There are a few things we can do to help us through the popularly described 'War on Terror' with our sanity, and our lives intact. I know the line 'it's not a War on Islam' but to be blunt, as any muslim will tell you from experience, it is.
I could go into a lot of political philosophy here, but I won't. In short the major goals are:
- Prevent loss of life, on all sides of the conflict.
- Preserve islamic political, economic and social institutions from harm and outside interference.
- Establish intitutions, societies, groups, and associated infrastructure required to protect the islamic way of life across the world in a peaceful and above all effective manner.
- Instill a culture of action and independence and intelligent co-operation amongst ourselves.
- Establish the conditions for the end of wars within Islamic nations, and prevent the beginning of further wars at all costs.
- Preserve and enhance freedom of Muslims within Islamic societies, and non-islamic societies.
As a well thought out list of comprehensive goals I am well aware this falls short. However, it is a place to begin, and for the author at least, this will do.
The major concern at the moment is to take the massive upwelling of personal opposition to the war, and focus it on the concrete fronts which people may or may not be aware of in their own lives. In effect the individual Muslim realizes that the war isn't simply something which is happening on the screen, it is happening in their lives. What brings this home to most people is the realization that society limits their mobility, their privacy, their freedom of speech, and their actions, especially actions to meet, co-operate and establish independence.
So the first step along the way would be to take existing Islamic communities, western embedded, or otherwise, and see what effect the war on terror has had on their ability to function as healthy homes for the growth of Muslim people. This means looking at the family homes, the amount of money in the system, the kinds of jobs people in a community do, their level of interaction with each other, the religious infrastructure, the educational infrastructure, schools, places of rest and play, and of course the wider integration into law enforcement, local government, and the history of the place.
The arenas for mixing and communication must be understood and labeled, as well as the individuals required to create a healthy community. The small village is usually seen as an ideal, however a richer model can be seen in the small town, as the modern world, city, or otherwise, the majority of muslims live in a situation which may be approximated to this socio-economic template. The vital point here is that in such a societal framework, the muslim community may share basic infrastructure with other communities, and may even be a minority. The conditions for interaction, establishment of funding and equitable access to justice throughout the community's essential operations require close examination and healthy cultivation, and so the roles required resolve themselves to those with an innate sense of what their own children need.
Remember, our purpose here is not to isolate, alienate, it is to integrate in such a way that an Islamic society may flourish healthily and without the social pressures present to date. This requires an Islamic Consciousness diffused throughout the familial framework, and a concerted effort by all involved, through occasional collective action, regular and enjoyable communication, and work towards a real architecture of prosperity. For example, all communities will require marketplaces as well as: schools, clinics, offices and parks. These need not be stalls or shops in the traditional sense, yet trade between families, whether in skills, information, favours, or other commodities is essential in building and sustaining trust relationships.
It is these trust relationships which are the main target of the war on terror.
Issues, Initiatives, Institutions
The central dialogue Muslims currently have with the external society is one which is an extended conflict conversation. For those unfamiliar with the term and explanation may be found at conflict conversations
Most especially the dialogue is punctuated with the semi-official responses of inadequately prepared local people who are seen as 'community leaders' to outrages against Muslims committed by the government, or by bad caricatures of Islamo-phobic cliches.
These are the ubiquitous Islamic Issues, which form the meat and bones of the daily war, and which are designed to fatigue sympathy for Muslims, exhaust the listeners and those involved, breed cynicism and mistrust and engender a distancing-reaction from socially significant Muslims from the mainstream.
In effect to isolate us in our own perceived alienation.
The most effective way to dispel the influence of these daily 'issues' is simply to ignore them; and say that the government/media knows nothing of real islam, and lost it's credibility a Long Long time ago. Would the headscarf have been such a big point of contention if people just shrugged and carried on as normal? It is when the wider society knows it can get to us, to hurt us, that they sink their teeth in, and try to tear. Give them air and they get frustrated, starved, and retreat.
When the media comes back with some snide remark simply respond by asking them to go get a sound bite elsewhere.
Remember what you already know.. Issues are not Issues: they are distractions.
Real issues engender real initiatives. And I don't mean the 2-minute news at 11 initiatives, I mean those started by people you may know which have been running for years, and which make a positive palpable difference. They matter. They deserve support, and are excellent ways for one to meet like minded people and cut one's teeth on the crucial problems of putting together a real society and the institutions it requires.
My personal experience is of teaching at Saturday schools, however your own may be different. These things are corrective mechanisms and they occur in healthy societies, and are often funded directly by participants or through charities.
In either case the role of individuals is to understand the social machinery, see how it works, who is required, and to master enough skills and knowledge to be able to repair, or maintain, or even build from scratch in future encounters with the same social pattern.
We are a living thing in Islam, and we heal ourselves.
Given enough time, enough love, and a steady stream of resources, initiative become institutions, which are ready to form pillars of the community, and extend it further with their own initiatives. Spending time in universities, old schools, hospitals, clinics, offices, and learning about the shape of the world rather than simply using it, fearing it, goes a long way towards feeling empowered in your own area, in your own street, and in your own home.
This will involve talking with people, something all English people fear, but those who follow their dreams fully must be used to the sound of others laughing, however it maybe comforting to note that while only some of those who try succeed, all those who never try, fail.
Our institutions are the organs of our community, we must understand what our children require, what we need, and what we all want to live well together, and go out and build these things from the leftovers of the last generation, or start afresh.
The war on terror hopes to paralyze us into fear and anxiety, by simply struggling and enjoying our ability to regenerate, to grow, we reveal our own vitality to the world and most especially those outside our faith who would judge us harshly through defensiveness.