Martyrdom road has led Islam to ghastly cul-de-sac
For many Muslim onlookers, there was a dull familiarity to the hideous scenes in Cairo last week. This is what they have come to expect – and not only from the Egyptian army. The massacres fitted into a bleak and enduring historical pattern.
What do these events have in common: Russia's genocidal war against the Chechens, the butchery of Bosniaks by Serbs and the West's wars against Iraq and Afghanistan?
In each case, the overwhelming majority of those killed were Muslims and, in particular, Muslims who had discovered the desperate courage to imagine and then try to bring into being a future free of non-Muslim domination. That, in each case, was enough to invite mass-murder.
And those are only the most recent bloody suppressions. What we think of as the growth of the British Empire can equally be seen as the shrinking of the lands Islam once ruled and their subjection to the "infidels", whether in Persia, or India, or the Ottoman lands.
How to end this humiliation? One common view was to look inward: the reason for the decline of Muslim power, these voices said, was not its failure to keep up with the West, but its failure to keep faith with God.
In this view, only by cleaving ever more rigidly and literally to the word of God could the "ummah" – the world community of Islam – be redeemed.
To call the Mohammed Morsi government "immature" would be an understatement. It obtained, with all the legitimacy the ballot box can confer, the right to rule Egypt in the name of, and for the good of, all Egyptians.
It proceeded, with the systematic method of the deranged, to snub, attack, marginalise and infuriate every constituency that did not correspond to its own: women, Christians, socialists, atheists, Shias.
Its failure – while exercising what it doubtless saw as its religious duty – was preordained. Morsi was the accidental beneficiary of a revolution waged by others, precisely those young and creative and non-doctrinaire forces which he began persecuting.
And once the real revolutionaries had cut their Faustian deal with the army, the bloodshed was merely a matter of timing.
Having lived for many decades, until the spring of 2011, in a state where even the tiniest demonstration was instantly and violently crushed, the holdouts in Nasr City knew the ruthlessness of which the army was capable.
And, in the sense that they were prepared for the likely outcome, which was martyrdom, they were asking for it.
The fatal vocation of the fundamentalists for martyrdom has, once again, led Islam into a ghastly cul-de-sac.
Ninety years after the fall of the Ottoman caliphate, the Muslim world desperately needs a sane exit.
It is in the interests not merely of Egypt, but the whole world that we do all we can to help them find it.