Why terrorists do what extremists think

Security agencies no longer need to read between the lines to decode how extremists think

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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It is naïve to accuse writers and commentators of spreading local narratives about Islamist extremism beyond borders and of inciting people against their own religion.

What’s being written and spoken about can be interpreted very easily. The world does not need local translators or writers or inciters to understand what is going on as the tools available for gathering and monitoring information and analyzing them are beyond imagination. More importantly, the truth is clear to everyone: terrorists do what extremists think.

During its period of influence, al-Qaeda released publications urging violence and detailed a manifesto of governance. Its theorists rooted for violence based on their vision. Academic and security apparatuses no longer need to read between the lines or analyze phone calls to decode how extremists think. They need to know what the next target is as the ideology is the same no matter how different these organizations and their names are.

When al-Qaeda emerged, there was controversy over the real motives behind terrorism and questions were asked as to what extremist ideology is behind terrorism. Terrorists are now getting more and more violent. It is now evident that extremism leads to violence and this is no longer a mere theory or conclusion by a researcher who is ignorant of the language and religion.

Are there parties spreading extremist ideology to serve their political aims? Of course, and they are mainly political groups who use extremists to target their local or foreign rivals. This is what is happening in Egypt’s Sinai and in Syria.

The rise of religious extremism has nothing to do with social justice or political injustice. It represents an ideological project that aims to seize control and neutralize others

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Are there parties exploiting extremist organizations to serve their own objectives? Of course, there are. Iran is the best example; its regime has managed to use extremist organizations for 30 years in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and most recently, in Yemen.

Those adopting an extremist ideology, or defending it, do not understand that they are partners of politically violent groups like the ISIS and al-Qaeda. They agree with them on several principles even though they don’t support their political plans. Those propagating extremism in this politically tense atmosphere are tools for the Tehran regime. Extremists serve Iran’s interests because they are putting their countries within the range of the world’s cannons.

For example, rivals accuse each other of being the source of extremist ideology and justify such statements by referring to extremist practices. Let’s not forget that Iran was the party that formulated the political rhetoric that’s currently spread among Islamists and which is about global arrogance and religiously and politically fighting it.

Cascading effect

Regardless of political exploitations which are usually common in wars, the new threat comes from the complications caused by the spread of extremism, which now threatens us and threatens Muslim communities in the West. Extremist ideology that the terrorists are acting upon is proving to be a major threat to Muslim governments and communities and their relations.

Unless we admit the presence and spread of extremism the situation will continue to worsen and we will find ourselves clashing with other victims. Some theorists try to justify terrorism by putting religion and governments at the forefront. They do this either to protect themselves or to involve them in disputes raised by them. This nothing to do with Muslims in general who end up paying the price of violence taking place in Lahore, ar-Raqqah or Brussels.

Extremists have exhausted the justifications they have used over the years to support terrorists. In the beginning, violence was justified because of the American bases in Saudi Arabia. Then they used Afghanistan to defend al-Qaeda and Taliban. Then they moved on to defending Saddam Hussein in Iraq despite his Baathist regime. After the Americans exited Iraq, those justifying terrorism started using the excuse that Muslims are being persecuted in the West. All that while they ignored acts of terrorism targeting Muslims in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

The rise of religious extremism has nothing to do with social justice or political injustice. It represents an ideological project that aims to seize control and neutralize others. This is why when an organization commits a crime on the basis of an extremist ideology, the latter must also pay the price and the rest of the Muslims must not be expected to defend it or cover for it.

We must separate the extremists from among us, between extremists and the rest of Muslims and between extremists and Islam. We must reject their statements that the West opposes Islam or Sunnis or Saudis. Truth is that the West opposes them (extremists) and blames them for what is happening and warns against them.

Extremists have become more dangerous than terrorists even as terrorism has escalated across the world. ISIS defends itself and sacrifices its fighters while extremists want a suicide attack seeking to target everyone.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Mar. 29, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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. He tweets @aalrashed

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