Islamic extremism/terrorism is not a purely religiously motivated phenomenon at its roots. Like most human affairs, it is ultimately rooted in socio-political dynamics. In the case of the Islamic extremism: it is the culmination of two socio-political factors that made it to be the powder keg that it is now: A sclerotic (Islamic) civilization and the Western post colonial involvement in the Middle East, i.e., exploitation of the Middle Eastern oil, the plight of Palestinians etc.
As such both sides have stakes in addressing this menace. Having said that, I must hasten to add that the menace of Islamic extremism to the West is a technical one: it will be dealt with technically and, even if not eliminated totally, it will most likely be put in check. The menace of Islamic extremism to the Muslim world, however, is an existential one. If not countered, it bodes descent into chaos, misery, and civil war at a global scale within the Muslim world: the state of what is happening in Afghanistan writ large.
I view the rise of Islamic extremism as a telltale sign of a deep crisis, a sort of macro nervous breakdown of the current Muslim civilization. It is almost an expected socio-political symptom of a dying civilization (another one is the rising sectarianism); as such it must be viewed as a clarion call for a long-overdue renaissance, but an Islamic one at that. But this view is not a widely held view among Muslims, majority of whom don’t seem to see any deep problems.
Perusing through some conservative Muslim newspapers, in the aftermath of the brutal London meat cleaver attack, I saw more of what I had been seeing in the case of similar terror attacks committed by Islamic extremists in the last decade or so: denial.
Conspiracy theories are rampant in the Muslim world. They make-believe that these terrorist attacks are not due to extremist and problematic elements within them, but rather are foreign, mostly American and/or Israeli, false-flag operations, as such they continue to live on their lives as if nothing is wrong regarding their societies.
This is clear in the relative dimness of the Muslim responses to the acts of Islamic extremists both in their countries and the West.
I have always thought, especially after 9/11, that Muslim learned men: imams, scholars, and writers are not as quick, as insistent, and more importantly, as loud as they truly need to be to fight the crippling Islamic extremism that took over the center stage at the interface between the West and the Middle East.
When the 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists flew the airplanes to their doomed destinations, the Muslim world felt bad, but did next to nothing to emphatically distance themselves from the terrorists and their twisted ideology, and clarify their stance once and for all in the eyes of the whole world.
When a suicide bomber detonates himself or herself in a Shia or Sufi mosque, killing scores of innocent people, or when Taliban blows a girls school in Afghanistan –all in the name of Islam–, the Sunni intelligentsia more or less overlooks them. When Bashar al-Assad massacres Sunnis in Syria, Shia clerics label the protestors as terrorists, and in the case of Iran and Hezbollah, they send their soldiers and military know-how to the help of al-Assad.
Where are the masses of Muslims marching in the streets of United States, Europe, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, etc., in protests organized after every terroristic act perpetrated in the name of Islam? Interestingly, Muslims only march –in very un-Islamic manner, I have to add– in violent protests only when there are symbolic attacks on, and criticisms of their values, such as the burning of the Quran. But they seem to be O.K. when their identities are stolen and horrendous acts are carried out in their and their religion’s name.
In London, why didn’t a significant mass of Muslims hasten to march, before the protest of the British far right, in earnest protest of the brutal cleaver assault, condemning it vehemently?
“But, most Muslim scholars and Muslims condemn all terrorist acts,” is the usual response one is presented with for the above arguments.
Granted, an overwhelming majority of Muslims denounce terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam, and eminent Islamic scholars spoke against it. But they do not go the extra distance of “fighting” it, not realizing that it is primarily their problem, not of the West to tackle it, because the said acts are practically being carried out in their name!
“It is a direct result of, and reaction to the unjust and imperialist US foreign policy in the Middle East, and the deplorable treatment of Palestinians at the hands of the State of Israel since the last 60 years,” is how many Muslims rationalize the problem of Islamic extremism. Their ratiocination may be partly correct but that still makes the US or Israel secondary parties to this phenomenon.
When our body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance such as pollens, it may end up crippling us, even if the substance is removed from the body. Similarly, if our reaction to our problems is not “healthy,” we will be the ones who will suffer primarily. If we reason “it is all triggered by the pollens,” and do nothing to deal with the problem –which is not the existence of the pollens anymore but the overreaction itself– then that won’t heal our sickness, will it?
Islamic extremism does not seem to lose vigor; on the contrary, it seems to be gaining strength through especially the Internet. Extremist websites are proving to be very effective venues for recruitment. The number of radical websites dramatically increased within the last decade. It is well into the thousands in English alone, according to Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation as reported in a BBC news article. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11382124).
Muslim world cannot seem to effectively counter the radicalists’ message. In line with my claim at the outset, the problem is deeper than it might appear. It is about a civilization that became sclerotic and desperately needs a renaissance of its own. That being said, one has to start somewhere. If Muslims don’t act and curb the so-called Islamic extremism, there will be dire consequences for Muslims.
Our response to and condemnations and tackling of the so-called Islamic terrorism is no where near commensurate with Islamically “sacrilegious” carnages created, and gravity of implications for Muslims and their interactions with the rest of the world.
We Muslims must concentrate our efforts and energy to fight Islamic extremism in the world. Through systematic and conscious public efforts and programs, we should make it loud and clear to the terrorists of Al-Qaeda and the like that they will not be given any refuge among us, and that their ignominious acts are–far from being Islamic and helping our causes–hurting us and Islam the most.
Dr. Serkan Zorba is assistant professor of physics at Whittier College, CA, USA. He is originally from Turkey.