By Dr Mohamed Chtatou
Islamism in action
The fearful Islamic State has been duly defeated by a Western-Islamic coalition through a combination of aerial pinpoint bombardment and a land offensive undertaken successfully by the Iraqi army beefed up by Kurdish, Iranian and Western forces. As a result, the cities controlled by this infamous State were re-conquered and its militias killed, imprisoned or have merely disappeared in the thin air.
However, the question is: is this enough to crush Islamic fundamentalism that aims to adopt a time-old Caliphate system and engage in spreading Islamic religion through a combination of gentle persuasion , jihad in dar al-Kufr (Infidels’ homeland)[i] and terrorist actions both at home and abroad?
So, what is presaging the downfall of this religious ideology? Surely military defeat alone is not the only reason of the setback. Actually there are a number of other reasons given here below:
Strong American determination to bash violent religious extremism
It might be a fact that the American administration has flirted gently with Islamism, at some point during the presidency of Barack Obama, thinking, maybe, that if the Islamists were allowed to assume power democratically they could, ultimately, be won over by democratic ideals and give up, consequently, violent extremism. Thus, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) arrived to power in Turkey in 2007 and later on in 2012 their mirror image PJD in Morocco.
According to a study undertaken by the RAND institution entitled “The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey,” AKP did not flaunt an extreme ideology, at any time,:[ii]
“While the AKP has Islamist roots, it is fundamentally different from its predecessors—the National Salvation, Welfare, and Virtue parties—in terms of its ideology, its political goals, its market-oriented economic program, and the broader range of the electorate to which it appeals. Despite its origins, the AKP government has not pursued an overt Islamist agenda (although critics accuse it of seeking to infiltrate Islamists into the civil bureaucracy and condoning Islamization at the local level). The AKP government has given priority to pursuing Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership, economic stabilization, and reform of the legal system over divisive symbolic issues such as the Islamic headscarf controversy. Secularists, however, worry about “creeping Islamization.”
However, this did not stop Da3esh from taking power and control of swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and committing despicable terrorist acts worldwide, reminiscent of the dark ages of humanity, in the name of the establishment of the time-old khilafah (Califate.)
On the Caliphate of the Islamic State, Code Bunzel writes in an analysis paper entitled: “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State” published by Brookings institution (The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World): [iii]
“If jihadism were to be placed on a political spectrum, al-Qaeda would be its left and the Islamic State its right. In principle, both groups adhere to Salafi theology and exemplify the increasingly Salafi character of the jihadi movement. But the Islamic State does so with greater severity. In contrast with al-Qaeda, it is absolutely uncompromising on doctrinal matters, prioritizing the promotion of an unforgiving strain of Salafi thought.
The Islamic State’s adoption of this acutely severe version of Jihadi-Salafism is attributable to Abu hadis, including those in al-Qaeda, have espoused “defensive jihad,” casting their militant acts as defensive in nature. They perceive the Middle East to be under attack by secular “apostate” rulers and their Western “crusader” backers. The Islamic State also advocates for “defensive jihad.” As former Islamic State leader Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi once observed, “The rulers of Muslim lands are traitors, unbelievers, sinners, liars, deceivers, and criminals.” What is more, he said in 2007, “[we believe that] fighting them is of greater necessity than fighting the occupying crusader.”
All in all, it must be pointed out that the moderate Islamists, if any, have no influence whatsoever on the hardliners. Worse, the latter may have used the moderates maliciously to beautify their despicable actions of terror and slaughter.
During his electoral campaign in 2016, Trump announced his disposition to fight violent Islamism and make America safer again, however his approach sounded too harsh and stereotypical and was criticized left and right. Once elected, one of his first presidential directives was the Muslim Ban,[iv] preventing citizens of some Muslim countries from entering America.
