I’ll offer one to start: the collapse of Marxism as an ideological force over the past 20 years has left the poor in formerly colonial powers at a loss for an ideological substitute for resistance to what they perceive as ongoing exploitation from globalism. In other words, instead of turning to Marxism, they are turning to fundamentalist and medieval forms of Islam for an ideological counternarrative to cultural and economic imperialism. And terrorists tend to combine Islam with a Leftist analysis and critique of globalism—a kind of Isalmo-Bolshevism—and apply it to politics. Thus Islam, when it is combined with 1970s-style Leftist forms of political action—underground movements, urban terror, and bombing—becomes a heretical SYNCRETISM. Most Muslims regard suicide terrorism, for example, as completely contrary to Islamic principles of warfare (not to kill yourself or harm civilians).
And I’d note that when the Western powers respond with violence in turn, it fuels a cycle of aggressive rhetoric on all sides. A bumper sticker I used to see around my city about five years back, for example, callously advised, “Kick their ass, take their gas.”
I’d also note that in the evolution of Malcolm X, that it was his conversion to Islam that chilled him out, mellowed his violent rhetoric, and helped him see the universal brotherhood of human beings. I think that Islam has enormous issues with regard to patriarchy and authoritarian religion, but I also think it is a religion that is perfectly capable—like any other form of monotheism—of peacefully integrating into a global multicultural system of trade and peaceful relations. For example, Muslims in the United States—the vast, vast majority—have already made the journey of this integration and are peaceful and productive citizens. And the children of Muslim immigrants to the United States will be ever more Americanized, as will their children (even as they, in all likelihood, continue to practice the religion of their upbringing).
And on an anecdotal level, I live in a part of the country where Muslims are a decided presence, and all the Muslims that I know are lovely and moderate people. One of my coworkers, for example, is a very committed Muslim. He is an exemplary friend and coworker, and a gentle, funny, and thoughtful person.
I’d also bring up one more issue: people with authoritarian, aggressive, and violent personalities will tend to be attracted to forms and styles of religion that match them. Those, on the other hand, who are temperamentally the opposite will tend to practice religion in a gentler way, noticing the peaceful parts of their chosen holy book and ignoring the noxious parts (or metaphorizing them). Gandhi, for example, read the Bhagavad Gita metaphorically even though it is, if read literally, a justification for violence and killing in war. The Gita is a Hindu book which Hindus have, indeed, used (historically) to justify killing in war. You can argue that this is precisely why the author wrote it.
So what I’m saying is that we are not just cultural creatures—Lockean blank slates—influenced by holy books in a linear fashion (“My holy book says kill so I kill”). We are also biological creatures with strong inherited temperamental inclinations that range from aggression and asociality to passivity and social cooperation. Our religious expression is frequently just a veneer for our inherited temperamental characteristics. Gandhi is going to read the Bhagavad Gita differently from a Hindu general who has risen to the top of the Indian army. A Reformed Jew in New York is going to read the Hebrew Bible differently from his Orthodox counterpart living in the West Bank and taking the “chosen people” passages of the Bible seriously, his weapon at the ready. Likewise, a Muslim in the West can see no problem parading in a swimsuit and winning Miss USA even as her counterparts in Pakistan wouldn’t think of doing such a thing.
One more thought: Islam in Islamic countries obviously has a problem of rewarding authoritarians rising through the clerical ranks. In other words, the authoritarians are rewarded, and have essentially taken whole countries hostage to their authoritarian dictates. Iran is an obvious example. Moderate Muslims living there try to resist, but are brutally repressed. But who are the true Muslims? The young people protesting in the streets of Tehran or the authoritarian geezers at the top? I’d argue that it is neither. Islam is plural because human beings’ inherited temperaments are plural. The WAY you read the holy books (which, historically, have been written by a mix of sadistic and masochistically tempered individuals) tells you a lot about who you are.
I realize I’m offering a form of analysis that is not especially politically correct, but I have been influenced by Steven Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate. His book, which is very carefully documented and argued, has convinced me, even though I’m a liberal, that at least half of our expressed human temperaments are the products of our genes, and this impacts how we read holy books and affiliate in our politics. We are not blank slates at birth, and getting rid of one political or religious ideology will not change authoritarian or violent human impulses, but probably set people on a search for a fresh ideology that matches their psychological inclinations.
Have you ever noticed, for example, how a person who believes in one conspiracy theory—a 9-11-truther, say—is also inclined to be attracted to a lot of the other conspiracy theories as well, mixing and blending them into a stew of paranoia?
If a political or religious system starts rewarding such a person you can end up with a nutty person in power. But now I’m thinking of Sarah Palin. Is the Republican Party essentially nutty—and necessarily so? No. But the system has gotten skewed to rewarding its nuts (like Palin) and sublimating its saner elements (like David Frum). I think that the same thing is true of contemporary Islam in Islamic countries like Iran. The crazy authoritarians are being rewarded through the way the system is set up in those countries. A different system of rewards in a culture might bring temperamentally less rigid Muslims to the fore (as it obviously does in the United States, as the winner of Miss USA attests).