Monday, May 12, 2008

Causes of Muslim Extremism

The following editorial in Pakistan’s Daily Times on May 6 is too subtle to reproduce in part. The argument is neither particularly easy nor beyond question. One might well raise an eyebrow at the degree of faith expressed in Saudi Arabia’s purported new view of extremism as “the new religion masquerading as Islam.” On that point, I’d like to see the evidence.

Nevertheless, this editorial deserves to be read carefully and completely by everyone concerned about where the Western confrontation with Islam is headed. It is important that a newspaper in a Moslem country lay out the argument that, aside from whatever mistakes or bad intent Washington may have been guilty of, Moslems also share a significant amount of the blame for Islamic extremism. Why? Because “the collapse of Arab nationalism tilted the Arab world into a new-found faith in Islam” promoted by a conservative Saudi state that opposed such nationalism. Strong words from a country as dependent on Saudi money as Pakistan.

The editorial also makes a second important point: “It is tragic that every time we help the US to win, the Muslims are the biggest sufferers.” Indeed. It would be a real sign of progress in a global political scene that is rapidly deteriorating if the new administration that will come into power in Washington next January were to focus on trying to overcome that tragic pattern of events. The editorial proposes that “Now that Saudi Arabia and Iran are embarked upon a new and less adversarial relationship, they should agree that when Sunnis and Shias kill themselves they will not tell their funded madrassa leaders to simultaneously blame the West for the carnage.” Washington should not only encourage such a move toward moderation by the two Moslem state leaders of extremism but should also advocate and support a broader effort to put the focus on improving Arab educational systems, to minimize not only Shi’ite-Sunni antagonisms but also Moslem-Western antagonisms. Of course, educational changes will be of little value unless the reality that “every time we [Muslims] help the US to win, the Muslims are the biggest sufferers.”

What this editorial omits is the way Washington promotes Islamic extremism for its own short-term benefit, provoking Islamic religious extremists against Moslem nationalists, which in turn radicalizes the nationalists, and provoking intra-Islamic sectarian strife by encouraging conservative regimes to adopt hardline stances against domestic opponents. Americans could do with a little improvement to their education, as well.

Editorial: Muslim extremism and wars

The ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan, HE Mr Ali S Awadh Asseri, in an interview given to Daily Times, has made some thought-provoking remarks on the state of the Muslim mind that need to be dwelt upon. Correctly, he said that there was a need to revisit “the logic behind the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq” and engage the fighting sides there in dialogue. He spoke of Muslim extremism in the same context: “Those few who are engaged in their nefarious effort to promote the cult of extremism and violence are heretics and deviants. They must be controlled through a combined effort of all peace-loving nations of the world”.Of course, the world knows about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But those who think clearly separate the two wars on the basis of the sanction behind the two invasions and it is the extremist who equates the two to whip up immoderate emotion that has never benefited the Muslims. The war in Iraq has been analysed and the neocon administration of President George W Bush has been found guilty of having made a trespass into the region on false pretences. But if we are to get at the root of the current Muslim mind we must also look into the war of Saddam Hussein against Iran. And blaming the United States will not do this time.The collapse of Arab nationalism tilted the Arab world into a new-found faith in Islam. This movement was greatly encouraged in all kinds of ways by Saudi Arabia which emerged as the ideological antithesis of Nasserism. But what was seen as the victory of Islam against secular nationalism was also objectively the victory of the United States in the Middle East against its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. It is tragic that every time we help the US to win, the Muslims are the biggest sufferers. And Saudi Arabia helped America win its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan too, and we are still living with the devastating after-effects of this victory. In fact, the victory of Islam against Arab nationalism came with a “faith package” that was funded by Saudi Arabia under the tutelage of its great mufti of immoderate views, Mr Bin Baz.The rise of Islamism was accompanied by a recrudescence of its historical rift when in 1979 the Islamic Revolution broke out in Iran and immediately threatened the Arabs living across the Gulf. The Iranian revolution was understandably anti-American, but it also saw the conservative Arab states as America’s proxies. A new conflict began at this point which cannot be laid at the doorstep of the wicked West which is allegedly determined to destroy the Islamic world. In fact if we look at the transformation of Pakistan from a liberal Islamic state into a fanatically extremist one, with laws framed to reflect this tightening of the faith, we will clearly see the effect of a pan-Islamic change in the direction of intolerance. The Islamists, while fulminating against the West, have more effectively and violently eliminated the traditional pockets of moderation among fellow-Muslims.Pakistan has seen the rise of extremism in the words of the religious leaders who have engaged in sectarian polemic while blaming the West for the “conspiracy” of pitting Muslim against Muslim. A “relocated” war between the Sunni Arabs and Iran was fought in Pakistan for over 20 years and it is still going on in the Kurram Agency and its adjoining areas. The Arab Islamists that fled their own country to fight jihad in Afghanistan — with Saudi money no less than American money — spread around their new intolerant faith that first materialised into governance in Afghanistan under the Taliban and is now spreading in Pakistan too under the name of Talibanisation. No one except the Muslims is to blame for this. If the image of Islam is negative in the world — and that includes friendly states like China — it is not the Western media covering the Sunni-Shia war of Iraq which is to blame, but the Muslims themselves.How can we say goodbye to this extremism and Muslim-kill-Muslim violence? Now that Saudi Arabia and Iran are embarked upon a new and less adversarial relationship, they should agree that when Sunnis and Shias kill themselves they will not tell their funded madrassa leaders to simultaneously blame the West for the carnage. The biggest plus in the Islamic world today is that Saudi Arabia has begun to see extremism in the new religion masquerading as Islam which is, in the words of Ambassador Asseri, a faith of peace, not of violence and aggression. It is our great good fortune that Saudi Arabia is today asking the Muslims the right questions and has the capacity, by reason of its spiritual leadership and economic clout, to change their way of thinking.


Connie said...

Extremism existed long before President Bush came onto the scene. Frankly, I'm glad it is being exposed and correctly linked to the Qur'an, hadiths, and Muhammad himself. Shining the light on it is the only way to fight it.

William deB. Mills said...

Thanks for your comment, Connie. I totally agree with your first & last sentences, and I hope that my blog is helping to shine some light of its own. (Whether or not extremism is inherent in Islam is out of my area of expertise; I will only point out that all religions that I am familiar with have texts that are replete with contradictions and vague statements that can be misread and, indeed, statements that seem to most modern people simply unacceptable; perhaps other readers can be more specific about Islam.)

Certainly Bush invented neither extremism in general nor Islamic extremism. Protestant fundamentalist extremism, now such a danger in the U.S., has existed since the Reformation; Hindu extremism is rampant in India; terrorism was introduced to the modern Middle East by Jews fighting against Britian in the late 1940s. And then there's non-religious extremism...China's Cultural Revolution, British use of poison gas against Iraqi freedom fighters around 1920, Stalin's ethnic cleansing of the Chechens (not to mention that of Putin a bit later).

But Bush has exacerbated the extremism of our opponents by his own extremism; I have noted many examples in this blog. I do not mean that he has made bin Laden personally more extreme (that would be hard to do!), but he has made bin Laden more popular. And that has undermined U.S. national security.

So, yes, by all means, let us shine lights - in both directions.