An antidote for ISIS’s poisonous narrative

Counter-ideological work means a battle of ideas, not weapons. In the real world, this means challenging the extremist narrative

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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If the soil of a small village is poisoned and the poison becomes contagious once it enters the human body, there is no way to save the population unless we find the antidote for that poison. We can quarantine the sick or burn all the fields we want, but one child playing in a field would be enough to revive the outbreak and contaminate the whole village. We can try to bomb the field but the airborne particles will simply make people sick. Terrorism, radicalism and extremism are just like this poison.

While the essences of all religions are more like fruitful fields which can offer blessed beauties, one drop of poison in their soil can ruin the crop and leave a barren hill behind. The antidote to this poison is a counter ideology.

A politicized youth is never an accident. It is always an intelligent effort. Most likely, none of these young people we see in Iraq, severing the heads of their opponents, would have thought a decade ago that they would come to this point. Someone has trained them to believe what they are doing is right. Someone has taught them an ideology, which enables them to feel hatred towards the people with whom they probably grew up. ISIS is not a group of thugs we can get rid of overnight: It is a way of looking at life, a mindset.

Counter-ideological work means a battle of ideas, not weapons. In the real world, this means challenging the extremist narrative

Ceylan Ozbudak

Call it ISIS, call it al-Qaeda, call it the Taliban, call it Boko Haram, al-Shabaab or what have you; it all starts with a single step... bigotry. Bigotry starts with trying to preserve outdated traditions in the name of religion. The illiteracy of women in some Muslim countries, the way women are treated, the hatred of Jews and Christians, the lack of quality of life, dirty streets stripped of any aesthetic merit, the lack of scientific studies; all these come from preserving the traditions of pre-Islamic tribes in the name of religion.

When we examine their actions, when we see radicals killing and beheading in the name of Islam, we must reject them and their sources. The radicals cite hadith sources, but many of these hadiths are disputed by mainstream Muslim scholars for centuries. Any sane Muslim would know that the Prophet Mohammad had never said or done any of the aforementioned brutal practices. Islam forbids such bigoted practices. We should not be afraid to expose this forgery in the name of the religion. Radicals draw inspiration from this relative silence on our part.

Step up and reclaim the religion

Therefore, the problem stems from within the Islamic community and must be solved within it. Even if we assume the military might of the superpowers took out the individuals one by one, the toxic ideology of bigotry has the potential to produce the same ilk over and over again. Weapons are useless against the ideas; though Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were militarily defeated, there are still many adherents of the fascist ideology in the West. We would be at fault to think Western civilization cannot be affected by this ideology. Even the finest steel plunged into salt water will eventually rust. If we are concerned about humanity, our civilization, the future of our children, we need to act now and stop the spread of this bigotry in the name of mainstream Islam.

On the other hand, the West requires counter ideological work. In other words, we must reclaim Islam from the bigots and jihadists. Counter-ideological work means a battle of ideas, not weapons. In the real world, this means challenging the extremist narrative wherever it raises its head—on websites, media outlets, university campuses, Friday sermons in mosques, in prisons: Wherever we encounter it, we must challenge it. But those who do the challenging must be effective, and require support from all of us. Depending on the context and audience, the counter messengers must be credible.

If radicalism raises its ugly head in mosques, then our imams need to be trained to counter that narrative and re-assert a modern and beautiful Islam. If extremists appear in the media, then we need prominent people to challenge them and isolate their message. If hardliners are on websites, then we need an army of young activists who root out their shallow and impractical arguments of darkness with the peaceful and practical message of real Islam. In colleges and universities, students and professors need the literature, speakers, and space to extirpate the bigots from dominating the prayer sermons or student unions.

All of this requires knowledge, financial support, coordination, government and the cooperation of civil society and the love and compassion of mainstream Muslims and other religions. We have yet to begin this effort globally in a sincere and serious manner.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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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