The Islamic Sleeping Giant and the Arena of Resistance

João Silva Jordão argues that the problems that Muslims face, real or perceived, are in fact a point of radical departure that bodes well for the future of Islam as a model for future social change and justice.

The Islamic Sleeping Giant

Muslims are being butchered and oppressed worldwide. The ummah is divided and demotivated. In some countries, many children raised in Muslim families are abandoning the religion as they grow up to become adults who no longer see Islam as a source of inspiration for their daily lives. Some just want to distance themselves from Islam so as to avoid any negative treatment and the potential damage to their social status and reputation that being a Muslim may result in. Islam is often depicted as being backwards and a potential stumbling block to the development and evolution of the nations who adopt it. Above all, Islam has come to be associated with ‘Terrorism’.

But despite all of this, or perhaps because of this, Islam is also often seen as the ideology with the highest potential in the world today.

With the so-called War on Terror, the United States Federal Government and its allies targeted Muslims and Islam on several levels, with the West mobilizing its military, media and academia so as to try to demean and undermine the position of Islam in the world. Regardless of your view of what really happened on September 11, 2001 it is undeniable that the now infamous key foreign policy document ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’ by the Project for a New American Century think-tank was prescient in saying that, “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”. September 11 was that “new Pearl Harbor”. And Muslims were blamed. And for a relatively short period of time, the US really did ‘rebuild its defenses’ allegedly so as to stave off the ‘terrorist threat’, but in doing so, also reasserting its military dominance globally.

It may even seem like the US military needed someone to bully so as to reassert its dominance in the world, and that someone, somewhere, chose to go pick on the Muslims. And if someone did really make that choice, it probably was, in hindsight, a terrible choice.

What could at first seem like a very achievable target, in the form of a very vincible victim, turned out to be a much more troublesome opponent than one would have thought.

Instead of subduing Muslims and defeating Islam, the enemies of Islam instead seem to have ended up unwittingly awakening a sleeping giant of unimaginable potential. In addition to strengthening the attachment of existing Muslims to their religion, the ‘War on Terror’ also paradoxically resulted in higher rates of non-Muslims converting to Islam and increased the interest and even fascination that the general non-Islamic population has towards Islam.

As Muslims we must take this in our stride and unapologetically affirm ourselves as an emergent, global force within the Arena of Resistance (Silva Jordão, 2021)- this also means that we will have to be less shy in debating, competing and eventually coming into some degree of conflict against other subversive forces, such as New Age beliefs, Communism and the left in general.

The Beginning of History

Islam’s unexpected emergence as the main engine of global political resistance is clear for everyone to see. Many ideologies and religions have temporarily had this opportunity or held this title in the past. But globalization and its dynamics mean that Islam has risen to the position of prime alternative ideological force at a perfect time, as it now can potentially emerge as a truly global force of resistance and revolution. Modernity is increasingly weakening borders and physical limitations that previously held back the reach that any given ideology could have. This could lead to a paradoxical situation whereby Islam, usually seen as being technologically backwards, could be in the best position to take advantage of modern media and communication structures and the tremendous capacity and potential that they carry.

The rise of global media means that stories can and are now told at a global level. Key events have taken on a new dimension of theatricality insofar as single events can often take on a larger importance in their ability to tell stories, change perspectives and have geopolitical impacts rather than being confined to their own insular meaning and importance. And Muslims seem to have been pushed into playing the role of the villain in this new global play. The world, for the first time in history, has truly become a stage, and there are wheels in motion to ensure that it is Muslims that are cast against their own will to play the role of the villain. This role seems, to the untrained eye, to be a wholly undesirable one… But is it really?

At best, it is an uncomfortable role to play. At worst, it costs us our very lives. 

But it is not without its wonders and opportunities. But before we can fully appreciate and take advantage of the opportunities that this situation brings, we must make some difficult observations and decisions.

Is Islam an Arab Religion?

Islam is being held back by many factors, and one that is not often mentioned is that it is still overly associated with Arabic peoples and cultures. This facilitates its portrayal as a foreign agent in the West, but not only, and perhaps most importantly it limits its potential as an ideologically transformative force rather than something that is associated with the expansion of one culture. It also prevents it from acting as a truly global religion and ideology that is not held back by borders or the presence of different cultures, languages and customs. And it prevents a lot of non-Muslims from even considering converting to it as converting to Islam is still all too often seen as an act of betrayal of one’s culture and people.

Strategic measures and programs must be adopted to change people’s perspective worldwide, targeting Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to counter this. The strategic importance of this particular task will become clearer as this piece develops. Furthermore, it is completely in line with Islam’s vision of itself as a universalist religion that is meant to be of benefit to everyone regardless of culture or ethnicity.

