This is the equation that the United States needs to understand. There is an intense debate--a kind of a battle for faith--in the Muslim world. The so-called "moderates" are absolutely marginalized, as in the case of the Muslim intellectuals in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta who are trying to promote a pluralistic society with dialogue and good faith. They've been receiving death threats through fatwas.

If America is able to reinforce the position [of the moderate Muslims of the world] through respect, seminars, conferences, actions that will strengthen them in society, then in the long term they will prevail. Because Islam essentially is the religion of balance and good faith and compassion. But if America continues with abuses such as those at Abu Ghraib and fails to improve the situation forIraqis, then the literalists will prevail because they will have the ammunition to argue that America is on the warpath against Islam, and therefore we must support a jihad against the enemy of Islam--the United States.


Three Schools of Thought

New Delhi, India, April 1, 2006
The Islamic debate regarding a moderate versus orthodox Islam was personified here in a very unique way through visits to three places: Aligarh Muslim University, which was founded under British traditions; Ajmer, a city rich in Sufi tradition; and the university in Deoband, which is the center of conservative Islamic thought in India.

Aligarh has always been dear to me because it follows in the traditions of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah--the students there are quite Westernized, wear coats and ties, and have a very modern education as well as moderate Islamic studies. Deoband is the complete opposite--more like a madrassa education, with all male students wearing traditional Islamic dress. Until very recently, English was banned at Deoband, and only religious studies was offered. Now they do have some non-religious courses, like computer science, and also offer English.

Hailey and friends
Author Hailey Woldt and friends

Visiting Deoband after Aligarh was quite a revelation because I found the students at Aligarh more frustrated with their situation. With all their modern education, they were having trouble getting jobs. They also felt not of the Islamic world or of the Western one. Then in visiting Deoband, I found the students there very comfortable in their conservative setting. They had a positive outlook for their future. They were relaxed, secure, and forward-thinking.

And so, in thinking that the Aligarh representation of a balanced Western and Islamic education was the right model for Muslims, I learned that the Deoband model of conservative but positive thinking may be a better situation. The Deoband students were very interested in my lectures on dialogue, compassion and building friendships with people of other faiths. So if these orthodox students are willing to reach out to the rest of the world, then the lesson here is that a dialogue with all types of Muslims is possible, and necessary.

Muslim Views on the Iraq War
March 23, 2006, New Delhi, India

Here in the Muslim world, Iraq is seen as a nation that was strong and legitimate, but now is in turmoil and anarchy. Yes, Saddam was an evil dictator, but Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia feel the situation for Iraqis is worse now. And they see a conspiracy--that this was deliberately done to destabilize the Muslim world in the Middle East.

What is so tragic for me, who has talked about democracy so long, is that I’ve used Saddam as a model of a tyrant long before it became fashionable in the West. I always spoke how his socialist ideas imposed tyranny on Muslim societies, because his first victims were always Muslim scholars. And the saddest thing to see now is that in the Muslim world -people are saying that Saddam’s type wasn’t too bad. At least you knew you had one tyrant, and you had stability. But now you have total anarchy. Iraqis are scared that people may come into their home and take someone hostage. If they go to work, will they come back?

And the most frightening thing is that there seems to be no end in sight. And Muslims here see no viable solution. You have an election, and it’s not working. America sets up a government, and it’s not working. Law and order is just not taking hold. And Iraq’s turmoil is spreading throughout the region: You have Iran and its nuclear crisis developing on the Eastern front. You have Syria identified as part of the “Axis of Evil” by America.
Even here in South Asia, the war in Iraq is a main topic, and feelings here are quite strong that American should not be there.
Muslims say America is the problem not the solution, which is opposite of what the Bush administration feels. It’s a tragic misreading of history on both sides. You get all these efforts of the American media showing how great Iraq is doing--new schools, new parks, how Marines are handing out sweets and so on. Then in the Muslim world you’ve got the feeling that there’s nothing but death and destruction because of America. Two opposing views.
Muslim Views on the Iraq War, Part II
March 23, 2006, New Delhi, India
It’s amazing how strong the feeling is in India and other countries we’ve visited about this war being waged to pull apart the Muslim world. It never was about weapons of mass destruction. There’s no sense that America was bringing democracy. People in the Muslim world, I’m finding on this tour, are not only very alert, but they are very conscious of world politics. They’re looking at the world, they’re watching the news, and they’re making their own assessments.
So they’re arguing that while America talks of democracy, which is great, and human rights, which are great, in practice it supports dictators. And this thought is repeated everywhere I visit. Here in India, Muslims are saying that America brought in Saddam early on. They say the reason he’s only being tried for a very small number of crimes is because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had supported Saddam previously and had given him the latest chemicals andequipment. So if Saddam is tried for bigger crimes, America’s complacency will come out. I don’t know if this argument is right or wrong, but this is how the Muslim public perceives it.
In fact Muslims in the Middle East are saying that a tyrant like Saddam was preferable to the anarchy that is Iraq now. So right now the mood is bleak, it’s angry, and Muslims here have one request: America should get out.
Muslim Views on the Iraq War, Part III
March 23, 2006, New Delhi, India
What’s most tragic, in my own view, is that Iraq is now set up for another dictator to take over. I feel that America has built up one force alone in Iraq in the last three years, and that is the security force. And a number of these guys are from the former security services of Saddam. Many of them are old Bathists. Old habits die hard.
These security forces, I believe, are thinking this: We had a stable, strong nation for three decades. We were known in the world. We had the most powerful army in the Arab world, and now we are reduced to a joke. And so I think they are looking for a local young colonel--a young Ghaddafi or a young Saddam--to declare a military coup to bring back stability. And America will be pleased, just as they were when Gen. Pervez Musharraf took over in Pakistan. And that, to me, will be the ultimate irony, because you’re back to square one.