Almost every day, seminars on extremism, its paths, consequences, formations and concepts are conducted around the world. Extremism is not a temporary or incidental problem and it’s not easy to overcome it. It’s indeed too early to declare the end of terrorism, even after the partial decimation of ISIS or after announcing the end of Sahwa after lifting the cover off it or after the relative absence of the Muslim Brotherhood after civil powers dominated over them or the disintegration of Al Qaeda.
It’s good to hold on to hope and to look forward to a life with less bloodshed, hatred and elimination but on the analytical level, one must be prepared for the worst possibilities.
ISIS’ threat persists
It is true that ISIS has shrunk in the Gulf, Levant and Iraq, but it is still vigorous in Libya and certain parts of the African coast and regions of North Africa. This means an obituary of it would be a grave mistake.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it headed towards covert work in Gulf countries. It has always followed this path after every crackdown against it. After it was besieged, Sahwa invested heavily in electronic applications to instill doubts about the government and mobilize the public opinion. As for Al Qaeda, it has made a strong presence and will seek to wrest control back from ISIS. Therefore, governments, media outlets and cultural institutions should keep a close eye as sudden attacks can be carried out by these organizations on ground, via operations and recruitment or on the intellectual level via the revival of sleeper cells.
Few days ago, ministers of information of the anti-terror quartet held discussions on coordinating their stances and developing the mechanism of cooperation to confront supporting, funding and embracing extremism and terrorism. In his speech, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed highlighted how combating terrorism is serious no matter what the extent of military victories is.
“The media plays a vital role in countering hate speech and extremist thought. Countering terrorism lies in tearing its deviant intellectual roots and exposing the falsehood of the terrorist organizations’ discourse and their exploitation of the religion of Islam to subvert youth in the Arab region and the world. Fighting terrorism and extremism on the media (front) and at the ideological level is no less important than fighting them on the military and security levels, and it may be more significant considering the media’s direct influence in spreading the values of tolerance, co-existence and acceptance of the other as well as in terms of reinforcing positivity in societies. It is important to work on preemptive strategies based on explaining the concepts and content of the moderate and open-minded Islamic discourse which calls for peace, tolerance, and spreading the spirit of hope and goodness in societies, while exposing the parties and organization that distorted the noble meanings and values of Islam,” he said.
The ideological dimension
This vision shows the role that can be carried out regardless of military triumphs. Facing terrorism intellectually requires scholars and intellectuals to fight on several fronts such as developing the mechanisms of Islamic law (Fiqh) that are filled with detailed provisions to save it from ideological domination. For thirty years, Islamist groups have succeeded in turning religious institutions into a political tool for their ends. Therefore, the development of the mechanisms for comprehending matters of Fiqh by moderate religious institutions is no longer a luxury but has become a duty.
On the intellectual level, extremism is often addressed within the context of academic seminars, facile analyses and negligence of information. This prevents understanding the reasons behind the expansion of the terrorist phenomenon.
The duty of intellectuals is not only to talk about intelligence conspiracies regarding why organizations like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hamas were born but they must also address the intellectual reasons, the principles and the concepts embodied in their speeches, recordings, pulpits and publications. Terrorism cannot be struck in depth without being fully aware of these groups’ approach and concepts and without examining the ideological and jurisprudential map that dictates their moves.
Eradicating terrorism is not easy. We may succeed in attacking it militarily and by employing security measures, but completely eradicating it, requires courage, determination and perseverance to confront this ugly reality and challenge it. We should start with education and review all the curricula from the first grade to the topics of the graduate studies’ thesis and the approaches for discussion, and we must proceed to make strong discussions about the nature of the Islamic stance towards the relationship with those from different religions, and to educate the generations on the principles of tolerance, the forms of dialogue and the ethics of coexistence. This calls for enlightened scholars who can solve the disagreement between religion and reality, between man and the other and between one religion and another.
Establishing for civil jurisprudence that is concerned with the purposes of sharia rather than with the form of legislation is the bridge that can draw Muslim societies out of the tunnels of extremism and towards the horizons of tolerance.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.