31.10.2014 Author: Vladimir Mashin

The Islamic State and the Problem of Extremism

The reports that have been coming from the Middle East in the last weeks clearly prove that the Islamic State (IS), a military-political group of Salafi militants, has really become a serious threat not only to the region but also to the whole world, and the fight against this terrorist organization has come to the fore in international affairs.

According to the former director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, the number of IS militants from the local population in Iraq and Syria is 30 thousand plus another 15 thousand foreigners. According to him, “the crisis in Syria and errors of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were the main reasons for this rapid growth in the size of the terrorist organization”. But in fact, the reasons lie in another plane and are associated with many complex factors of regional and global politics. The scale of this danger is so great that even attempts by Western politicians and their loyal media to focus on the Ukrainian crisis and the “intervention” of Russia pale by comparison.

Having proclaimed the occupied territories of Iraq and Syria a Caliphate, the IS militants set their own rules, commit atrocities, plunder and kill civilians, seize banks, industrial facilities, and oil installations. The group’s terrorists continue their assault on the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and threaten to capture the main strategic point Kobani and reach the border with Turkey.

After the US announced conduct of air strikes against insurgent positions in Iraq and Syria the IS executed two Americans and one Englishman. In Algeria, the Islamic extremists executed a French citizen.

A few days ago on the Philippine island of Basilan two German tourists were kidnapped. The radical group Abu Sayyaf took responsibility for this, openly announcing support for the IS, demanding that US stop bombing, and the German government pay a ransom of $4.5 million euros, threatening that if these requirements were not met, the hostages would be executed.

Messages from the captured areas of Syria and Iraq are constantly coming in, including in the form of pictures on the Internet, about the executions of opponents of the IS. Threats of reprisals against the “infidels” and dissenters continue.

It has become the general opinion now that the opposition to this real and growing danger to international peace and stability, a kind of cancerous tumor, requires the urgent joint efforts of all countries. The pressing question today – ways and means of neutralizing and eliminating the threat – is widely discussed in political and academic circles.

Prominent Arab journalist Faisal Abbas, speaking on the TV channel “Al Arabia”, recently stressed that for political decision-making on this issue, it is first necessary to identify and analyze the reasons that have led to the emergence of this monstrous phenomenon, the IS.

One Bahraini political scientist at the session of the New Delhi Conference on West Asia held in September this year expressed the view that the Islamic State should be given a small territory in Syria and Iraq and agreement should be sought on their coexistence.

The famous French specialist on Turkey, Marc Pierini, believes that, in addition to military methods to suppress the IS, serious humanitarian assistance to refugees and the development of the European Union’s long-term policy on this issue are necessary. He recalls that among 500 million citizens of 28 EU Member States, there are a little over 20 million Muslims. And they, especially the young, are very susceptible to the skillful propaganda spread by Islamic extremists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, stressed that the Iranian nuclear issue is by far a much greater threat than the Islamic state.

Among the numerous articles that have appeared in the media lately, in which the authors offer their recipes to combat this “plague” of the XXI century, the publication of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, UAE Vice-President, which appeared in early October of this year deserves attention. The main thesis of this article is as follows: it is impossible to extinguish the flame of fanaticism only by military force, and therefore it is necessary to focus a combined effort on debunking and clarifying the failures of the ideology of Islamic extremists, to deprive them of this “weapon to destroy the minds” of ordinary gullible people that the Islamists draw into their ranks. According to the author, in addition to military means of combat another three components are necessary: winning the battle of ideas, improving governance, and seriously addressing the issues of social development. And this can be achieved only through the collective efforts of all the countries in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, because the global threat requires a global response.

The Islamic State does not recognize borders and has recruited young people of eighty different nationalities. The IS does not represent Islam, nor does it respect basic human values. Therefore, we must fight it not just as a conventional terrorist organization, but as an incarnation of the ideology of “inferno, total evil”, that must be destroyed in the intellectual plane. At the same time, it appears that the danger of Islamic radicalism will continue to grow in the next decade, as the seeds of fanaticism ripen in Europe, US, and Asia. This trend has accelerated in recent years due to the failure of attempts by moderate Islamists in the wake of the “Arab Spring” – during the rise of political Islam – to create a society of justice and equality and ensure the rise in living standards. This prompted hundreds of young Muslims in various parts of the world, not without the active suggestion by radical groups, to conclude that real justice can only be achieved through the jihadist movement. In addition to this, perverted religious motives lead to the spread of hatred and create, thereby, the basis to manipulate the will of thousands of desperate, angry young people.

