Why do you think Islam has turned increasingly militant?
All religions of the world have gone through periods of militancy at different points in time. The perceived threat posed by modernity has been one major cause of various manifestations of restlessness and militancy by religions. In the case of Islam and the Muslim world the crisis of identity occurring due to the ascendance of rationalistic modes of thinking, freedom of expression and other liberal and lax ways of thinking and behaving has been profound. Such changes threatened the totalist approach prevalent in Muslim societies of cognizing and relating to the world.
There is a view that many of the militant groups are a reaction to the decay in their own societies and that this is because Muslims have turned away from their religion.
The first observation is correct. There is a general decay in Muslim societies as in other Third World societies. It is not however the result of Muslims having turned away from Islam. On the contrary it follows from not trying to deal with issues of the present times with modern knowledge and experience. Thus returning to Islam has meant impossible attempts to restore a pristine past which is believed to have existed in the 7th century.
Why is the Quran invoked for their violent brand of politics?
The Quran can always be quoted selectively to justify violent brand of politics. There are as many or perhaps more verses in the Quran which preach peace and forgiveness but these are ignored.
Can it also be attributed to suppression of dissent in large parts of the muslim world?
Suppression of dissent is quite widespread in the Muslim world. Those silencing dissent adopt violent brand of politics and at times this results in violent reaction from those suppressed.
Why is the Muslim ire directed particularly against the US? Is it because the US has propped up authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world to secure its business interests?
The anger against the US derives primarily from its one-sided support to Israel. Of course since it prefers to deal with authoritarian regimes, democratic forces resent that policy of the US. Also, the US-led globalization is perceived as a threat by both fundamentalist and leftist elements, though for different reasons.
To what extent has the Palestine Question added to the anti-US sentiment?
It is the main reason and not simply one among many others.
There is a popular perception that Islam is resistant to change..
At the present stage of history indeed that seems to be the case. Unlike many other religions Islam has a simple belief system and an egalitarian thrust. This can prove a resistant rather than an aid to change because the rough justice and simple solutions can easily appeal to the sensibilities of ordinary Muslims.
Does this resistance to change stem from the immutability of Quran, as well as because Islam makes no distinction between personal and public domain?
The immutability of the Quran in a literal sense is true, but it is a fallacy to infer that Muslims have always read the Quran in the same way. Various sectarian and sufi interpretations are quite different from those undertaken by the fundamentalists. It is however true that the way the Quran is used as an authoritative source of social morality and legal source makes rapid and flexible change difficult.
What do you think are the reasons why democracy is absent in large parts of Muslim society? Why have most Muslim states been unable to separate the Church from the State?
The absence of democracy is directly linked to the problem of religion and state not being separated. Turkey is an exception. Turkish democracy is backed by authoritarian practices and therefore there is no real good example of a Muslim state being a democracy. On the other hand, not all are dictatorships and considerable pluralism and tolerance can be found in different parts of the Muslim world. At present the fundamentalist wave is the strongest.
Why is the condition of women in Muslim societies subservient to men? Considering Quranic injunctions--and their very narrow interpretations--about polygamy, divorce, dress code, etc., what are the ways out for women?
Islamic feminists have been busy re-interpreting Quranic injunctions and have come up with new ideas about Islam not being all that restrictive on women rights and equalities. It is too early to say if they will succeed in overturning the traditional interpretations which do indeed make women subservient to men. You could also please read my article where I elaborate my thoughts on this issue.
(Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed is
Associate Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University. He specializes
on the role of religion in politics with special emphasis on Islam; human
rights; ethnicity and nationalism; and political theory)