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05 January 2014

Religious Extremism and Violence in Muslim World - Deadly caution

Most Muslim countries today are facing violence from an assortment of` religious extremist outfits. Some governments, like the onesin countries like Egypt, Mali and Syria, have gone all-out to crush the extremists, whereas others have struggled to reach any consistency at all, blowing hot and cold against the extremists.

This inconsistency is awkwardly present in even those countries that have been facing the major brunt of extremist violence, such as Pakistan, and recently, Yemen.

There is a nervousness in the state and governments of most Muslim countries that an allout war with the resourceful and ruthless Islamist organisations may lead to the kind ofspiraling instability being experienced in Egypt, Syria and Mali.

Consequently, extremist violence in places like Pakistan and Algeria is only drawing a confined and ad hoc response from the state and the government; and just like in Muslim countries where extremist violence is not as pronounced, the idea in Pakistan and Algeria too is to contain this violence, rather than eliminate it.

Only time will tell whether an all-out assault on extremist polities and action was a more worthy route to eradicate extremism or the more cautious and nervy one.

The answer to this may lie in a rather curious and prominent fact of history that somehow continues to go missing in most present-day discour-ses on the subject of the rise of religious extremism in Muslim countries.

Of course, the immediate roots of this violence can easily and clearly be traced to events like American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan after the tragic 9/l 1 episode in 2001.

Going back a little further, roots of extremist violence are also as clearly present in the way thousands of Muslims were indoctrinated, trained, armed and funded by America, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the so-called `antiSoviet jihad` in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and in which numerous Muslim governments allowed many of their citizens to fight.

But even though these two episodes remain prominent in most recent discourses about the rise of extremism in the Muslim world, there is another collective episode that some political scholars and historians have pointed out in explaining the modern roots of extremism in Muslim countries.

This episode, these scholars believe, can also be used to warn those Muslim states and governments that are being overtly cautious in their policies regarding extremism, believing that they will be able to co-opt militant outfits into the mainstream scheme of`things and sof`ten their blow.

The 1970s is the era that contains the deepest roots of what mutated into outright extremist violence in the decades that followed.

Most modern-day Muslim-majority countries gained their independence from European colonial powers between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Nationalist movements and then governments in many of these countries were dominated by secular nationalists.

In fact, in most Arab countries the governments were overtly secular and allied to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. A number of Muslim countries across the 1960s and car-ly 1970s experienced a surge in populist secular nationalism that attempted to chart a course between American capitalism and Soviet communism.

The attempt not only opposed the US, but also came down hard on the religious right and Islamic political organisations, accusing them of being an expression of capitalist exploitation and social backwardness.

A number of these religious outfits were brutally crushed and left to wither away. But, alas, as this was being done, leftist outfits grew in size and influence and a time came when they began to challenge the secular regimes` right to power.

Secular governments in Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Somalia and Sudan reacted sharply to this challenge in the mid1970s; a challenge that, in hindsight today, seems to have been an entirely exaggerated threat.

Egypt`s Anwar Sadat who replaced the populist and famous exponent of `Arab Socialism` and nationalism, Gamal Abdel Nasser, in 1970, began to pull Egypt out from the Soviet orbit and bring it closer to the US and the oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

He l`aced opposition f`rom lel`tists and `Nasserists` from within his own regime. In response, he tried to neutralise them by suddenly lifting the curbs and bans on religious organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood and its student wing.

The same thing happened in Tunisia and Morocco in the same period where the pro-West secular regimes allowed religious parties to flourish on university campuses that had become hotbeds of leftist groups.

In Algeria, the left-leaning and staunchly secular regime began to believe that radical communists were its greatest challenge. It began toslowly lift the bans it had imposed on various Islamic organisations.

In Pakistan, the populist left-leaning government of Z.A. Bhutto saw an `Indian and Soviet hand` in 1973`s labour unrest in Karachi and in the Baloch insurgency against the state.

He gradually began toexpunge radical socialists from his party and oversaw the l`ragmentation ol` leftist student outfits and the consequential proliferation of right-wing student groups on university campuses.

Responding to an exaggerated `communist threat` and demonstrating a cautious and controlled appeasement of the religious groups at the behest of oil-rich Arab monarchies, these regimes were the first to begin lifting the lid of a Pandora`s Box that would go on to explode in their own faces.

Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by a radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that had enjoyed great freedom during his regime. Z.A.

Bhutto was toppled in a reactionary coup that followed a right-wing protest movement led by parties that Bhutto had tried to appease. Somalia and Sudan plunged into civil wars. And Algerian leader, Mohammad Boudiaf, was murdered by an Islamist in 1992.

The policy of appeasement had emboldened religious organisations and given them space and an opening to infiltrate various sections of the state and society, that were once off-limits to them.

The emboldening and circumstances like the Afghan civil war saw many ol` these organisations mutating and producing offshoots that have been some of the leading reasons behind the violence that has gripped numerous Muslim countries from the 1980s onwards.

As mentioned earlier, a handful of Muslim states have decided to go all-out to now crush these outfits, but most Muslim nations facing the same violence have stuck to giving the extremists a chance to reintegrate into mainstream politics and society.

If examples of appeasement in this respect and reintegration given here are anything to go by, I believe the policies will be a failure and would continue to encourage further mutations of extremism and even more violence.

In between two extremes of Secularism and Religious extremism, there is middle ground, Khateebs and Mosque Imams (prayer leaders) need to be educated understand the "Peaceful and tolerant Islam". Nothing has been done at state level to take care of ideological battlefield. This will destroy the false extremist ideology, but ruling elite has to forego corrupt practices.
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