The Challenge of Counter Radicalization
a reflection paper by Yusuf Morales
The concept of Radicalism and extremism has been widely used in the previous years, there are also times that the term fundamentalism (al-ussuliyun) is erroneously used to describe this trend. One must understand that Fundamentalism is named to any movement or trend which coherently holds fast to the virtues, basic tenets or principles of a religion or ideology. The word radicalism/extremism in arabic (al-tataruf) denotes strictness and exceeding limits in religion to the point of mediocrity lying between the position of strictness and leniency while the opposite term denotes holding fast to the fundamental principles which is considered a moderate stand.
Despite the affluent status of some of our Muslim youth, some elements of the radical youths come from affluent families and even actively participating in radical activities.
We can look at the incident wherein a 19-year-old Somali-born American citizen, Muhammad Osman Mohamud, arrested on 25 November for attempting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Putting aside questions regarding the nature of the FBI’s involvement in this case, it appears that despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on counter-radicalisation programmes in the United States, Europe and Muslim-majority countries around the world, it indeed takes more than just serious effort to ensure that the flow of radicalization and Salafization can be curtailed..
If we were to consider on both a positive evaluation and critique to the strategies that would deter extremist violence are to be effective, we must take a serious look at some of their strengths and weaknesses.
Although the voices of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have faded due to renewed vigilance of both governments and the Muslim clerics who advocate moderation,new ideologues who are in the guise of revival and reform likeideologue cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and organizations like hizbut tahrir and other like-minded Salafi organizations are gradually inspiring this new stream of at-risk youth. Despite their small numbers and lack of mainstream followers, extremists like al-Awlaki disproportionately affect the discourse on Muslim-Western relations because their acts of violence capture the most headlines and provide ammunition to political opportunists determined to further complicate Muslim and Western world relations.
Considering the gradual proliferation of extremist idelogues, efforts must be made that a concierted effort to combat the influence of these influence of radical ideologues, an entire cadre of Muslims leaders around the world has come forward with active campaigns to take the “Islam” out of “Muslim terrorism”. They aim to make clear that such acts of violence are not only morally repugnant but clear violations of Islamic principles and law.
For example, earlier this year an international group of Muslim scholars gathered in Mardin, Turkey in order to publicly refute the infamous fatwa (non-binding legal opinion) by 14th century cleric Ibn Taymiyyah that calls for violence against non-Muslim rulers. The fatwa has been used repeatedly as justification by extremists.
Similarly, earlier this year scholar Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri issued a 600-page fatwa condemning “Islamic terrorism.” Relying upon traditional sources and methodologies, scholars like ul-Qadri hope to break the monopoly violent ideologues have held over the discourse on Muslim and Western world relations.
Governments, civic groups and Muslim leaders around the world have supported these efforts in a number of ways. For example, in the UK the Radical Middle Way and the Quilliam Foundation have sought to educate the public about Islam, while at the same time promote a distinctly British Muslim identity for emerging youth. They do so with the help of prominent Muslim leaders like Hamza Yusuf and Abdul Hakim Murad.
While these efforts should be commended, many of them have fallen short of their mandate because of their largely non-political orientation. If de-radicalising potentially violent Muslim youth and deterring religious extremism is the aim, how can these approaches reach their target audience without offering a viable pressure valve in today’s intensely conflicted world? How can such programming influence the angry and disaffected to deter extremism?
It is common sense to most people that the acts of violence committed by groups like Al Qaeda and their home grown wannabes are political in origin but wrapped in religious ideology. Muslim youth today are enraged, for instance, by misdirected drone strikes in Pakistan that kill innocent women and children, and the seemingly endless oppression of Palestinians. Both Afghanistan and Somalia, today’s terrorist hot spots, have been failed states for two generations; the youth in these countries have only known social strife, war and failed promises from the international community.
It is these raw conditions that brew extremism. Nonetheless, counter-radicalisation programmes often shy away from difficult and direct political conversations. Instead, they overemphasise topics like the multicultural legacy of Cordoba in Spain, the inward spiritual teachings of Sufi sages, and the scientific achievements of the medieval Muslim world.
One must understand the context of politicization of Salafi extremists enabling them to channel the rage against the system mentality of certain portions of the Muslim youth in soceity, irrespective if this is in a democratic or a tyrannical state. The question has always been how to politicize and connecting the current problems of society and the idea of a puritanical Islamic state as a go all alternative to the present corrupt system. And disnce the question of freedom and expression of individual identity has been the concurrent problem of the youth, the idea of a puritanical Islam that empowers them to act and behave as its soldiers gives them a much needed “kick” and often become unknowing recruits to extremist salafi oriented groups.
Muslim leaders and their allies in government and civil society must move beyond simply nurturing the “Good Muslim” role model and encouraging acts of good citizenship like charity and community service. They must realise that stories of water-boarding and pictures from Abu Ghraib will have a far more profound influence on shaping the political perceptions of Muslim youth than Western leaders motherhood statements or eloquent words of peace or the interfaith declarations of Muslim clerics.
One must understand that todays youth live in a different world., a world that is dominated by western media, and that western media has always filled itself with images of violence, hate and war, it is againts this backdraft that we find our Muslim youth and in their search for identity, and need for direction, moderates may be equally unprepared as well as unable to cope up with the challenges of confronting western modernity. This is where the radicals are able to come in and present a utopic worldview to the youth as an alternative asking them only nothing except deication to the cause of this Islamic utopia.
If Muslim leaders are expected to guide their youth in a religious cause against violence and extremism they should also be encouraged to speak truth to power against issues of political injustice, which are real driving factors fuelling extremism. By ignoring this call, Muslim leaders and their allies will not only be seen by their target audiences as mere puppets of Western governments, but guarantee that those disaffected masses are forced into the shadowy world of extremist cyber space and the arms of figures like al-Awlaki.