Sunday’s Washington Post gave readers a “Spring Cleaning” feature, with 10 writers offering 10 different things they would like to toss out.
The most convincing to me was Parag Khanna’s case for discarding the term “the Muslim world.” And I write as someone who has lazily used the term in the past.
Obama, like Bush before him, thinks that he can speak to some mythical community known as the “Muslim world.” Like many other Western politicians and intellectuals, the president vests the term with too much meaning, and by using it incessantly, he misses the chance to truly win hearts and minds.
Just as there has not been any meaningful “Christian world” since the Holy Roman Empire, there has been no unified “Islamic world” since the Middle Ages. For centuries thereafter, Turks, Persians and Arabs squabbled over ideological hegemony. Sunni versus Shiite is just one of Islam’s divides today, reminding the world that the faith has no supreme authority to which all believers adhere. By using the term “Muslim world,” we only elevate the likes of Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden, whose rhetoric turns archaic Islamist fantasies into self-fulfilling prophecies. Speaking to all Muslims is speaking to none of them.
Islamists who fantasize about a new caliphate or bigots who view virtually every Muslim of every background as an enemy of modern civilization may have good reasons to talk about “the Muslim world.” The rest of us don’t need to play their game.