Views on the Middle East – 3

17 May

Avoiding further clashes of civilizations: a pre-requisite for combating radicalism

Here is the third in a series of reflections by Mohamad Zakaria, a student of Palestinian origin who was born and raised in Lebanon. Mohamad has a background in environmental science, international relations, peace and conflict studies, and is currently a Master student in the Lund University Master Program in Public Health. He has also previously worked at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. In these articles, he offers his views on current events in the Middle East. Read on!

by Mohamad Zakaria

No matter what the real story about the fate of Osama Bin Laden, there is one reality that is already clear by now, which is that he is not anymore a living leader of Al Qaida and its network. His role as a spiritual and military leader that is followed and hunted is over since the Al Qaida leadership has announced he has been killed. However, an organization like Al Qaida that is mature, has strong culture, and has branches in many countries around the world cannot be dismantled by only the death of its founder. Therefore Al Qaida is not destroyed by the death Bin Laden, but obviously it has been badly shaken. The one(s) who will lead the organization may be more radical and less rational than Osama. If any country wants to deal with the Al Qaida ideology, they need to understand the real causes that have led to the very existence of the radical ideology of Al Qaida.  

It is known that many of the first generations of Al Qaida leaders and also many of their followers were initially members of moderate (or some may like to say “less radical”) Islamist movements in the Muslim world. One of the main organizations that the Al Qaida founders were member of is the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. The governing regimes (i.e. dictatorships) in the Muslim world have cracked down on the movements’ members because of the fear that such movements may succeed in gaining significant political power if they are allowed and formally recognised as national political parties and thus gain legal permission to freely be politically active within the boundary of national laws. Thousands of Islamic movements’ followers were put in jails, tortured to death; most of them did not have fair trial, and were sentenced with extremely long time of imprisonment for suspicion of memberships of Islamist organizations.

The leaders of those “moderate” organizations kept asking their followers to be patient and urged them not to use violence against the regimes because violence is not in their organizations’ charters. But the regimes answer to such calls was to continue banning such movements and to continue the crackdown on the Islamic movements’ members and preventing any political activities. That led to radicalisation of many of those members and some members diverted from the main organizations forming radical organizations that started to work underground and call for much violence against the governing regimes (Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia are examples). If any organization is forced to work underground, then it becomes more dangerous than if it is allowed to work within the rule of law. This is because it will not work in compliance with the existing national laws that supervise the activities of national political parties and thus it is harder to monitor its ideology and activities. Therefore not allowing the moderate Islamist movements to operate lawfully in democratic political environment is one of the main reasons that usually lead to the establishment of the radical Islamic organizations. Moreover, some people are radical by nature and this is everywhere and those people exist everywhere and not only among Muslims. Aren’t the criminal gangs and religious fanatics in the West and everywhere, people who deliberately kill their own fellow innocent citizens, indeed also radicals?

The continuous support (political, financial, and military) of national governments in the West to the dictatorship regimes in the Muslim world has reinforced radicalisation of some Islamic movements, increased the number of their followers, and significantly added to the hatred against international political powers, particularly the USA and its most prominent allies from the European countries.

Additionally, the international community’s continuous support of Israel, covering up its atrocities and unjust actions that include ignoring the basic rules of the international law, has also directly played into the hands of the radical organizations. Therefore, the national governments in the West have partly themselves to blame for the phenomena of Islamic extremism and radical Islamic organizations. If the international community was willing to try to correct its negative attitudes and behaviours in dealing with the Muslim world to more positive and constructive ones, only then the international community might succeed in fruitfully cooperating with the Muslim world to minimise the ideology of hatred and radicalism that have led to radicalism.

The non-Muslim part of the international community has also to work equally hard to reduce their own extremists and religious fanatics that still call for crusade wars and that have been creating reasons for wars, referring to their religious beliefs as motives. The international community needs to plan and implement different strategies instead of the current negative ones against Muslims and the Arab world, giving sincere evidence that they support the democratic change attempts the Arab and Muslim nations have been struggling for (the revolts in the Arab world are such recent examples). Moreover, the international community needs to effectively and seriously work to find a just solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict that is in accordance with the international and human rights laws. Only then sustainable and durable peace may have the chance to exist and only then radicalism may be significantly reduced among all parties involved.

The conservative and extreme right wing organizations in the USA and in Europe are lawfully operating, unjustly spreading hate against Islam and Muslims. This is another indicator that radicalism exists everywhere, regardless of specific religions and/or ideologies. Many of the powerful countries’ leaders around the world have used their radical ideologies and their religious beliefs as motives to take wrong decisions and do wrong actions which have threatened the international peace and have caused conflicts/wars. (George W. Bush and Tony Blair are some examples of such political leaders.)

Hence, it is unfair, unjust, and wrong to say that Islam and Muslims are the main sources and actors calling for extremism. On the contrary, the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, tolerant to other religious groups and fellow human beings, and do not support Al Qaida’s radical ideology. Those who have visited Middle Eastern countries may agree with this. Islam itself is a religion that calls mainly for peace, dialogue and cooperation among nations for the good of the humanity. However, the media in the West has managed to portray the image of Islam as the religion of terror and the image of Muslims as terrorists that the world should fear and isolate. This has led to the sad fact that even some Western passengers in a plane are afraid of other passengers flying that same flight that might have the looks of Middle East people. Some major media channels have been used as tool for spreading hate among nations. Therefore, media has the moral and global responsibility to be positive actor and work in objective, professional way to facilitate the dialogue among religions and nations rather than spreading hate.

Let’s hope that hatred among nations and religious groups, violence, extremism, and wars will not increase further but will diminish; that more moderate, thoughtful Western political leaders in the international political arena will be increasingly and sincerely willing to further cooperate with the democratically elected Muslim ones in an environment of mutual respect and dialogue to avoid further wars and radicalism in the world.


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