acts of hostile aggressions and crimes, many Muslims did use Islam to commit acts of heinous crimes and aggressions.  Here again, it is not Islam that is the threat, rather it is the actions of some
  3. Separation of church and state is not possible in Islam. It is possible and there are many historical precedents for this separation in Islamic history.  In fact, the first recorded separation of “Islam and state” happened at the during the reign of first Omayyad caliph Muawiyah I in 658 – some 30 years after the emergence of Islam as a religion.  Muawiyah transformed Islamic governance from religious theocracy (the Righteous Imams) to a political oligarchy restricted to Muawiyah’s family of sons and their sons.  Except for Shia Muslims, the clear majority of Muslims have never been ruled by a theocratic leader.



The claim that the West is at war with Islam is a convenient simplification introduced in the late 20th Century by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington and followed later by scores of authors, opinion makers and politicians.  In turn, the Muslim World perpetuated the same counter ideas of a clash with the West as a reaction to colonialism, artificially drawn nation-states, Western support for autocratic regimes, and the overwhelming support to the state of Israel.  The clash is about injustice, betrayals, competition for natural resources, and a power struggle.  It is not about a clash between Islam and other religions.

Islam is a static text codified by the Quran and the Hadith – the oral recitation of the Prophet’s sayings.   Islam is, therefore, as a codified text cannot be changed nor should it be.  Unfortunately, Islam today is defined by the actions a small minority of Muslims rather than the practices of its clear majority.  The failure to distinguish between what Islam teaches and what some Muslims do is a core problem that we must face.

Islam does not need reform but Muslims do.  Reforms are needed to transition Muslim thoughts and practices to be aligned with modernity, pluralism, constitutional liberalism, and democratic practices with the family, the mosque, and the states in which Muslims live.