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In June 2014, a major offensive launched by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria (ISIS), also known as “The Islamic State” (IS), succeeded in no time to sweep and seize most northern Iraqi cities, like Samarra, Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities. To bring ISIS assaultive march toward Baghdad and the self-governing Iraqi-Kurdistan into halt, the U.S. initiated surgical air strikes operation, soon turned into a multinational campaign, aimed to destroy ISIS’s militant forces and war machines.
Before long, a series of vengeful tragic events began to come forth one after the other. Alas, besides the recent shocking assassination of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists in Paris, the world went through a traumatic shock after watching four video footages (on August 19, September 2 & 24 October 4, and November 16) showing a hooded ISIS militant cold-bloodedly beheading five western hostages: three Americans, French and British citizen. Then as this time, a strong wave of distress and anger burst out all around the world, especially among apolitical citizens who were misinformed about the aftereffects of Middle East’s ongoing carnage or unobservant that slaughtering of innocents is still in full play in the third world.
On the official theater, governments were prompt in denouncing the malign role and barbarous crimes of “The Islamic State”. Televised speeches condemning the evil doings of ISIS and al-Qaeda overfilled the international media, while expressions of sympathy with the families and friends of the victims travelled across all diplomatic channels and social media. Nevertheless, neither the U.S. nor UK nor France told the horror-stricken public of some strategy through which they can subdue those fanatic butchers once and for all times. Or, at least, said a word about the unavowed camp that mothers Islamic ultra-radicalism whilst democracy was at the doorstep of the Middle East region. Likewise, no international organization or group of nations, like U.N, EU, Arab League and G-5, for example, assured the terrified world that they have a multinational plan to stop this unheard-of bloodletting and put an end to this heinousness before it expands in all directions. Obviously, there is none.
Meanwhile, in some parts of the non-Muslim orbit, Islam and Muslims were subjected to defamation and malicious fingerpointing —let alone name-calling. Islam, the faith, was tagged as a violent engine that generates fury and archaic form of life. Arabs and Muslims, in whole, were slanderously stigmatized as a nation of retarding clans who tend to live by the sword, and such. Given the severity of those crimes, it is heady to condone spontaneous disparagements, presuming that most of which are involuntary emotional reactions of ordinary people. However, it is inexcusable to find some malevolent politicians and alleged analysts employ people’s suffering to hook on similar defamatory track in order to justify their anti-Arab policies and ingrained Islamophobia. Recalling to public memory that neither Muslims nor Jews have ever incriminated Christianity or Christians for the Bosnian genocide or the holocaust though the slaughterers were followers of Christianity—leave alone older instances, like the uprooting of Native Americans.
Anyhow, heading away from counter arguing baseless imputations, the fact remains that there are some key points that need to be harked back to conceptualize the roots, driving force and course of events from which most radical Islamist groups and bloody-minded Jihadi movements are revived.
For the most part, the bedrock of most Islamic movements, be they revivalist, reformist, salafist or other, is fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism is a school of thought and movement that stresses on the literal adherence and strict implementation —according to their own interpretations—of Islamic scriptures, the Qur’an and Sunnah (Sunnah: the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad). Islamist groups, by and large, necessitate the establishing of a pan-Islamic state (Caliphate) in order to be able to live true Islam (as in Prophet Muhammad’s era and his four successors—the first four caliphs)
Centuries ago as yet, Islamic ideologies continue to spread throughout the Islamic world on the strength of the teachings of many prominent Islamic scholars and clerics. It is noteworthy to shortlist few influential originators and advocates of Islamic fundamentalism, especially whose percepts and teachings still serve as the reference point to most Islamic movements or cults up to this time.
