Islamist extremism and post-Islamic State nightmare

Islamist extremism and post-Islamic State nightmare
5 min read
18 Apr, 2015
Comment: Khalil Agha argues that the West and the Muslim world have both failed to effectively counter the attraction of Islamist extremism, and have only contributed to its spread.
What comes next might be even worse [Getty]

After the 11 September attacks, the West led a campaign against what it called the sources of terrorist thought, fed by al-Qaeda, which was at that point mainly limited to Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda represented an important feature of the Salafi movement's attempt to enable its thought and methodology in the face of the "watered down" version of Islam that was being pushed by Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as described by many Salafi leaders in the Arab and Muslim world.

Al-Qaeda's thought, which can be considered as the third stage of "reformist" Islamist thought after the second stage of the Muslim Brotherhood and the first stage of reformists such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, spread for approximately two decades among Muslim youths from its military and intellectual base in Afghanistan.

Political engagement loses its lustre

The lure of armed action was the main appeal in the face of the Brotherhood model, which according to Salafi literature is no longer useful in facing the tyranny of dictatorial regimes. This literature later had the word "jihadi" added to it to distinguish it from the general Salafi movement. This current of thought was very active at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s and became the most prominent current on internet message boards, the early manifestations of social media.

Jihadi thought was dealt with by the West and Arab countries from a strict security perspective, naively and superficially.

I believe the online activity of this current, which became known as the Salafi-Jihadi movement, was more prominent than the activities of Brotherhood message boards, and was more successful in attracting youths to intellectual debates against the Muslim Brotherhood that was seen as being frozen in time, after the death of the group's first generation.

Salafi-Jihadi activity on Internet message boards, which I followed over a number of years, had a huge impact in paving the way for the spread of Salafi-Jihadi thought from Afghanistan to most Arab and Islamic countries, and even to some in Western countries.

This current of thought, which caused uproar in the West, was dealt with by the West and subsequently Arab and Islamic countries from a strict security perspective, in a naive and superficial manner, while it was more an intellectual than a security issue. The reaction of these countries led to the opposite of what they intended.

They achieved a great deal, but it was more suited for media consumption and public relations than for dealing with the problem. These states were directly or indirectly able to break up the main al-Qaeda bloc, however it was done in a way that caused it to metastasise and spread rather than being contained.

Thereafter, Muslim youth living in the West who had never lived in Muslim countries plotted terrorist bombings in public places in the West. The same took place in a number of Arab countries that had only dealt with the issue solely through the lens of security and repression.

The Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation was dealt with as a security threat in a number of Arab countries, and those countries fought the group for decades, for a number of reasons. One reason was due to the Brotherhood giving birth to a number of small extremist splinter groups, and another was the fact that the Brotherhood operated as a parallel to the state in terms of structures and loyalties. The result of the Brotherhood's suppression was the appearance of al-Qaeda.

The world did not learn the lesson and dealt with this new group with the same logic it had used against the Brotherhood, which led to the emergence of a more extreme and brutal group that was more influential among Arab and Muslim youth who were angry at the circumstances they lived in, which was the Islamic State group (IS). Arab and Muslim youths were radicalised and turned to violence to achieve what the peaceful youth who had taken to the streets years earlier were not able to, in their demands for a better life.

Despite the fact that anger at the current circumstances in many countries might be a convenient entry point into the world of extremism, it in no way excuses it. However, it does provide a logical explanation to how this group, which has been one of the most brutal manifestations of Salafi-Jihadi thought, was able to attract thousands of youths from around the world within a mere two years, only to replace al-Qaeda which it accuses of not being "violent" enough.

A dream or an illusion?

The dream of establishing an ideal "Islamic" state seems to be the extra incentive that pushes these youths to join the group.

The dream of establishing an ideal "Islamic" state seems to be the extra incentive that pushes these youths to join the group in the hope that the state might be established on the remains of severed heads and charred bodies, and on the rubble of everything that indicates the development of human thought and civilisation.

It has become imperative for Islamist currents to take the time to revise their literature, which contains many contradictions, is outdated, or has proven to be impractical and irrelevant in the modern age.

Security measures have also proven their failure in dealing with this type of thought, and Islamist movements and countries that are the forefront of fighting extremism are responsible for finding wiser methods in dealing with this problem.

It is unacceptable for Islamist movements to relinquish their historic responsibility in challenging this thought, in order for us not to wake up one day to a nightmare worse than the IS group.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.