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Muslim Nations and Their Crisis of Leadership

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Muslim Nations and Their Crisis of Leadership

Muslim nations face a crisis of leadership, which affects both them and their relationship with other countries. In Muslim society the leader embodies both political and moral authority. Yet even the best-known thinkers who comment on Islam, like Professor Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, have failed to identify the importance of Muslim leadership.

On the surface there is a bewildering range of leadership: kings, military dictators, mullahs, democrats, and, as in the Taliban in Afghanistan, young and inexperienced tribal men running a country. Overshadowing all these, we are witnessing new Muslim movements and a new kind of populist, aggressive and literalist Muslim leadership struggling to emerge. The Taliban and their guest from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the bombing of the American embassies in Africa in 1998, best symbolizes this trend. In other countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Pakistan, similar Muslim leaders actively challenge the established rulers.

For these warriors of Islam, the injustices of their rulers and the fact that some enjoy support in the West, all the cultural invasion of western media images, as well as the stereotypes of Islam in the Western media such as the 1998 Hollywood film The Siege, in which Muslims are shown as terrorists and fanatics, highlight the serious cultural and political problems that Muslims face. These coupled with the indifference of the West to them, combine to create a focus on the West as the enemy. From this perception to actively opposing the West as a form of jihad or religious war, is one short step.

While the often Westernized nationalist leaders of the post-independence period...

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... states; Sunni Muslims have fought Shi'ites, and Iran and Iraq waged a bloody ten-year war that may have killed a million people. And from Karachi to Cairo, Muslim cities erupt into sectarian and ethnic violence at a moment's notice. Foreign visitors are often targeted at random.

Now that the Muslim world, through Pakistan, has an `Islamic nuclear bomb' Muslim leadership matters more than ever. There is every likelihood of other Muslim nations joining Pakistan in the near future. The world will become an even more dangerous and unstable place.

Clinton and his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, have predicted that the events of August 1998 were a foretaste of things to come; that this is the way that the wars of the future will be fought. They may be right. But the response of the Muslim world will depend on whether the Osama model prevails, or that of Jinnah.
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