In the age of globalization, Islam’s universal appeal and ambition is an asset that is being all too often tragically overlooked by Muslims themselves.

Christianity was once considered an exotic, peculiar, foreign and detestable religion in the West too

Tacitus’ commentary on Christians and their troubles at the hands of Nero is most often used as an illustration of early Christians’ plight and horrible persecution at the hands of the   Roman Empire. Tacitus allegedly said of the Christians that: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, 1852, originally written in 62-65 A.D.) But there are other fascinating elements that can be easily identified in this short quote, the first being the decidedly negative adjectives that Tacitus uses to describe early Christians, but also the very obvious attempt to try to make them out to be the product of the nefarious influence of foreign ideologies. The parallels between how Tacitus described early Christians as a disruptive, foreign, detestable and unwelcome influence and how many mainstream media and political apparatuses throughout the world try to depict Islam are painfully obvious. It is also painfully obvious that this hatred and attempt to depict Christianity along the lines of an unwanted foreign ideology did not in any way stop Christianity from becoming dominant within the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire itself came to adopt, or at the very least partially usurp, the Christian religion so as to then go on to claim it as its own.

Therefore, in hindsight, the depiction of early Christians as detestable foreign agents and ultimately, the horrendous persecution that Christians suffered was only a prelude to a long-lasting period of near-global hegemony, to the point where the three-century long ordeal that Christians suffered at the hands of the Roman Empire is now a detail of history unknown to many, and at times is not even mentioned at all, whilst even on occasion being overlooked by even some of the most erudite contemporary Christians. Christians, in particular Catholics, struggle to name Christians that were persecuted in these troubled times other than those made famous by their presence in Biblical texts. Try to mention the name ‘Perpetua’ to even the most academically proficient Catholic and you will generally receive a look of bafflement. And yet her botched public execution played an incredibly important role in the rise of Christianity to the very top of the plethora of cults, religions and subversive movements that were active at that time in the Roman Empire, with this multitude of groups being referred to indirectly in Tacitus’ previously mentioned quote.

What set Christianity up for millennia of dominance was its ability to stand out, in the very heart of Rome (the most powerful empire of the time) from every other cult and resistance movement. Christianity eventually became the principal standard-bearer for the disenfranchised and oppressed peoples of the Empire.

The Empire that so detested Christians was brought to its knees by Christians’ glorious resistance and faith- so much so that it ended up converting to it, though this ‘conversion’ is of course not without its particular complexities and paradoxes. Christians went from the catacombs to the palaces, and the system that oppressed it quickly became the vehicle that it then used to generate a lengthy period of virtual global dominion. Because of this turn of events, Christianity stands to this day as the most powerful and influential revolutionary movement of all time, and is still, officially, the largest religion in the world.

Islam must, and will naturally and inevitably, follow a similar route.

The difference is that if Islam follows a similar pattern, its eventual rise from the catacombs to the palaces will be seen by everyone, and will represent a much more global event than what would be possible in Roman antiquity. This means that its rise as the prime force of resistance will possibly not only be felt in the West, but globally, and will be witnessed globally also. Whereas Christianity used the Empire’s roads to spread, Islam has more than roads- it has highways, airports and perhaps most importantly, mass media and the increasingly ubiquitous reach of the Internet.

It must also be noted that Muslims are not only oppressed in the West, but also within its three main geopolitical rivals- Russia, India and China. And though one should certainly not seek to augment nor much less to celebrate Muslims’ oppression globally, we must still not ignore the possibility that the wide scale of Muslims’ oppression is directly proportional to their potential as a force of global resistance as well as the possibility that Islam may then come to be seen as a legitimate political alternative to the present system.

Muslims Leaving Islam

However, some Muslims are leaving Islam. As a convert who has worked with refugees, I see this first-hand, but also get to see some dynamics that others do not have the privilege of witnessing. I have often witnessed how many ‘Muslims’ stop practising Islam, and sometimes stop identifying as Muslims, as soon as the influence of state or family is removed. This means that we can now move into a future where more and more Muslims identify as such not because they are socially forced into it, but because they actually believe. The current predicaments could well reduce the Islamic constituency, but it might also make it a more motivated, genuine one. The Internet plays a part in disseminating a buffet-like array of ideologies and ideas that people can access and adopt at will. The Internet, and global media at large, will definitively play a role in making many Muslims leave Islam… But it will naturally also become the vehicle through which many more previous non-Muslims come to love and adopt it.

The rise of the Internet therefore also means that anyone, anywhere can find out about Islam, and adopt it. What this means is that we have the very real possibility of having a slightly reconfigured contingent that is not marked by Islamic nations and non-Islamic nations, but rather, as a global group of loosely affiliated people who adhere to an ideology, with a more geographically fractal disposition. Thus this fractal disposition of ideologies is not necessarily a component of Islam, but rather the pattern that we can predict all ideologies will soon follow, much more so because of the characteristics of modernity rather than because of the inherent qualities of the ideologies themselves.

