Intellectuals talk about the need for Islam's reformation as though there is one arc that will eventually be traced by all great monotheisms. This is far from certain.
The idea assumes the natural state of all humans is to be free. But the subtext is that every upright ape wants freedom for democracy. When we hear "democratic," we think it is the sweetest word. A democratic government, a democratic choice, even a democratic hippopotamus... if the adjective fits the noun at all, anything you paint with it comes out shiny and bright. Autocratic, bleh! Monarchic, gross!
But none of this is natural. Babies don't reach talking age and immediately discuss the foundations of a representation divided into mixed member proportional legislation. In the conversation about modernity, democracy is the assumed answer to "what is freedom?" But it’s not coded into DNA. Love of democracy is taught.
So the idea Muslims will eventually track along the same line walked by the Christians long ago is probably folly. It only displays the speaker's lack of historical creativity and paints the outlines of their cradle-to-grave training.
It is possible Islam might follow the reformation-and-democracy arc but veer sharply off in the 22nd century. Islam might take the obverse route, forming a weird circle when future historians compare the two routes. Islam might not follow an arc at all, moving somewhere completely different, somewhere blinded intellectuals are presently too uncreative to consider.
My point is, an assumption that Islam needs a reformation is actually an exposure of the implicit racism/sexism/bigotry/centrism/etc in how Westerners narrate the world. They fail to think outside the box. To them, the pinnacle of human existence is New York so it must be the same for everyone else as well.
Even as Westerners castigate themselves in cacophonies of post-Christian guilt complexes, an assumption of identical reformation in Islam betrays they think the West is responsible for every tragedy. Therefore only the West has agency while all other cultures are acted upon. I don’t think I need to point out how patronising this is. But I want you, dear reader, to consider the power of such a narrative.
I think it's time to consider that Islam has had its reformation, and jihadism is the conclusion. Maybe Muslims decided not to walk the democratic arc but instead to push and tear at that arc until the explicit core of their politico/religious belief opens enough space to fulfil their own end-goals. What Islamists can't help but have noticed, is that pushing at the edges of other cultures will eventually place the aggressive culture in control. They observed new tactics by watching Europeans in the 19th and 20th century. But before that, Islam pushing conquered the Middle East.
Islam is not a normal religion, it is a disguised political ideology. Islam has always been about control of the planet. Its goal is explicitly about creating a world in which there is only one type of human. In this, they are identical to the progressive/Christian world-eaters (which shouldn't be surprising given their shared lineage from the Mesopotamian desert).
Of course, the levers of the Western system against which jihadists now fight are largely invisible to most Muslims and I suspect the tentacles of that system’s creeping insidiousness will subsume the jihadist ideology into its own organism as a virus is subsumed into DNA as a retrovirus.
The final result, in other words, will probably simply be a slightly-evolved Western model now inclusive of useful aspects of a diluted Islamic doctrine. I say this with some surety because no matter how strong jihadism believes it is, I already spot signs the movement has accepted the Western form of the argument. "Moderate Muslims" are essentially Unitarians in what they believe about the world.
A tight core of Muslims who aren't yet entirely brainwashed by this Western system of post-Christianity will continue to be a thorn for the Western system. There's no doubt about that. But the real question is: if the Islamic reformation is jihadism, then are its actions really just a release of energy? The West allows elections or street demonstrations to release tensions in a democratic society. And I can’t help but feel Islamic energy is now being dissipated in the required direction – towards eventual democracy.
Then again, perhaps this jihadism is operating from a spell-breaking realisation of how the Western system works and is starting to carve off its population from the West's soft-power tools of the internet, media, academia and NGOs? If the movement has discovered how to truly fight back without falling into the trap of replacing the system, perhaps jihadism will be an existential threat after all.
I suspect the former is happening. There are simply too many similarities among the al qaeda/Islamic State movement and the 1960s, Cold War-era Marxist groups to be a coincidence. Those leftist groups weren't fighting to change the system (they accepted the form of the argument – that democracy was the goal, the question was only which type). Those groups fought for control of the system.
Leftist revolutions were all about power, not liberty – and certainly not change. The majority of jihadists I watch every day all speak in the same impossible language of cultural Marxists. So I don’t consider those jihadists too much of a concern because that’s not how you fight the power. They are using the tools and ideas of the very system they hate to fight that same system. Sorry guys, you lose. The system wins.
Don't get me wrong, crazy terrorists should be rounded up and isolated from society (prison, exile, death). Yet, by acting as leftist revolutionaries, they cannot represent an existential threat to the Western model of society, because leftism is a Western idea.
If – and that's a big "if" – there is a tight core of true believers who have avoided being wooed by Marxist ideology, and who have been steeped in Islamic rhetoric and jurisprudence from birth and also have the cache and wherewithal to spread a pure Islamic message to sufficient numbers of other Muslims, then a truly alternative model of society emerges to challenge the US. If that is what’s happening, then maybe this reformation is worth worrying about.
Osama bin Laden wanted to be part of that tight core but he was far too brainwashed by Marxist revolutionary thought for his idea to be existentially dangerous. And so his movement is failing by being subsumed into the Western set of default assumptions.