Analyzing the Causes that Foster Fundamentalism

Engaging the Extremists

The West over the years has followed a flawed policy of “engaging the moderates and shunning the extremists.” You ignore a person and you ignore his cause. By ignoring such individuals we harden their stand. It makes them look out for alternate ways to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, violence is one such means which makes maximum impact.

We need to condemn violence in any form. No second thoughts there! We also have to understand that killing one Osama Bin Laden would not help. Osama has become more of a symbol of resistance to the so called jihadists. You kill Osama and there are hundreds ready to take his place and promote the cause.

Occupying lands in the name of security threats will offer only temporary solutions and would strengthen the resolve of the jihadists. Incidentally it is also this angle which extremists, like Osama, relish.

In an interview given to CNN in 1997 Osama said, “If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniform walking proudly up and down our land while the scholars of our country are thrown in prisons. I say that this represents a blatant provocation to 1250 million Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government’s policy and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist who pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest.”[9]

The best way to approach them is to find their ideological mentors and engage them. A dialogue on any given day is a much better start.

This in itself is no mean task and a definite policy shift has to be exercised in the name of peace by the West.

Bridging Divides

The Muslims today are angry more than ever. But we need to separate anger from madness (of a few). Wherever the anger is justified it needs corrective measures.

1979 is history, but it could very well repeat itself. And with the power of the electronic media today the situation could be worse.

The West for its part needs to engage the Muslims more than ever before. Most importantly dialogues should be insulated from any act of violence. As we have seen in the past, the rise of Islamophobia only helps the extremists!

The US needs to rethink its policy of dictating other countries’ affairs in the name of national security. Afghanistan and Iraq are in a mess but the terror threat continues, not to mention the millions who lost their lives and the million others rendered homeless.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah echoes the sentiments of fellow Muslims in the region, “And if the West considers September 11 as an affront to civil security in the West, then we can share with it that feeling and even the stance of rejecting attacks against civil security throughout the world. But it is important for the West to realize that civil security in the Islamic World has not seen stability for decades and a lot of the impediments to civil security have come about under the umbrella of Western policy and quite possibly due the direct actions of the West.” [10]

The once mighty British Empire also collapsed under the pressure of putting foot at too many places. You can’t win people over by occupying their lands!

The Palestine-Israel conflict is one issue that will influence any peace initiative between the Muslims and the West. For long it has been a stumbling block in the stability of the Middle East. You resolve that and half the work is done.

The US handling of this crisis also is faulty and needs serious rework. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky stress this point, “The United States also has tried mistakenly to cherry-pick Palestinian negotiating partners, sometimes seeking to bypass more senior figures whom Washington perceives as intransigent. This approach tends to backfire; when we try to pick our winners, our diplomacy often loses.”[11]

Israel has also to be pressured into an inspection of its nuclear arsenal.

The two main players in the Middle-East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, influence most of the Muslim world today. The tension between them is a direct outcome of the desire to control the region and their different religious beliefs. This is also a sad reflection of the divide between the Muslims in general.

Saudi Arabia needs to promote more tolerance in its society. An outright rejection of beliefs not conforming to the majority is the first step in promoting hatred. Qur’an itself speaks against it. In verse 118, chapter 11, the books says, “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute.”

There is also no denying the fact that the Saudi society is gradually changing and the new rulers must be credited for it.

The difficulty the rulers face is in striking a healthy balance between admonishing the violent opposition and co-opting those with similar views. Religious sensibilities have to be taken into due consideration before making any policy shift.

This is not an easy task as Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “Saudi Arabia’s specific Islamic tradition, namely Wahhabi teachings, did not encourage an easy immersion in modernity in the twentieth century. From the very beginning, the ruling group stumbled across several obstacles when they introduced the most simple of technologies (for example cars, the telegraph and television among other innovations). Objections from conservative religious circles were overcome as a result of a combination of force and negotiations. Social and political change proved more problematic and could not be easily implemented without generating debates that threatened the internal stability of the country and alienated important and influential sections of society.”[5]

How successful would they be in the long run only time will tell!

The Saudis need the US support to guard themselves against a powerful neighbor in the form of Iran, something that has not gone down well with many in the Kingdom.

Iran needs to engage in dialogues rather than raising tempers with the now familiar diatribe of Ahmadinejad.

There are unsubstantiated claims by certain countries in the Middle East of Iran’s role in their internal affairs. The country needs to put more confidence building measures in the wake of its nuclear program.

Iran is also facing some problems internally. Post election, as the events at home show, there is a growing dissatisfaction of the young population with the power the clergy enjoys. The Shah’s toppling was not possible without the student uprising. Those in charge should never forget this simple fact.

The US needs to respect the regime in Iran (whosoever) and sit with it. Surely the lessons of the past have not been learned. Stephen Kinzer endorses the view, “Today, as anti-Iran rhetoric in Washington becomes steadily more strident, it is urgent that Americans understand how disastrous the last US attack on Iran turned out to be. They might also ponder the question of what moral responsibility the United States has to Iran in the wake of this painful history.”[12]

The answer to that has the potential to change US-Iranian relations.

Barack Obama talked about a new beginning in his landmark speech given at the Cairo University in 2009, “We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

The average Muslim, too, is sick and tired of seeing his faith questioned every time some extremist blow himself to pieces in the name of Allah. They also seek a new start where they are free in their lands and are judged by their own actions.

The world has seen enough violence in the name of religion and security. Let’s give peace a chance!

Notes

*Members of the Wahhabi movement prefer to call themselves Muslims, or muwahhidun (those who insist on the unification of the worship of Allah) or Ahl (community of) At-Tawhid (Monotheism). The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi (“following the forefathers of Islam.”)

**Sahwa movement emerged in Saudi Arabia during the late 1960s. It was a well organised political movement that pride itself on religious orthodoxy.

1. Con Coughlin, Khomeini’s Ghost (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), 177.

2. Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009), 18.

3. The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine by Yaroslav Trofimov (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), 214.

4. As’ad AbuKhalil, The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

5. Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11.

6. Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism Since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24.

7. Sherifa Zuhur, “Saudi Arabia: Islamic Threat, Political reform, and the Global War on Terror,” Strategic Studies Institute (2005), 13, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=598.

8. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, Updated Edition, 1999).

9. “Osama bin Laden Interview – CNN,” FindLaw, accessed October 28, 2011, news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/binladen/binladenintvw-cnn.pdf.

10. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “How We Can Coexist”, Islam Today, Jan 01, 2002  , accessed October 28, 2011, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-417-2952.htm.

11. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, (Washington: United States Institue of Peace, 2008), 38.

12. Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons), xxiii.

13. “A History of Conflict”, BBC,  accessed October 28, 2011, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html.

14. Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (USA: Duke University Press, 2002, Revised and Updated).

15. Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam (New York: Grove Press, 2006).

16. “Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: The state of the world’s human rights,” Amnesty International, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/israel-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-2011#section-67-5.