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War without end: It's not enough to be a moderate Muslim

Minhaz Merchant
Minhaz MerchantNov 16, 2015 | 17:47

War without end: It's not enough to be a moderate Muslim

The coordinated terror attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Paris and the aborted suicide bombing in Turkey, where the G20 summit is being held, won't be the last. British intelligence has picked up signs that attacks on other Western capitals could be imminent. The threat level in Britain has not yet been raised by security agencies from "severe" to "critical" but British special forces have begun patrolling the streets of London and other cities in the UK.

French President François Hollande has vowed to wage a "pitiless war" on the terrorists who ravaged Paris. He is set to send an expeditionary force to Syria to combat the Islamic State on the ground. French jets bombed Raqqa, ISIS' headquarters in Syria, on Sunday night, destroying the terror group's command and control centre. Russia has meanwhile dispatched its feared Spetsnaz special forces to Syria and could send regular ground combat troops in the coming days to fight ISIS.

But this could be a war without an end.

In geopolitical terms there are five key geographies which will be arranged on different sides of the war against radical Islam. First, the United States, Russia and Western Europe. Second, India. Third, China. Fourth, Pakistan. And fifth, Saudi-led Wahhabi Islam.

Of these five geographies, two - the US, Russia and Western Europe, and India - will increasingly be targets of terror attacks by Islamist groups. Two geographies - Pakistan and Saudi-led Wahhabi Arab states in the Middle East - will be ideological and recruitment centres for radical Islam. The fifth geography - China - will be neutral but play an important role given its own seething Muslim province of Xinjiang in the western part of the country.

The brutal truth is that Islamist terrorism cannot be defeated by only waging war on it - though that must be done with clinical ruthlessness as well. But it will not be enough. Radical Islam has to be defeated ideologically, its narrative reshaped. There are over 1.60 billion Muslims worldwide. Obviously, the vast majority are peace loving. But it is within these moderate Muslims that the problem lies.

Put simply, moderate Muslims do not accept that some of the edicts in the Quran preach violence. They do. These edicts belong to the seventh century, not the twenty first.

As Ali A Rizvi described it in an "Open Letter To Moderate Muslims" in the Huffington Post, there are many things in the Quran and even Abrahamic texts of the Jews that should not be taken literally. The Jews have understood this; moderate Muslims have not. In his scathing open letter, Ali says Islam needs reformers not mere moderates:

"Finding consensus on ideology is impossible. The sectarian violence that continues to plague the Muslim world, and has killed more Muslims than any foreign army, is blatant evidence for this. But coming together on a sense of community is what moves any society forward. Look at other Abrahamic religions that underwent reformations. You know well that Judaism and Christianity had their own violence-ridden dark ages; you mention it every chance you get nowadays, and you're right. But how did they get past that?

"Well, as much as the Pope opposes birth control, abortion and premarital sex, most Catholics today are openly pro-choice, practice birth control, and fornicate to their hearts' content. Most Jews are secular, and many even identify as atheists or agnostics while retaining the Jewish label. The dissidents and the heretics in these communities may get some flak here and there, but they aren't getting killed for dissenting.

"This is in stark contrast to the Muslim world where, according to a worldwide 2013 Pew Research Study, a majority of people in large Muslim-majority countries believe that those who leave the faith must die. They constantly obsess over who is a 'real' Muslim and who is not. They are quicker to defend their faith from cartoonists and filmmakers than they are to condemn those committing atrocities in its name.

"Islam needs reformers, not moderates... The purpose of reform is to change things, fix the system, and move it in a new direction. And to fix something, you have to acknowledge that it's broken - not that it looks broken, or is being falsely portrayed as broken by the wrong people - but that it's broken. That is your first step to reformation.

"If this sounds too radical, think back to the Prophet Muhammad himself, who was chased out of Mecca for being a radical dissident fighting the Quraysh. Think of why Jesus Christ was crucified. These men didn't capitulate or shy away from challenging even the most sacred foundations of the status quo. These men certainly weren't 'moderates'. They were radicals. Rebels. Reformers. That's how change happens. All revolutions start out as rebellions. Islam itself started this way. Openly challenging problematic ideas isn't bigotry, and it isn't blasphemy. If anything, it's Sunnah."

Duality of Islam

In an excellent recent article in Foreign Policy magazine titled "Islam is a Religion of Violence", Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes why the Quran is interpreted so misleadingly by Muslim scholars and clerics:

"To understand whether violence is inherent in the doctrine of Islam, it is important to look at the example of the founding father of Islam, Mohammed, and the passages in the Quran and Islamic jurisprudence used to justify the violence we currently see in so many parts of the Muslim world. In Mecca, Mohammed preached to his fellow tribesmen to abandon their gods and accept his. He preached about charity and the conditions of widows and orphans. (This method of proselytizing or persuasion, called dawa in Arabic, remains an important component of Islam to this day.) However, during his time in Mecca, Mohammed and his small band of believers had little success in converting others to this new religion. So, a decade after Mohammed first began preaching, he fled to Medina. Over time he cobbled together a militia and began to wage wars.

