The United States, Europe and Russia need a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the Muslim world if they are to develop a less conflictual relationship for the future, argues Alexey Malashenko.

In his new Working Papers (in Russian), Malashenko, chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Religion, Society and Security program, picks apart the complicated relations between the Muslim world and the rest and proposes new ideas to help resolve existing conflicts and prevent the emergence of new ones.

The fraught relations between the Muslim world (a concept that includes Muslim countries, Muslim minorities concentrated in particular regions, and Muslim immigrant populations) and the rest of the world (i.e. – countries where Muslims come into civilizational and geographical contact with other societies and regions) remain one of the biggest problems in global politics today. The difficulties in communication give rise to mutual suspicion and accusations of political and ideological expansionism and spill over into military and political conflict. The Muslim world is associated above all with its most radical segment and inspires fear, and it is precisely this fear that, in Malashenko’s view, has helped to legitimize the very concept of “the Muslim world”. How we got to this state has been described at great length, but little attention has been paid to the key question for the future: how can we overcome these difficulties. Increasingly, however, voices on both sides are looking for a way out of a relationship based on challenges and responses, towards a view that recognizes the inevitability of conflict but seeks avenues for mitigation.

The United States, Europe, Russia and other non-Muslim countries cannot ignore the internal situation in the Muslim world, Malashenko writes, but they should rule out the possibility of military intervention, except if required to prevent a humanitarian disaster. At the same time, they should also put aside an unequivocally negative view of Islamism, which, in Malashenko’s opinion, has radical and moderate factions that should be distinguished accordingly, with efforts made to engage the moderates in dialogue.

One of the key challenges now is to prevent further radicalization of Islamic ideology. Countries within the Muslim world are becoming gradually more differentiated by their relative success in pursuing social and economic development. The less prosperous countries offer fertile soil for the spread of radical and extremist sentiment. Malashenko recommends that the international community respond with the following measures: systematically monitor public opinion in these countries, especially among students, aid the local intelligence services, keep track of the arrival and movements of foreign emissaries, keep watch on potentially charismatic religious leaders, and identify locations where extremists could organize training camps. Religious education is a separate issue, where it would be advisable to provide assistance in training teaching staff and facilitate the invitation of secular lecturers, in order to make Islamic education more open.

“Islam has been politicized, Muslim public opinion has become radicalized, and xenophobia is on the rise,” Malashenko writes. “In building relations with the Muslim world, efforts need to be made not just to forecast how the situation will develop in each individual country, but also take into account the processes characterising the Muslim community as a whole.”

Full text is available in Russian.