Posted by: ourvoicestogether | November 6, 2007

Taming the Beast of Fundamentalism

Taming the Beast of Fundamentalism`The West does not want independence based on Islamic thoughts for Islamic countries`, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani once said. `They are confronting an important movement, and they do not like it`.

In the post 9/11 world, finding a kind word about the religion of Islam and the Muslim community at large is indeed an impossible adventure. It’s been a rocky road so far. An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times characterized Islamic fundamentalism as `rage, religious fury, holy war and political hypocrisy`. And that was well before the explosion at the World Trade Center in the early 1990`s, attributed to Muslim fundamentalists. Quite apart from the profound injustice done to millions of law-abiding Muslims, equating the religion of Islamic faith and the fundamentalist tendencies associated with terrorism closes minds at a time when the Western world, especially the American public, badly needs to understand this important world movement, a wave of change that is now transforming the entire texture of global affairs. To whatever extent it may ultimately prevail in the vast area stretching from Morocco to Mindanao, and in the several former Soviet republics, Islamic fundamentalism is a vital and growing force to be acknowledged and recognized.

Whereas religious beliefs have been more than often used as agents to fuel violence and bloodshed, the fact remains that a distinction ought to be made between the plain and simple believers and those who stretch the limits of ‘religious imagination’ and create anarchy. In its various manifestations, strangely, despite all the negativism that has been spread around and Al-Qaeda’s killing ways, Islam continues to make inroads into the lives of millions of folks as a source of searching the meaning of God and life. Saner elements believe that the United States will have to come to terms with Islamic fundamentalism, not in a compromising/aggressive but in a ‘negotiated’ manner.

What should be the ideal grounds to start? First, Washington needs to sow the seeds of understanding. There is a dire necessity to understand that the core values of Islam are based on a non-violent regimen. Moreover, just like Christianity and Judaism, it is also a politico-legal system and a way of life. Islam is not what Wahabism or Al-Qaeda professes. It’s not about death and killing or massacring those who are not ‘considered’ Muslims; its not about judgmentalism or arbitrariness. Condemning Islam to the pitched darkness of the extreme ideals of the distorted Arabized beliefs or the Al-Qaeda confines has only gifted the West replicas of the organization, a mushroom growth of self-proclaimed Bin Ladens and Mullah Omers, the ‘re-incarnated’ messiahs of a vulgar and ‘floating movement’ to ‘liberate’ the Muslim world from the subjugation of the ‘non-believers’.

All this sounds obnoxious, to say the least. Those brainwashed young men to give up their lives by committing to suicide bombings are more than likely not even aware about God’s amazing presence and the power to do good. Apart from Al-Qaeda, in Hamas, Israel was and is faced with an uncompromising maximalist approach, that of total liberation of the sacred land of Palestine as demanded by God, who will ‘repay martyrs for this cause with everlasting life’. Notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinians deserve a place of their own, Israel certainly has a right to exist. Once this is conveyed to Hamas in no uncertain terms, the premise of an aggressive posture on the part of the organization may itself stand negated.

In contrast to the somewhat, at times, compromising Palestine Liberation Organization, Islamic fundamentalism as we see and experience it, is a formidable opponent, a highway of devastatingly superfluous radical ideas where there are no limits to insanity. The difference between the PLO’s approach and that of the fundamentalists has to do with how each views the West. Starting from a position, real and perceived, of inferiority, the Middle East has been trying to come to terms with the West. Its coping device was imitation, perhaps most evident in Western-style nationalism and the evolution of national states, complete with ideologies, parliamentarians, anthems, and flags. Imitative Arab nationalism found its culmination in Gamel Abdel Nasser. Its low point: Nasser’s defeat by Israel in 1967. A great many Arabs concluded that they had been following the wrong model. They could never be successful trying to be what they were. In the same way in 1978, in Iran, the Westernizing Shah was overthrown. “We no longer have to be imitating America,” the Islamic revolutionaries cried. “We can be ourselves.” The basic question, ‘Who am I?’ is answered by many in the Muslim countries through a return to their religio-nationalistic roots, which, most of times, are not exactly what the religion would have ideally demanded from its followers.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election is regarded by many as an reassertion of the Iranian self — the nation’s expression of what it spiritually and inherently stands for and expects from its leaders, going forward.

However, as we have witnessed, Ahmadinejad may not have been the most appropriate choice to opt for. In fact, this Iranian president is possibly the worst ever diplomat in the country’s recent history. Nuts like him are ‘civilizational scars’ and a shame for their people. Why the deep anger, the rage directed against the United States? One apparent reason maybe the American culture, pervasive and appealing, that the fundamentalists, no matter which part of the world they find themselves in, are trying to expel from deep within themselves and their societies. Yet, as they reject this culture they are forced to recognize its superiority in many important respects. Finding it hard to break the shackles, the continuing dependence of those around them deepens their anger. Although they are all against the culture’s recreational sex, widespread alcoholism and drug abuse as ‘Western decadence’, yet their own respective environments are, in a way, paralyzed by the same damning culture. By contrast, these religiously inspired Islamists hold themselves to be freshly inspired to decency.