The American Civil Liberties Union –ACLU- viewed this ban as a discriminatory act with tremendous effect on Muslims and in this regard, Amrit Cheng, Communications Strategist writes:[v]
“This ban tears at the heart of Muslim communities in the United States, reminding them daily that the president openly discriminates against their faith and has instituted policies that embody this prejudice and bigotry. It will separate Muslims in the United States from their family members abroad. It takes away the ability of U.S. citizens and green card holders to live with, or even be visited by, spouses, parents, children, grandparents, and other family members. Among other things, it will exclude friends and family from weddings, graduations, and funerals; prevent grandparents, uncles, and aunts from holding and caring for newborns; deny final visits to ailing relatives; deprive American audiences and scholars of the ability to hear from and collaborate with individuals from the banned countries; and bar talented, promising young people from U.S. universities and companies. The impact of this discriminatory ban is tremendous.”
But probably Trump’s most important decision was putting pressure on the Gulf States to stop supporting or harboring Islamism and, as a result, Qatar was quarantined by its fellow GCC sister countries and, also, the unexpected advent of the political and social revolution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, undertaken by the hyper active Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane -MBS-
Alongside, Trump has borne tremendous pressure on MBS to drop, gently but surely, Wahhabism that incites religious fundamentalism around the globe through a multitude of associations by generously using petrodollars to create Wahhabi chapters in many Muslim countries and spread extreme Islamist ideology.[vi]
The unhoped for revolution of Mohammed Ben Salamane
Back in the 18th century a religious leader by the name of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) and the leader of a strong tribe of the Sauds Muhammad ibn Saud who reigned from 1726 to 1765, a deal was reached to rule the country, whereby The Sauds would take control of politics and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab of fundamental Islam known as Wahhabism.[vii] A devoloped form of tribal Islam that finds its origins not in the Salafi Islamic religion only but, also, in pre-Islamic patriarchy traditions. In this practice, women are kept under tight control and away from the public sphere. It must be pointed out that prior to the advent of Islam, Quraish and other tribes of Felix Arabia used to bury female babies alive (wa2d al-banat) to avoid shame, however Islam disallowed this pagan tradition but was unable le to shake off misogynist sentiments in the region.
Wahhabism has been variously described by Muslim and non Muslim religious experts as “ultraconservative”, “austere”, “fundamentalist”, or “puritan(ical)”; as an Islamic “reform movement” to restore “pure monotheistic worship” (tawhid) by devotees; and, also, as a “deviant sectarian movement”, “vile sect” and a distortion of Islam by its opponents.
For more than two centuries, Wahhabism has been Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. It is an austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran and is against ijtihad (jurisprudence.) Strict Wahhabis believe that all those who do not practice their form of Islam are heathens and enemies.
Unable to lead the social revolution himself, King Salmane delegated this hard task to his young son MBS, full of vigor and youth and educated in the West. But the problem is that there is so much rot in the country and one would not know where to start at: corruption , nepotism, gender inequality, religious extremism, etc., not to forget of course that the reactionary forces could at any time gang up to stall any reform by silent opposition or literally assassination. Indeed, MBS has not appeared in public since April 21, 2018 and rumors are circulating in the net currently stating that he has been killed in a military coup then.
MBS skillfully opted for the bulldozing effect to destabilize opponents and dark forces. He started liberating women from male dominance: allowing them to drive and watch football matches in stadiums. Then, he moved on to tackle corruption among the princes and the elite who have always considered it as a birth right and not a felony or an economic crime. He rounded up all the “filthy rich” of the kingdom and “imprisoned” them in the deluxe Ritz Carleton Hotel and exacted from them large sums of money that went to the treasury.
The ultimate aim of MBS is to obliterate Wahhabism and return the country to moderate Islam this would dry up the sources of financing of fundamentalism worldwide, by ricochet.
In this regard, the famous journalist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in an opinion piece entitled: “Saudi Arabai’s Arab Spring, at last: The crown prince has big plans for his society,” in the New York Times on November 23, 2018[viii]
“Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.”