In chronological order, the list includes:
· Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), founder of Wahhabism,
· Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897), ideologist of Pan-Islamism Unity,
· Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), follower of al-Afghani and founder of Islamic Modernism,
· Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), founder of Jamaat-e-Islamia,
· Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), founder and ideologist of Muslim Brotherhood,
· Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), ideologist and leading figure of Muslim Brotherhood
On the hard right of Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic radicalism and Jihadist movements, like al-Qaeda (founded by Osama bin Laden) and its offshoots (like ISIS and al-Nusra Front, for example), and Islamic Jihad (founded by Ayman al-Zawhri, Bin Laden’s deputy and current al-Qaeda’s chief), sprang up in the past five decades, or so, mainly on Sayyid Qutb’s Islamic philosophy (Qutbism) as well as on Abdullah Azzam’s teachings (1941-1989), a Palestinian Islamic scholar, co-founder of al-Qaeda and father of Global jihad.
Course of Events (in the past decades)
Alongside the triumph of Khomeini’s revolution (a Shiite radical Islamic scholar) to overthrow Iran’s monarchy and institute a Shiite Islamic state in 1979, Islamic radicalism and Jihadist movements began to surface out as an Islamic force upon waging relentless jihad (holy war) against the Bolshevik occupying forces in Afghanistan. Thereupon, they won a wide public support and thus gained real momentum in 1989 as the Mujahedeen (the Taliban and “Arab-Afghans”), with the support of U.S and Saudi Arabia, defeated the communist superpower and liberated Afghanistan from the Soviet sphere. However, by and by their political stature and importance was waning inasmuch as they misruled Afghanistan, threatened western interests and conducted suicidal missions against the U.S, Saudi Arabia and other countries
In spite of their awry project and ill deeds, radical Islamist groups, mainly al-Qaeda, remained a hard number in the regional power-play formula until they carried out the tragic 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. As a result, the U.S declared war on Afghanistan upon which the ruling Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihad groups lost their safe haven as well as the wide public support of the Muslim world. Given their defeat, the ruling Taliban junta along with al-Qaeda and affiliates were either killed off, taken captive or on the run for their lives.
Without doubt, the U.S invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing global “war on terror” have changed the rules of Middle East’s game upon which overseas terror attacks were largely caged in or defused. Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that the largest share of the released detainees and Islamist escapees, who fled to Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran or Syria, were recruited along the lines of intelligence services to conduct sabotage and suicide missions.
In 2003, the U.S and its allies invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime out of power. In actual terms, though the U.S has occupied Iraq successfully, yet it fell short to manage the political vacuum thus and so to install real democratic government. Instead, a Shiite-led regime was installed through which the political role of Arab-Sunnis was minified to be third, after the Shia and Kurds.
In all probabilities, the causeless U.S-led occupation of Iraq together with the installation of pro-Iranian Shiite-led regime thus and so the faulty marginalization of Iraqi Sunnites is what reinvigorated the religious vow of Jihadists and Islamists, radicals and moderates alike: to fight all occupying forces and rebuff the dominance of Shiism. This miscalculated political actuality, however, has furnished the radical Islamists with a cause to regain the support of Iraqi Sunnites and, more crucially, to evoke fellow feelings among the Arab public and Sunnis abroad.
As the political and security situations in Iraq were worsening year after year, a Syrian uprising sprang up, in 2011, calling for a democratic government through which Assad’s 40-year-old regime ends. In response, the ruling Assad family along with his Alawites (a Shiite sect) juntas reverted to Stalinist countermeasures to put down the revolution of the mass majority of Syrians: the Sunnis. However, as Assad’s regime was about to fall, Iran intervened directly and indirectly through its Shiite proxies, such as Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Iraq’s Shiite militants, to hold Assad to power.
Despite the fact that Assad’s relentless overuse of extreme brutal force and torture combined with the open military interference of his Shiite upholders against Syrian Sunnites have opened a wide corridor to import the ongoing Iraqi Sunni-Shia bloody power struggle into Syria. Yet, it is the indifference and indecisiveness of international community, UN, EU, G-5 and Arab League to obviate the Syrian massacres at its outset (now more than two hundred thousands dead along with over two hundred fifty thousand severely injured and seven million refugees), which paved the way for extremists and ultra-racialists to playact as the saviors of Sunnis.