Islamic fundamentalism has, believe it or not, its own very positive side. Its medical ethics in the poorest parts of Cairo, for instance, evidencing in a practical way the duty of Muslims to care for the poor are a source of popularity and respect. Islamic law, the Sharia, or “path to salvation”, is the sum of duties required by God of human beings, with respect not only to God, but also to one’s fellows. It is the infusion of divine purpose into human relationships that distinguishes Islamic law from the secular (but yet caring) jurisprudence of Western countries. The restoration of the Sharia, as the operating national legal code, is a cardinal feature of Islamic fundamentalism. However, the fact that propagators of the movement so keenly want the system to be implemented, it is absolutely realistic to think that many of the main tenets of the Sharia are still fixed in the 10th century norms and traditions. The blame for this goes to the Muftis–the Muslim scholars who have been unable to bring the faith up to speed, keep it up with changing times through a mechanism called ‘Ijtihad’. Had Ijtihad been used to ‘improve’ Islam, it is not absurd to believe Salman Rushdie’s sense of intellectualism would have been appreciated by the Muslims and perhaps, the Danes would have been spared the harassment that they had to suffer because of some cartoons that appeared in their newspaper. As a social statement of ethical principle, however, according to many, the Sharia is hard to surpass.

How, then, can the United States come to terms with this vital movement? Trying out these basic steps might not be a bad idea:

  • Pay attention to the flashpoints. For example, the longer the Arab-Israel peace process is delayed, the stronger will be the influence of the extremists. For whatever reason Washington goes out of the way for Israel, all and sundry acknowledge that the Bush administration has overdone many of the previous administrations to favor Israel. A balance needs to be created.
  • United States must provide Mahmoud Abbas with the adequate diplomatic support and affect a balanced approach in order to really move the peace process in the right direction. Needless to say, the Palestinian leader’s approach toward Hamas and his negotiating skills leave a lot to be desired. It is in the US’ interest to keep pushing and prompting him.
  • The Bush administration’s Iran policy is least impressive. Threats and intimidation may work on some countries but this hardly holds true for Iran,’ a battle-hardened nation that has faced years of sanctions, yet, has survived well enough to regain goodwill in most of the Western world, especially the Europeans. A persistent across-the-table effort is required to get around Tehran to give up its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad’s aggression can indeed be neutralized by Washington through subtle gestures of goodwill, instead of condemning the country and its people.
  • One understands that some Track II diplomatic efforts have been and continue to be made. Diplomacy is the right choice. Understood that it’s a test of patience dealing with a sworn enemy but that’s what diplomats are for! Iran is an essential part of Washington’s ‘fight for the future’. A recklessly orchestrated assault on Tehran may end up in yet another quagmire of sorts. Remember, Iran is NOT Iraq.
  • US must re-strategize its policy toward Islamabad. True, Pakistan remains a chief ally in the war against terrorism but it is perhaps time to take stock of the situation. All the incentivizing and pampering of the military leadership is okay but one feels that it’s time that Washington’s dependence on General Pervez Musharraf has to give way to a rationalistic approach whereby terrorism related issues must be handled through a more reliable mechanism. Musharraf has been cooperative but his foolhardy political maneuvering domestically will, in the long run, going to leave the US in a not so ideal situation as far as countering the terrorism threat is concerned. Musharraf has a history of protecting terrorists. Given the fickleness of his mind (as demonstrated by his November 03 action), it is not unconceivable that he might handover Pakistan’s nuclear program to his Wahabized friends just to salvage his own position.
  • A concerted thought process needs to be employed within the parameters of various think tanks in dealing with countries like Syria and Yemen rather than hawkish decisions reached within the confines of Pentagon or at the National Security level.
  • Future flashpoints should be identified and stress should be laid on peaceful and diplomatic resolutions of conflicts. Compassionate representation from various religions is required in the process of discussion and decision-making to reach amicable conclusions.
  • The key to reconciliation with Islamic fundamentalism is understanding. Unless the reasons for anger against the United States are understood, which drove the believers insane on the part of an extremist fringe; the actions they are likely to take cannot be effectively anticipated and countered. Failure on this engagement extends beyond the loss of life and property; it also poisons the domestic atmosphere with heightened discrimination and threats against the rights of the significant minority.
  • Treat the Saudis fairly and squarely. Understood and granted that the Saudi royals have a special place in US economic paradigm, yet, they are ones that have tarnished the image of Muslims. Most of those responsible for causing 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda is Saudi. They are the ones responsible for horrendous violations of human rights. They have spread the cancer of madarrahs (Islamic education schools that are breeding grounds of terrorists) in poor Muslim countries. Saudis patronize Wahabi teachings within the US. Isn’t that enough to reprimand the kingdom? For most of the Muslim world, the Saudis are considered as vain and pompous, oppressive and hegemonic despots who hardly have any respect for humanity. Impose sanctions on the kingdom and many fundamentalism related worries will go away! At the end of the US-Iran hostage crisis in 1979, a senior State Department official remarked, “Who would ever have thought that all this could have happened because of religion?”

Unfortunately the same disdainful attitude continues to prevail in Washington. Has anyone in Washington thought to publish a comparison between the better goals of the Islamic fundamentalists and those expressed in President Clinton’s inaugural speech in 1992? Can we avert this clash of civilizations? One sincerely hopes that better sense will prevail eventually. A lot depends on how we deal with this explosive situation now to safeguard our future generations.

–Ahson Saeed Hasan



  1. An outstanding and a matter fact article, factual to the core!

  2. Absolutely brilliant. This article should be quoted as part of the regular sermon in the mosques all over the world. It is time for the silent saner muslim majority to stand up and take control. It is time for them to not to let the insane elements amongst them hijack their collective identity.

    This should also be used as a guiding beacon by the US and the other western foreign policy makers who have been till today way off the mark in formulating their policies.

    A total rethink is the key here.

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