Preparing Muslims for an Urban, Global Future

If we don’t make good use of global mediums of communication, most importantly, the Internet, our revolutionary potential will be greatly diminished, and perhaps even extinguished. This means that we simply cannot accept any attempts at censorship, whether it be external, or internal, and for this we must leverage our huge presence in the marketplace, amongst other things. Muslim communities are often lacking in vision and can often be overly conservative, which makes them deficient in their capacity for invention and participation in ideological debates, and sometimes also results in an incapacity to use news tools and technologies to their advantage. The capacity for the production of a truly Islamic culture, that is, a culture that serves as the conduit for Islamic principles, rather than superficially, loosely-Islamic themed cultural output (and this is quite an important distinction) has been increased, but needs to advance at a much faster pace. Internal forces of obscurantism and irrational conservatism must be sidelined and the more irreverent, tech-savvy sections of our youth have to be given the space they need to work. This will inevitably lead to conflict and a certain reconfiguration of power relations within Islamic communities, but it remains absolutely necessary. If this results in a slight increase in inter-generational conflict, so be it- it is preferable to cultural insignificance and the certain defeat this will bring upon Islam as a whole.

The Arena of Contestation

For every action, there is a reaction. For all power, there is counter-power. And for all States and systems, there in an Arena of Resistance (for a more extensive set of explanations and analogies relating to this concept, see Silva Jordão, 2021). It is a widely-held fallacy that political struggles act along binary configurations whereby ‘the noble oppressed people’ fight against ‘the Evil power’- however, the ability to contest power is power in and of itself. It follows naturally, and this is easily verifiable, that those who are oppressed and/or opposed to political power fight each other more than they actually fight the powers that be, not least because they are gathered in the Arena because they oppose the system, but often do so for different reasons, with different ideologies, and ultimately with completely different objectives. It is for this reason that civil wars often follow revolutions– once the revolution is complete, these all too-often cynical, opportunistic alliances which were temporarily necessary in order to defeat a powerful enemy are broken- the struggle to see who takes the reins of power then becomes virtually inevitable.

The capacity of Muslims to build their own narrative and use their own concepts within the Arena of Resistance, particularly in the West, is fairly limited. This has to change. The agency of the Left has been, whether intentionally or not, particularly perverse in this regard. We must reject any attempt to be dragged into guilt-trips and false debts just because the political Left seems like it is our ally. Furthermore, the Left is undergoing a painful, vertiginous and sometimes pathetic period of ideological and cultural degeneration, which in turn is leading to a series of embarrassing defeats. As if we Muslims didn’t have enough problems of our own, we are often being dragged into these defeats, instrumentalized and manipulated by both Left and Right spectrums of the Western political apparatus, whilst obtaining little to no political gain.

We must stop being politically coy, naive and cowardly and start being strategic about our role and potential within the Arena of Resistance. On a final note, most revolutionary political forces of the past and present had and have to work very, very hard in order to take up favourable positions within the Arena of Resistance. The fraudulent and unjust “War on Terror” has practically handed the envious mantle of prime force of political resistance to a community that clearly, for the most part, did not want it, and perhaps still does not want it- Muslims. But the incessant attempts to fight Islam worldwide seem to have no end in sight- and so too there is no end in sight to its ability to assert itself as the prime global alternative political and religious force.

Should we beg on our knees for our oppressor’s mercy, perhaps appealing to their good conscience? Or should we perhaps accept our role as second-class citizens, to be ridiculed, beaten, robbed, maimed, killed and bombed whenever our oppressors see fit?

That will clearly not happen. Islam looks like it is more than capable of holding its own in the face of what may be its toughest challenge yet.

The irony of this all is that Islam could very well have been destined to go through a period of agonizing degeneration and disaggregation starting precisely in and around the beginning of the 20th century.

Instead, someone particularly foolish chose to make Islam into an enemy, completely misunderstanding the nature of Islam, and in doing so, seems to have unwittingly awakened a sleeping giant.

Bibliography:

Silva Jordão, João. “The Skyscraper Analogy and the Arena of Resistance; An Architectural, Dialectical Analogy on Power and Counter-Power, Tradition, and Innovation” In ‘Tradition and Innovation’. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, London. Maria do Rosário Monteiro, Mário S. Ming Kong (Eds.)

Tacitus. “The Annals/The Histories”. First published 1852, Edition from 2003, original work by Tacitus is from Book XV of the Annals written between 62 and 65 A.D., Modern House, New York, U.S.A.João Silva Jordão is a Muslim convert and PhD candidate in Urbanism as well as a political activist usually based in Lisbon.