The ideology of the Islamic State has much in common with the ideas of Al Qaeda, the same group that was able to produce terrible shocks, to destabilize different parts of the world, and it all began with a small gathering place in caves of Afghanistan. Today Al Qaeda has bases and units in Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. The Islamic State has already captured an adventageous territorial foothold and has also made extensive use of the latest technology, finances, and an international jihadist network.

To overcome the ideology of hatred and anger which is becoming more and more widespread, it is necessary to work with the masses, especially the most oppressed and affected. These ideas, poisoning minds with hatred, must be countered by enlightened thinking, open debate, tolerance, and patience, which, in essence, stem from the fundamentals of Islam that calls for peace, a dignified life, universal values, ​​and kindness towards others. Only a strong ideology and purposeful work to convince people that God created us to improve the world, not destroy it, can stop a young man who is ready to sacrifice his life for the Islamic State.

Secondly, it is essential to create stable and effective government institutions that really serve the population. When officials in institutions cannot cope with legitimate complaints, they create the perfect environment for instability, discontent, and, as a consequence, the ideology of hatred and then terrorist organizations fill the vacuum of legitimacy.

And, thirdly, it is essential to ensure a better quality of life for the peoples of the region, to create long-term projects, eradicate poverty, improve education and health, build infrastructure, and provide real economic opportunities – sustainable development – this is the best response to terrorism.

In the Middle East there are more than 200 million young people. They must be given work, hope and a channel directing their energies to improve their living conditions. Otherwise they will inevitably fall prey to the ideology of violence, hatred, and terrorism. Each step toward the creation of new jobs and higher standards of living is a step towards eradicating the ideology of fear and hatred and so it narrows the scope of the terrorist organizations’ activities.

These, in brief, are the contents of this very relevant and meaningful, in our view, article by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, Vice-President of the UAE, which has invoked a great response in the Arab and Muslim world. We note that in its reviews, the idea that without any real involvement of Syria and Iran in the fight against the ideology of hatred and terrorism all well-intentioned appeals will merely remain on paper is frequently brought up.

More than 120 prominent Muslim scholars have published a letter in which the Islamic State is called “un-Islamic” because ISIL, in its interpretation of sharia, distorts the contents of the sacred book, even the very meaning of the message of the Prophet Muhammad, and acts against the very foundations of Islam.

Many Arab commentators have taken note of the famous American political scientist Fareed Zakaria’s comment in the newspaper “Daily Star” of 13/10/2014. He sharply criticized the television broadcast of one of the American channels, which asserted that the Muslim world “has much in common with the Islamic state, and Islam is the only religion that operates like the mafia: it will kill you if you say something bad about it.” “All religions have experienced tumultuous periods of violence during their development, ” writes F. Zakaria. “Christianity erred with the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, and intolerance for the modern state.” At the same time, theologians and intellectuals brought to the forefront the ideas of ​​tolerance, freethinking, and humanism, and these ideas are gradually being realized. So it will be with Islam. But the stakes in this ideological battle, especially today, are very high, and the struggle for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims will be difficult and long.

“The Islamic State and its proclaimed Caliphate is not really a caliphate, but an attempt to play politics, using religious means,” said the well-known Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. “For this reason,” he said, speaking on Al Jazeera on October 12, 2014, “ulema must expose these dictators: their actions have nothing to do with the principles of Islam.”

An attentive study of the above as well as numerous other recent publications in the media inevitably leads to the conclusion: the problem of extremism in Islam has now become so acute, urgent, and widespread that only the collective efforts of the entire international community, without exception, can free mankind from this threat.

.Vladimir Mashin, Ph.D. in History, a political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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