What will be the shape of the Islam that is emerging into greater prominence in those Arab countries which are challenging the old dictatorships? Will the tentative steps towards democracy encourage a somewhat tolerant stance, as in Turkey? Or will there be an ideological vacuum that will encourage extremism?
The signs are mixed, according to the Economist. It reports that: “Shorn of the comfort of posing as noble opponents of hated regimes, they must dirty their hands with politics, propose concrete policies and accept diversity within their own ranks.”
On the other hand, there is a temptation to act outside the messy world of practical governance and establish the ‘rule of God’ straight away. So there are Muslim vigilante attacks on Christians in Egypt and apparently flickerings of something worrying in the Libyan rebels.
On Monday, BBC3 showed how British white males can be attracted to Islam, and to its more radical form, in ‘My brother, the Islamist’. Robb Leech made a film about how his brother had converted, and was now discipling others. It was the discipling which fascinated me. Lots of male fellowship; rigorous demands (e.g. circumcision); use of Arabic language for group identity; induction into street evangelising.
In the documentary, you see a very pleasant young man find a home with this group, and gradually become less open, harder in his views. There was a strong sense that mess was bad, and should be swept away by Sharia law.
Perhaps not a very good omen for the inevitable mess and compromise – and hope – that comes with democracy.