The headline alone might earn me a Fatwa, but doggone it, someone has to say it. Islam has an image problem in the West. Let me also be clear: Muslims are not bad people. In fact, they’re some of the most compassionate, intelligent and liberal people I know. But those thugs who would use Islam as a justification to enact violence have hijacked the faith in the public forum, enough so that reputable political scholars have covertly suggested the faith is an evil force, coining preposterous terms like “Islamaphobia” and “Islamofascism.”

PR and history

And it’s a shame: Islam has one of the richest and most fascinating histories of any world religion. While Christians squabbled among themselves, suppressing freedom, education and rationality at every turn, Islamic scholars managed to discover new surgical techniques, advance mathematics and develop innovations like the telescope that Europe would not amass until hundreds of years later. This is not a religion of ignorance; the ancient Caliphate thrived while Christians fought religious wars of their own. In the Middle Ages, Europe descended into a period of superstition, torture and murder while the Caliphate flourished. Sound familiar?

Given the glories of the Caliphate, no wonder so many in the Muslim want to see it return. Why did it fall in the first place? The medieval Islamic world was one of liberalism and education, separation of powers and the rule of law, not unlike the modern West. The problem–and let the West, the home of Climate Change Denial, Creationism, Faith-Based education and general anti-science rhetoric take note–came in the 11th century when clerics began to outlaw education and practice a more oppressive form of religion. So began the long decline of one of the most educated and important civilizations in all history. It’s no coincidence, then that ISIS should continue to suppress reason, logic and education in its wake. 

So then, with ISIS on the march, refugees flooding into Europe and terrorist attacks breaking out without warning, how does the world solve a problem like radical Islam? The easy answer: reform from within, as progressive Muslims like Fareed Zakaria and Benazir Bhutto have argued. But that does little to solve the current crisis plaguing the world. An embargo on Muslim immigration or higher policing of Muslim neighborhoods, as Donald J. Trump proposes, would compromise the ideals of liberal democracy, human rights and do nothing to end the slaughter in the Middle East. If the West cannot cling to principles of peace and freedom in the face of attack, what value do they have in the first place?

Moreover, just as income inequality plagues the US and Europe, so has it bred chaos in the Islamic world. Despite all the wealth generated by oil exports, the greater populations of Muslim nations still live in staggering poverty. The robber barons have plundered the wealth, and with it, left their native land and brethren to decay. Though he directs his words at the income gap in the United States, Bernie Sanders could apply his words to the nations of the Middle East just as well.

A new hope?

The solution then must come from within Islam itself, and from within so-called Muslim nations. And it too must come from the West: rather than expelling Muslims or placing them in heavily policed camps, the United States and her European allies should find ways to help educate the native populations. Furthermore, Western business and governments alike must stop enabling officials in nations like Saudi Arabia or Iraq from amassing massive fortunes and leaving for greener pastures, taking the wealth of their nations along. Call it sanctions on government officials and business executives.

The ethnic and nationalistic conflicts of the Imperial Age ignited the chaos of the 20th century; what began as a student assassinating a statesman in 1914 did not conclude until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Above all, for this destructive conflict to end, the world must understand it will take time. The ethnic and nationalistic conflicts of the Imperial Age ignited the chaos of the 20th century; what began as a student assassinating a statesman in 1914 did not conclude until the end of the Cold War in 1991. The classist and regional conflicts that erupted into the full blown War On Terror in 2001 might take just as long to quell. As Americans, we must always keep in mind that the fight is not with the religion itself, but with the men and women who corrupt it with doctrine constructed to oppress education, liberalism and to plunder the mint of nations.

Islam is not the problem. Those of the faith may, however, want to evaluate their image before continuing.