To understand different civilizations, we need to understand the fault lines that could lead to conflict. We are dealing not with a clash between civilizations but rather with a clash within a civilization. The fundamental ethos of Islam is tolerance, dialogue, and democracy. Just as in Christianity and Judaism, we must constantly be on guard for those who will exploit and manipulate the Holy Book for their own narrow political ends, who will distort the essence of pluralism and tolerance for their own extremist agendas. The ethos of Islam is equality, equality between the sexes. On that point, there is no religion on earth that in its writing and teachings, is more respectful of the role of women in society than Islam. The most vital battle for the hearts and souls for the generation of Muslim leaders, and for the Muslims around the world, is not a battle with the West. The debate is between different interpretations of Islam, different visions for the Muslim Ummah. It is the value of tolerance that will be the determining factor between the forces of extremism and the forces of moderation, between the forces of dictatorship and the forces of democracy, between fanaticism and education, between pluralism and bigotry, between gender equality and gender subservience, between inflexible traditionalism and adaptable modernity. The real clash within and outside Islam is a struggle between the past and the future. It is the resolution of this struggle that will determine the direction not only of the relationship between Islam and the West but of international relations in this century. Without further delay, to move away from the chain and cycle of poverty, extremism, dictatorship, and terrorism, we need to move towards true reconciliation. The internal friction within the Muslim world is not merely over theology. The actual fight is not over the succession to the Holy Prophet that divides the Shiite and Sunni communities. It is certainly not about the language of the Holy Quran. It is not really about the interpretations of Sharia. The extremism and militancy of Muslim-on-Muslim violence is a long battle for the spirit and soul of the future, and not only of a religion but also of the one billion people who practice it. If the world is to prevent a clash of civilizations, the way must be to promote the building blocks of democracy in the Islamic world. One prescription for peace is for democratic countries to promote democratic elections and democratic governance. Islamic nations must be assisted to create and sustain democratic infrastructure; by encouraging, supporting, and protecting a free press; by assisting in parliamentary and constitutional reforms; by helping to insulate an independent and autonomous judiciary from political manipulation; and by not rewarding military dictatorships but helping to equip militaries that accept the sovereignty of constitutional authority. The first key is to establish an educational system that allows children to rise to a higher social and economic status than their parents, an educational system that delivers hope and real opportunity is a prerequisite for democracy. Good public educational opportunity is the key to the economic and political progress of countries, and it can be so in the Islamic world as well. Establishing a strong, compulsory educational system requires two key elements, public education for all citizens, and both sexes. Only one needs more than will to make it a priority. One also must possess the means. It is all important that budgets for Muslim countries be prioritized by social need, not outdated political or military history. Women’s groups can serve as the backbone of civil societies around the world. Special attention should be paid to organizing women as political, social, and economic players in each respective society. This is particularly true for the Islamic world, in which women often face subjugation. This subjugation has come not from the message of Islam, which proclaims the equality of human races and women, but from narrow interpretations of Sharia that deliberately promote subjugation and from political exploitation by ideological clerics. The denial of education that the Taliban practiced has no foundation in Islamic law. The exploitation of women has had a devastating ripple effect across Islamic society and across Islamic generations. Political reform, social reform, and economic reform for women are linked; one cannot proceed without the other. Women in Islamic society can function as a catalyst for reforms across the political, electoral, and government sectors. To effectuate this change, women must be organized. Thus it is critical that women’s groups expand and that women’s groups throughout Muslim societies join in concert to seek common changes in their societies. Some international Islamic women’s groups do already exist, merely they are relatively weak and unfunded. The most vital battle for the hearts and souls for the generation of Muslim leaders, and for the Muslims around the world, is not a battle with the West. The debate is between different interpretations of Islam, different visions for the Muslim Ummah Democracies do not spring up fully developed overnight, nor is there necessarily a shining line between democratic governance and autocracy. True democracy is determined not only by elections but by the democratic governance that should follow. The most critical elements of democratic governance go beyond just free and fair elections to the protection of political rights for those in political opposition, the open function of a civil society and free press, and an independent judiciary. More typical, democracy can be understood on a continuum. Civil society and democratic institutions such as political parties and NGOs tend to grow slowly over time, one critical step at a time. The electoral process is democratic, but that’s where democracy ends. What follows is tantamount to one-party dictatorial rule. This is the opposite of true democratic governance, which is predicated on shared constitutional power and responsibility. And because democratic governance rests on a continuum of experience, the length of that experience is directly related to the sustainability of democratic governance itself. The world would be a really different place if the West had made a similar commitment to building the economic and democratic political infrastructure of the Muslim world instead of frequently draining its material and human resources and thwarting the growth of democratic values. Hunger breeds extremism. Hopelessness breeds extremism. Despair breeds extremism. Opportunity makes democracy thrive. A regime that addresses the human needs of its people is given the benefit of the doubt. A government that successfully addresses the daily needs and concerns of its people is likely to be given the necessary political support and the time to grow democratic structures. Masses who are deprived are impatient, and that impatience is often radicalizing. Nations with Islamic majorities may greatly benefit from assistance from the West to make the necessary advancement of social and economic development that will sustain progress on political development, although ultimately the responsibility rests within the Islamic world. The building blocks of democracy, the infrastructure of democracy, are what, in the long run, will sustain democracy. Strengthening the institutions will give democracy a chance to succeed in all societies and especially in Islamic societies. The longer democratic governance is maintained, the stronger the democratic system turns. Promoting democracy promotes peace. Competitive political parties and functioning NGOs promote peace. A free press and an independent judiciary promote peace. A civilian-controlled military promotes peace. While I was collating the words of wisdom of Mohtarma I realised that the current government is working on the same lines as described by BB, the PM’s foreign policy on Taliban, his educational reforms. However, I would like to request the prime minister to include more women in his cabinet and other institutions including judiciary. First Muslim Female Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s legacy lives on! The writer is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK. He can be reached at @SyedIHusain Published in Daily Times, December 23rd 2018.