Given such unprecedented international impuissance and abandonment, and since the lightly-armed Free Syrian Army and other Syrian rebels fell short either to siege Damascus district or to stop Assad’s mass bombardment on Sunni cities, a good number of Syrian combatants joined ISIS or al-Nusra Front, most of which to continue battling the merciless dictator. Some joined to champion Sunnis over Shia, others to avenge the carnage and torture of their families, some others for money and power, and others for all combined.
As a result, Islamic radical militants, mainly ISIS followed by al-Nusra Front, became the strongest paramilitary forces in the Syrian civil war at which ISIS alone was able to set up many strongholds in most eastern Syrian districts bordering Iraq. By default, ISIS scope of operations was stretched from eastern Syria to northwest Iraq, most of which are cities of frustrated Sunni communities. This surprising actuality, however, has propelled the hounded secular Iraqi Baathists to form undeclared alliance of interests with ISIS, with which the newly self-proclaimed Islamic State incorporated Iraq’s best military minds and expertise under its ruthless umbrella.
By all odds, the recurrent atrocities of Islamist militants against innocent civilians, like those of al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or ISIS, need to be confronted more seriously than ever so that belligerent extremists can be disarmed and brought to justice.
That being said, leaves the international community and regional lead players with a number of crucial questions, most of which have never been fully addressed: a) how and who will stop ISIS, and the like, from dominating the Fertile Crescent or from spreading out its ruinous waves to the Gulf region and western countries? b) What is the political orientation and socioeconomic setting through which armed extremists, whether Sunnism or Shiism, can be circumvented and thus worn off? c) What is the pragmatic cultural approach to prevent sectarianism, extremism, hate crimes and dormant ethnic-based conflicts from regaining impulse in the future? d) What are the necessary steps to recalibrate the biased foreign policies of the international community and its organizations, let alone defusing religion-based phobias?
Obviously, the answers are easier said than done. Nevertheless, beside the heavy cost, the difficult unknowns are mostly about the proper international authority and impartial leadership that can apply one set of standards on all to lead this troubled world to safety and compatibility.
In all probabilities, the right path to stabilize the chaotic Middle East starts with the unavoidable ousting of the Syrian dictator upon which a transitional democratic government can have the capabilities and incentives to fight theoterrorism. In any attempt to cool off the current unprecedented inflamed situations, however, has to reconsider the shaky Iraq where reconstituting of a new balanced power formula (constitutionally shared between Sunni and Shia) is inevitable to bring about peace to Iraq and neighboring countries. Within that compass, it is mandatory to any regional security effort to see the international community exerts real pressure (as done in Ukraine’s case) on the Iranian regime so that to terminate its hostile interferences in the internal affairs of Arab countries: Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Likewise, any effort towards a calm and peaceful Middle East without shutting down the Iranian nuclear programs before long is a political illusion, which, in best-case scenario, will induce a nuclear race in this edgy region.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led international community should play an effective role in solving, fairly and squarely, Middle East’s longstanding issues (such as the officialization of a sovereign Palestinian state, pushing for Arab –Israeli durable peace, putting an end to the Syrian tragedy, imposing a balanced democratic Iraq, not favoring Iranian interests over Arabs, etc…) so that Arab and Muslims’ burning hearts and minds cool off.
To that end, Arab and Muslim governments along with all religious authorities are obligated to incriminate the senseless belligerencies of radical militants and clearly invalidate the false Islamic rationales of extremists—be they Sunni or Shia. Middle East governments should know by now that providing effective human development programs and quality public education will produce more benefit to their nations than having world’s tallest skyscrapers and largest malls. Arab and Muslim authorities are demanded more than ever to put forth efforts to enforce justice, fight poverty, improve the socioeconomic conditions and relax the social and cultural environment so that to do their part in the modernization and democratization of their societies.
After all, the unavoidable root question in concern is whether killing of innocents by the sword is different from killing hundreds by modern weaponry. And, above all, whether killing of people in the name of religious fantasies is different from killing people for the predomination of political notions.
In all norms, killing of innocents —no matter what, why, who or how—is a cursed act of terror. Yet once all nations embrace and honor this criterion-without buts, then a terror-free world becomes feasible to all.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette