Graham Fuller: It’s a great pleasure for me to be here at the Rumi Forum; actually I’ve never been here before. I think I did maybe five or six years ago when it was still a very small organization in Georgetown the seed that this building has now become. But I’m very excited to see the development of this organization and its obvious growing impact on Washington which I think desperately needed a voice that could speak for Islamic issues and on behalf of Islamic issues in the world. The town is outgunned by those who are perhaps less sympathetic to problems of Islam and issues of Islam. In any case the issue tonight is indeed my book; it’s as you know called A World Without Islam. Some of you may recall that about three, less than three years ago I wrote an article by the same in Foreign Policy magazine and it set forth a thesis which I presented in brief but that I was then asked by a New York publisher Little Brown to expand upon, so I did. I like the title for a couple of reasons. First of all as people have pointed out to me when you see a title A World Without Islam does this mean it’s pro-Islam or does it mean anti-Islam? And I mentioned this to the publisher and they said ambiguity is good, it’ll sell more copies. But more to the point I wanted a title which would, not only a title but a thesis which represents kind of guerilla journalism. Something that would maybe be a little more provocative and shocking to people and to make them reconsider issues of the role of Islam in relations between the Middle East and the west. Just to make sure you all know, the book is not saying if there had never been an Islam the world would be the same, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that if there had never been an Islam or had never been a prophet Muhammad that the relationship between the west and particularly the United States and the Middle East would perhaps not be significantly different than it is today, that’s the argument.
So I try to proceed to demonstrate this and of course it’s a, what if question it’s highly speculative: what if there had never been a prophet Muhammad? What if there had never been a Jesus Christ, what if there had never been a Hitler or a Stalin or a Lenin or a George Washington? I mean you can go on asking very interesting questions about what might have happened in the world if X, Y, or Z had not happened. In this case so my suggestion that if there had never been a prophet Muhammad is certainly meant to denigrate or insult either the prophet or Islam but to suggest that the problems between the west and the Middle East today have really very little to do with Islam.
Now there are many and I don’t need to tell you this, you know there are many in Washington, in the United States, in the west, who are quite convinced that this is about Islam. And after all Bin Laden has, particularly Bin Laden but not uniquely, has done wonders for teaching the west Arabic. The number of Arabic words we have learnt as a result of all this has grown hugely. We now know Jihad and mujahad and mujahadin and [Ijtihad] and jihad and fatwa and madrasa and keep on there’s more of them involved here, emir and I don’t we keep learning these words. So the implication is that when we know all these words that of course the problem is due to issues of Islam. This is a very convenient argument because when you say the problem is essentially Islam and Islamic culture then the problem is them and what is wrong? And I’ve participated myself for my sins in writing articles not against Islam on this subject but talking about potential threat situations and analyses in the past relating to other countries; China or Russia or wherever. But I think there is a tendency especially in Washington to be looking for what is wrong with let’s say Saudi Arabia? And there are things wrong with Saudi Arabia or with any country the focus…why do we have these…what’s wrong with Saudi Arabia, what’s wrong with Islam, what’s wrong with Muslims, how can we change Islam, how can we change they way Muslims think, how can we change how Muslims act to fix this problem of relations between the Middle East and the west? You know that this represents very sloppy lazy thinking because it frees the west, frees the United States from bearing any responsibility for any of these events that have taken place. Now I’m not here to place blame one way or the other but when you consider that on the one hand the United States claims and prides themselves on the fact that it has been the sole global superpower with maybe 1,000 military bases scattered around the world, the greatest army that the world has ever known in history, the huge economy, dominant economy, dominant soft power, all of these things in which Americans pride themselves. And a footprint as the Pentagon openly calls it, the American footprint like Godzilla or something that the… how can that much power have no impact on events that happen in the rest of the world? Even if you say the blame’s to be divided 50-50 for problems that emerge, okay 50-50 but it at least it goes well beyond… It suggests the need for some introspection into ourselves and our own policies that might have led to these situations. And that is indeed an important theme in this book.
A second bumper sticker if you will in the book is that History Did not Begin With 9/11. I think we as Americans have a strong tendency to believe that history did begin with 9/11 that gee whiz here we were just minding our own business trying to keep the world safe for democracy and freedom and freedom overseas and free enterprise and all of a sudden we were attacked by these crazy people from overseas in a hideous attack. Well it was a hideous attack and an outrageous attack and a criminal attack. But nonetheless history did not begin there and those of you who have lived in the Middle East or Americans included like myself and many of my good friends who are in this room have understood we knew for many years that things were getting worse in the region. It didn’t take great brains to know this, from talking to friends, associates reading the press listening to media, the anguish, the small outbreaks of violence here there elsewhere. It was sort of fairly evident that something bad at some point was likely to happen because the situation was getting worse every few years. Nobody knew or few precious people, few people could have guessed that 9/11 would have been the exact outcome. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise that radicals in the Middle East at some point would move decisively to try to bring the attack back against the United States. So I’m not even trying, I don’t want to have to get into arguments about who is more to blame, whether the United States caused it or Bin Laden caused it or… But I’m suggesting that history did not begin then and to solve the problem we have to go back and look at the roots of all of these conflicts.
Now I’ll give you very briefly what the main theme of the book is, I’ve already suggested the main one, that if Islam had not existed there would still be major tensions between the Middle East and the west. Even if we go way back into history there were geopolitical problems between what was the east and then the west, namely between the Persian empire which was under Zoroastrian faith, [Parses] who still exist and the Greeks who I guess we would have to call them pagan although that’s not a very good word. But anyway these two empires fought representing to some degree the geopolitical power of the east versus the geopolitical power of the west. This is before Christianity, before Islam of course, so those tensions and back and forth the Greeks and Romans fought over Anatolian territory and up into Greece and all over into Iran. Following that we had the Roman Empire which moved after founding itself in Rome, began then to move around 300 AD to Constantinople or today’s Istanbul and founded this extraordinary Byzantine Christian Eastern Orthodox Empire that lasted from 300 AD until 1453. So this is an amazingly long empire of 1,100 years or so. Even though that was Christian it was beginning to develop problems with Rome fairly earlier on and these problems increased and increased. It basically wasn’t about religion. It was about geopolitical power and turf and who would have the right to convert let’s say the pagans in the Balkans or the Slavic pagans or other peoples in the Middle East? These problems got progressively worse and worse and worse. Some of the conflict was expressed however in religious terms. Why not? If you can express them in the religious terms it’s much more dignified and important than to simply suggest we have, we’re struggling over turf or power. So as some of you may know, the ultimate moment in, was the great schism between the Roman Western Latin Empire and the Greek Christian Orthodox Eastern Orthodox Empire was and I have a terrible memory for dates, it’s 1150 …