Stifle European Islamism
Since the 1950s thousands of workers were brought from North Africa, Sub-Sahara and Turkey to rebuild Europe with American money (Marshall Plan, 1948).[ix] Later on the Europeans allowed them to bring their families to enhance their productivity and stimulate their interest in work. Children were born to these first generation migrants. On reaching school age they were schooled but due to the lack of parental follow up they dropped out and became first petty thieves, later on peddlers and finally joined organized crime. As a result of their acts Europeans looked down on them and considered them as social misfits. When the migrants’ children visited their countries of origins they were considered Europeans because they did not speak the local language and, consequently, they felt not belonging anywhere, in the end.[x]
These kids, sick at heart, felt country less and without a definite identity and these are the two personality psychological ailments the master Islamist recruiters used to approach them. And, as such, brainwashed them into believing that they were chosen by God for a mission to fight the European infidels and establish the supreme glory of Islam, an act for which they would be rewarded with paradise (Jennah) and its many virgins (houris.) As an initial act of trust and reward they were given large sums of money by the recruiters, to build confidence and strengthen their hold on them. For months they were formed in fundamentalist Islamic religion precepts to strengthen in them the belief that dying for God is the best of ends one can ever hope for.
The Islamic State found in these young people the ideal cannon fodder for its religious war in Europe against the New Crusaders (Salibiyun al-judud) and means to carry out its violent agenda outside of the Muslim world. In many cases contact was established through the Internet and even the ideological training was undertaken through the very Internet and then they sent to die and cause mayhem. Of course the true sponsors always remain in the dark and unknown.
The US, declared enemy of violent religious extremism
Probably the last terrorist action of Trèbes and Carcassonne in the Aude region in France that caused the death of four people is the last gasps of the dying infamous Islamic State. It is a pretty minimal action claimed hurriedly by this terrorist organization just to say it is still around. Logically speaking it seems more like the work of a long wolf than that of an established organization. Anyway, since the coordinated international onslaught on the territory of ISIS and its consequent defeat, only lone wolves committed terrorist acts in total despair, such as ramming vehicles into pedestrians to cause maximum casualties or attacking civilians or military at knife point.
All in all, the European concerted effort to wipe out Islamist terrorists with the help of North African countries like Morocco is paying. Terrorism cannot be, of course, totally eradicated, but terrorists will have a hard time operating like they used to do in the past and this, slowly but surely, will lead to the demise of violent Islamism, in the long run.
The Western world has to enact stringent laws for Islamist brainwashing which is very active in improvised prayer rooms where preaching is political and incendiary and, also, with unemployed and marginalized youth. Like in Morocco, prayer rooms have to go under the strict control of the state and Imams have to be trained and vetted prior to assuming their function. Their sermons have to be issued by a central state-controlled religious authority. Mosques and prayer rooms will be allowed to open only for prayer times and during some special religious functions.
Many countries, Muslim or non Muslim, can learn from the Moroccan strict management of the religious field by vetting and training Imams and religious clerics with the mission to assist the population in religious affairs (murshidine (male) and murshidate (female)) in moderate Islam philosophy and practice through the wasatiyya approach, in state owned and operated institutions such as the Imam Academy in Rabat and a strict control of mosque and preaching and religious organizations and associations and their finance.[xi]
De-radicalization will have, also, to affect publications, meetings and all kind of gatherings and celebrations. The youth have to be watched closely and the European states must train them to get jobs to become fully active within society but, also, to strengthen their sense of identity and belonging.
The Islamists have grossly used Western freedom and they must understand that this is not allowed anymore. The integration of moderate Islam in the European social fabric is an urgent necessity today more than ever before and the same is true of the rest of the Western world. Only the recognition and activation of moderate Islam can help suffocate violent religious extremism
Will the West learn the lesson . Only time will show.
Islamic State cannon fodder
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Maghreb Times.