"Anyone seeking support for armed jihad in the name of Allah will find ample support in the passages in the Quran and Hadith that relate to Mohammed's Medina period. For example, Q4:95 states, 'Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home).' Q8:60 advises Muslims 'to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know.' Finally, Q9:29 instructs Muslims: 'Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.'

"Mainstream Islamic jurisprudence continues to maintain that the so-called 'sword verses' (9:5 and 9:29) have 'abrogated, cancelled, and replaced' those verses in the Quran that call for 'tolerance, compassion, and peace.'

"As for the example of Mohammed, Sahih Muslim, one of the six major authoritative Hadith collections, claims the Prophet Mohammed undertook no fewer than 19 military expeditions, personally fighting in eight of them. In the aftermath of the 627 Battle of the Trench, 'Mohammed felt free to deal harshly with the Banu Qurayza, executing their men and selling their women and children into slavery,' according to Yale Professor of Religious Studies Gerhard Bowering in his book Islamic Political Thought. As the Princeton scholar Michael Cook observed in his book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, 'the historical salience of warfare against unbelievers … was thus written into the foundational texts' of Islam.

"There lies the duality within Islam. It's possible to claim, following Mohammed's example in Mecca, that Islam is a religion of peace. But it's also possible to claim, as the Islamic State does, that a revelation was sent to Mohammed commanding Muslims to wage jihad until every human being on the planet accepts Islam or a state of subservience, on the basis of his legacy in Medina. The key question is not whether Islam is a religion of peace, but rather, whether Muslims follow the Mohammed of Medina, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shiite."

ISIS: Exploiting religion to extort

In essence, ISIS is an international gang of criminals using religion and terror to extort money and grab land. Its self-declared Caliphate is a marketing tool to recruit disenchanted Muslims from Chechnya, the Balkans, north Africa and western Europe. Many are white. Most are driven by a lethal combination of greed and hate.

ISIS' monthly income is estimated at $50 million (Rs 330 crore), mainly from the eight oil fields it controls and the punishing taxes it imposes on people in the territories it captures. It tries to run those territories like a government but water, power and civic services are beginning to break down. With France joining the Russians and Americans in attacking oil fields, oil pipelines and infrastructure in ISIS-held territories, the terrorist organisation's financial and military backbone will eventually crumble.

It has already been defeated in and evicted from Sinjar in northern Iraq, parts of Aleppo and the oil-rich town of Hol in Syria. The Kurdish Peshmerga, Iranian Shias and Iraq's post-Saddam army, embedded with US special forces and advisors, are beginning to wear ISIS down. The key town of Ramadi is the next target. Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the ISIS' strongholds, though will be harder to retake.

A centuries-old civilisational battle

The idea of ISIS is to strike at the heart of western civilisation. It is a continuing strand in the centuries-old battle between Islam and the west. Analysing the historical background to the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, I wrote in my recent book about the unfolding "civilisational contest between America, China, India and Islam that will shape our century." It is a contest that could transform the world as we know it. It is, in every way, the new clash of civilisations:

"As this century unfolds, four competing civilisations will shape it. This new contest of civilisations could determine the balance of power between nations and regions for generations. Though in decline, Western civilisation will continue to influence global policy and culture. China will rise, establishing a powerful Confucian counter-civilisational force with its strong roots in history and a sphere of influence arching from the Pacific to Africa. The third major civilisation, again deeply rooted in history, will be driven by India's growing hard and soft power. Strong demographics, a far-flung diaspora and the world's third largest economy will impel India to play a global role unmatched since the thousand golden years between, broadly, the fifth century BCE and the fifth century CE, when the subcontinent produced two prophets (Buddha and Mahavir Jain), two emperor-statesmen (Ashoka and Chandragupta) and two epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata).

"The fourth civilisational strain set to compete for space and salience this century is Islam. Though spiritually tethered to Mecca, Islam - unlike its civilisational counterparts - has not had a centre of gravity since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1917 and the abolition of the Caliphate by Turkey in 1924. The West is propelled by American and European values, China by its ethnic homogeneity, India by its ancient religions and philosophy. Each has a clear geographical anchor. But Islamic civilisation, whose worldwide influence is strong and growing, is as much at home in East Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia) as it is in Arab West Asia, non-Arab Turkey and Iran, the Central Asiatic republics (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan), Eastern Europe (Bosnia, Albania), North Africa (Morocco, Libya) and, of course, the subcontinent. Islam transcends nations - both a strength and weakness."

The defeat of ISIS across Syria and Iraq will not mean the end of Islamist terrorism. Like a hydra-headed monster, it grows a new head the moment you cut one off. ISIS took over from al-Qaeda. Another terrorist group will similarly take over from ISIS' dying embers.

That is why the only way to permanently defeat the ideology of radical Islam is to wage war on it on two fronts simultaneously: military and ideology. The former can defeat the radical Muslim. Only the latter can reform the moderate Muslim.

Without that, this war will not end.

Last updated: November 17, 2015 | 17:05
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