JANUARY 2017

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VIEWPOINT: Radical Islam

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By Ishtiaq Ahmed *

Al Qaeda and its likeminded networks want to resurrect the universal caliphate that once competed with non-Muslim powers of the world

The end of the Cold War kindled the hope that cooperation between nations and states that the founding of the United Nations had symbolised would be revived. Instead of wasteful and destructive polarisation of the world, cooperation would create the basis of peace and prosperity. Such hopes were dashed with radical Islam appearing on the world stage. Since then, violence and terrorism have wreaked havoc in many parts of the world — most notably in the so-called Muslim world and most victims of terrorism are Muslims. Nirode Mohanty has produced a voluminous text, Radicalism in Islam: Resurgence and Ramifications (Lanham, Boulder: University Press of America, 2012) in which he reviews the current situation in diverse contexts.

Mohanty notes that the Muslim world consists of many shades of opinion, and liberal and peace-loving Muslims have been struggling hard to oppose extremism. He also refers to Quranic verses that speak of peace among human beings and respect for life and condemnation of violence and asserts that radical Muslims have forgotten or ignored the Quranic spirit of live and let live. They instead invoke verses that they assert justify violence against non-Muslims. Mohanty provides ample empirical material on these aspects. He refers to a Pew Global Attitudes Project graph from 2006 (page 11) showing concerns about the rise of extremism in different countries. Not surprisingly, not only in Western countries and India but also in Muslim countries including Pakistan, Jordon, Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia, a majority of Muslims express concern about it. In Pakistan, only eight percent were not too concerned or not at all; 74 percent were. In Egypt 30 percent were not concerned while 68 percent were. Overall, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, a majority find extremism or radical Islam a threat.

Yet the main problem the world faces now is that the main spearhead of radical Islam, al Qaeda, is no longer only a physical entity that can be subjected to monitoring through conventional methods of intelligence gathering and other related strategies. It is an idea that has gone global. The US-Saudi patronage of that mindset created a monster and that monster is now out of control. The author mentions this aspect of the problem but just. This is a weakness in the narrative he develops because the rise of radical Islam is not fully explained by emphasis only on the internal dynamics of that phenomenon. Since he lives in the United States, he should not have had a problem accessing literature, which amply demonstrates the way radical Islam became a handmaid of the west during the Cold War.

Mohanty notes that the al Qaeda litany is that jihad or holy war is a just war of retaliation against all injustices. However, the definition of injustice is very extensive and includes, besides grievances arising out of situations such as prevalent in the Israel- Palestine conflict, Chechnya, Kashmir and so on, but also issues of correct belief within the Muslim communities of the world. Sectarian and sub-sectarian conflicts have been behind wars, civil wars and sectarian terrorism. The author has collected such material and it is a rich source material for researchers.

The author admits that violence and terrorism have also been found in other religions. He mentions the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathu Ram Godse, the suicide bomber sent by the Tamil Tigers to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, Yigal Amir of Israel who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Timothy McVeigh, and a born again Christian who bombed the Alfred Murrah building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Then of course, there is the notorious Ku Klux Klan, which he describes as “a radical Christian supremacy group” (page 242). One can of course add to it the recent killings in Nigeria by Christian and Muslim fanatics. He also gives examples of violence and terrorism being carried out in the name of Buddhism.

Mohanty observes that extremism and terrorism have been possible in the name of religion for centuries and no particular religion alone has been used by extremists to preach hatred and violence. The problem, of course, now for the world as a whole and most particularly for peace-loving Muslims is that extremism and terrorism carried out by radical Muslims dwarfs all other forms of religious violence because it is a global phenomenon.

Al Qaeda and its likeminded networks want to resurrect the universal caliphate that once competed with non-Muslim powers of the world. With regard to Shiite Iran, Mohanty asserts that when Khomeini overthrew the Shah he said, “We must strive to export our Revolution throughout the world” (page 12). Shiite Hezbollah was the first to employ terrorism as its tool to gain power and influence in Lebanon. The Wahhabis took up the challenge with a vengeance that Shiite millenarianism posed and vastly expanded outreach of extremism, and al Qaeda has taken over the leadership of Wahhabi modes of thinking and acting.

Some of the chapters dealing with the problems arising out of increasing Muslim immigration to the west, the possibility that nuclear and chemical weapons may fall into the hands of global jihadi nexuses and so on are a summary of what western experts have been writing on these subjects. The author does not prescribe a solution to radical Islam. On the other hand, the book provides abundant source material on terms and concepts related to terrorism and different shades of politicised Islam.

* The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. The article first appeared in the Daily Times.

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