From 9/11 to Foley’s murder, extremism lives on

Extremism is a disease that plagues the Arab world, many Muslim countries and Muslim minority societies

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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It was following negligence and a lack of attention that the al-Qaeda organization flourished and attacked U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001. The event marked the beginning of the war on terror.

A new era of the war on terror is about to begin after news of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) execution of American journalist James Foley shocked the world. The act signals that similar crimes by the organization are in the pipeline. It will also succeed at wakening concerned parties - Western ones as well as regional ones since they are also threatened by the organization and its sympathizers.

The past 13 years witnessed some of the largest wars against rebellious groups in history. These wars included military confrontations, security pursuits, financial rewards, freezing of bank accounts and shutting down propaganda-disseminating media outlets. Despite all that, these wars have failed, despite the murder and arrest of al-Qaeda’s major leaders.

Extremism is a disease that plagues the Arab world, many Muslim countries and Muslim minority societies in European countries and even in China

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Many of the organization’s leaders were killed or detained but the group’s ideology continued unabated. So, our enemy is not al-Qaeda or ISIS or the al-Nusra Front but the concept itself - the concept of religious extremism which is a source of inspiration and energy. It’s the reason Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged as the leader of ISIS, just as the late Osama Bin Laden emerged as the leader of al-Qaeda.

This concept is also the reason why tens of thousands of youths arrived in Syria and Iraq prepared, or rather willing, to die.

The world’s war

Our war - the world’s war, Muslims and others - is against evil ideas. Al-Qaeda is an idea and so is ISIS. It is not about building an army or expanding on the map or gaining oil fields. It’s about a “sacred” group that rules in the name of God and claims to get closer to him by offering human sacrifices.

Even if American troops, or Iraqi troops, or Iraqi tribes succeed at killing Baghdadi and his rival Golani and the thousands of terrorists who follow them, the rebirth of al-Qaeda under a new slogan is almost certain.

We are locked in a struggle with extremism - a struggle that hasn’t ended since Ayatollah Khomeini took over power in Iran and since Juhayman al-Otaybi occupied the Grand Mosque in Makkah in 1979.

Extremism is a disease that plagues the Arab world, many Muslim countries and Muslim minority societies in European countries and even in China. It’s an Ebola-like disease, meaning it’s not enough to get rid of the patients; you must also fight the virus.

ISIS, and al-Qaeda before it, should not only be seen as a threat to the West and followers of other religions as most of its victims are Muslims and most of those are Sunni Muslims. Therefore, the biggest burden in the new round of the war on terror is on Muslim countries, their governments and their intellectual figures.

Extremist ideology

I am certain that the extremist thought will end and will not be reborn for another 100 years if its sources of education, media and funding are dried out. However, the Islamic world still refuses to admit to the problem of extremism which lies within it. On the one hand it fights against extremism on the security level. On the other hand, it tries to shift the blame onto others instead of admitting its illness and the need for a long and harsh treatment.

The virus of extremism has infiltrated society and culture. It’s due to this virus that many act like brainwashed people and roam the streets of their cities repeating the same ideas and defending extremism, willing to spread its teachings. And so, whenever counter-terrorism forces kill one hundred of them, a thousand more of them are born.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 25, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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