What Muslims, the media and the West must do to stem the tide of terror.
Since the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut it seems the entire world has been in a state of shock. That much is obvious from the many diverse reactions that a quick trawl of the Internet reveals. Yet, beyond the rhetoric and the angst, two truths emerge.
The attacks in Paris and Beirut were not the first attacks by a self-styled Islamist group. And they won’t be the last.
The immediate questions relate to how to prevent similar attacks in future. However, the broader question that desperately needs an answer is how do we, as a global civilisation, extinguish the illogical and antediluvian ideology that underpins violent Islamist groups like Daesh?
A military solution?
We arrived long ago at a point where military action has become necessary. However, there is, of course, much to the disappointment of politicians the world over, no quick fix solution to the problem. Daesh, its ilk and the ideology they subscribe to were not spawned overnight and it is unrealistic to expect for it to be wiped out through military means alone.
The theological battleground
Scholars like the eminent Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im have already explained how we can attack extremist ideology: show how the theology of extremists is not only of no relevance to the lives of Muslims today but also flawed and inconsistent. Perhaps because this strategy does not yield immediate results, not enough is being done to support this type of work. This is a mistake. Much more must be done to support the work of groups and individuals who take on such work which whilst important is often thankless and at times, dangerous.
What’s in a name?
In the Internet age, the fight against groups like Daesh is as much a military and theological battle as it is a battle for the hearts and minds of troubled youth who fall prey to Islamist rhetoric widely available online.
You will note that I have referred to “Islamic State”as “Daesh”. Names are important. Especially in the battle with groups like Daesh to whom branding and marketing is as important as Microsoft or Nike.
Like ‘IS’, ‘Daesh’ too is an acronym and the Arabic phrase it stands for has virtually the same meaning as ‘Islamic State’ but the group views the term ‘Daesh’ as a pejorative. Why? Unlike in English, acronyms are not widely used in Arabic. By re-branding them with a name not of their choosing it opens them up to satire and ridicule (due also to the Arab penchant for word play). In doing so it delegitimizes their pompous and presumptuous brand. A brand that purports to somehow represent something greater and grander than what they truly are: a collection of psychopaths twisting theology and religious scripture to suit their nefarious ends. [Note: those interested to learn more about the meaning of 'Daesh' can learn more here.]
This is where the world’s media have an important role to play in the fight.
They should be referring to Islamic State as Daesh. Allow me to be clear, this has nothing to do with being politically correct nor to somehow suggest that Daesh has nothing to do with Islam. Their theology, however flawed and inconsistent it may be, is derived from Islamic scripture and texts and their members are Muslim, albeit the worst kind imaginable. Referring to the group as Daesh is not only about being factually correct as they are not representative of Islam or the aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims. More importantly, it immediately delegitimises and devalues their brand, particularly in the eyes of the impressionable and easily misled.
The West and curtailing the spread of Wahhabism
Is it only Muslims that can put a stop to Daesh, as some would suggest? Is there anything that Western governments can do? Indeed, there is.
Much has been written in recent days about the role that Saudi Arabia has played in exporting Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world. Wahhabism is of course the puritanical Islamist ideology that forms the backbone of theology relied on by violent Islamist groups like Daesh. Saudi Arabia freely goes about its dirty work under the watchful gaze of Western governments who continue to describe Saudi Arabia as a “close ally” and “friend”. None of this will be a surprise to those even casually familiar with modern geopolitical issues.
For a recent example of squirming by a Western leader when confronted with questions over foreign policy on Saudi Arabia, watch a recent interview of the British PM, David Cameron, by a prominent veteran British newscaster.
The open secret, as most of us will be aware, is that Western leaders, Obama and Cameron in particular, are masters of the art of double speak. They speak so reasonably and passionately in defense of human rights in some contexts but apply totally different rules when it comes to their wayward allies (like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey).
Unlike Libya, Iraq and Syria, regime change will not be a successful strategy in Saudi Arabia. Like a many-headed serpent, the House of Saud consists of over 1,000 princes. Cut one head off and another will quickly grow in its place. The only strategy that will work with Saudi Arabia is sanctions, sanctions and more sanctions.
Yet, Western leaders seem content to continue to wine and dine (forgive the pun) the Saudis who are chiefly responsible for radicalizing Muslims whilst the West continues berate the world’s Muslims for not doing enough to stem the rise of extremist ideology.
In a single stroke, by changing their policy towards Saudi Arabia, Western governments could do more to stem the tide of Islamist ideology than the vast majority of ordinary Muslims who are law abiding people trying, like everyone else, to forge a brighter future for themselves and their children. Yet, those Western leaders choose not to do so. A rational person would be right to question whether they truly want the problem of Muslim extremist groups to be resolved.
Unlike the nuns in the musical, ‘The Sound of Music’, who had no idea how to “solve a problem” like Maria von Trapp, we know what must be done to solve the problem of Daesh and more generally, violent Islamist ideology. The solution is multi-pronged and is not one that will yield instant results but then the problem did not arise overnight.
Unfortunately, what we lack today are principled leaders with the necessary political will.