“Muslim World” — No Such Thing

The recent release of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks has had several salutary effects, not the least of which is to demonstrate there is no such thing as a unified or essentialized “Muslim world” in which various countries whose citizens call themselves Muslims subordinate their conflicting interests to idealized religious goals.  The “Muslim world,” in other words, is a careless and harmful fiction.  There is no such world, unless one wants to speak in terms so general as to be without meaning.  We do not hear much talk about the “Christian world,” and for good reason.

Imagine the group of people who consider themselves to be Christian and then attempt to imagine what their common or collective interests might be.  You will be imagining for a long time, primarily because they do not share the same interests or goals.  The same is true of the 1.5 billion people who consider themselves Muslim.  They are a rather diverse lot.

Despite this fact, there are some (who should know better) who use these terms.  Here is how a professor of Islamic studies recently described the WikiLeaked cables which show that several “Muslim nations” have urged the US to bomb or invade Iran, another “Muslim nation”:

The revelations so far about the Muslim world are eye opening. Muslims, even some American Muslims have raised criticism of American foreign policy to the level of religious ritual. Often Muslim radicalism and alienation is explained as a direct consequence of US foreign policy alone (the point being that US foreign policy is anti-Islam and subversive to Muslim nations). Therefore Muslim anger and radicalism against the U.S. while often expressed in unjustifiable ways is still understandable.

But now that the shenanigans of Muslim nations, most importantly their collusion with America’s so called anti-Islam foreign policy, is exposed, what will Muslims do? Will they also hate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar and other nations just as much as they hate America? Or will they recognize that nation states have interests and they pursue them in whatever ways they can; and understand that US foreign policy neither advances nor targets any religion?

While these various assertions may or may not be true, what they show is that talking about the “Muslim world” and “Muslim nations” makes no sense.  It makes even less sense to ask how “Muslims” (which ones?) will react to all this, as if “Muslims” think and act collectively.  Because they do not, I have no idea who “they” might be.

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