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Fight against Islamist terror must begin with opposing extremist ideas

Noura Al Kaabi

Published: Updated:

The barbarity perpetrated by Islamist terrorists in France and Austria in the past few weeks must be condemned unequivocally by all right-thinking people.

That one of the terrorists who attacked worshippers in a church in Nice in France reportedly carried the Quran must make all Muslims sit up and ponder as to how a bunch of fanatics continue to desecrate their faith and its sacred symbols with impunity.

It is also important to note that two places of worship, one church and one synagogue, were among the targets of the attack, leaving no one in doubt that instigating inter-religious strife was the prime motive. Even as terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of our faith create waves of Islamophobia in different parts of the globe, it is essential that we correctly identify and expose the forces of extremism and terror in our midst.

The United Arab Emirates has consistently held that the fight against extremism and terrorism cannot be confined to the realm of security alone. If we are to make any headway in our efforts, we have to fight them at the level of ideas. That is possible only if we identify and expose the groups and ideological streams that generate and disseminate extremist ideas.

A man lights a candle near the Notre Dame church in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in Nice, France, October 30, 2020. (Reuters)
A man lights a candle near the Notre Dame church in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack in Nice, France, October 30, 2020. (Reuters)

We have often faced severe criticisms, particularly in the West, for our staunch opposition to political Islam, or Islamism, which we are convinced is the source of instigation for terrorism in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, many notable intellectuals and political figures in the West were so awestruck by the Islamists that they eulogized them as the only hope for a liberal, tolerant Middle East.

Many Islamist ideologues rose to senior faculty positions in prestigious Western universities and research institutions. They used these opportunities to their advantage and convinced their audiences that Islamism was a force for good.

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We have refused to allow a foothold for Islamists in our country and in our sphere of influence. Instinctively and experientially, we knew they were the primary source of extremist ideas in the Muslim world. We also knew that, unlike some other streams of religious bigotry, Islamists were better able to hide their true colors and present themselves as reformers.

That many learned people in the West were credulous enough to fall for their fake charms never surprised us, but made us seriously worry about the implications of the rising influence of Islamism in many parts of Europe. A tendency to valorize them as the true representatives of Islamic intellectualism alarmed us to no end, but our counsel of caution mostly fell on deaf years.

We have no doubt that the only difference between the Al Qaeda, ISIS terrorists, and the seemingly sophisticated Islamist ideologues is that the former are frighteningly honest while the latter are meticulously duplicitous.

Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked ISIS in Mosul, Iraq on June 10, 2014. (Reuters)
Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked ISIS in Mosul, Iraq on June 10, 2014. (Reuters)

I have mentioned these unfortunate truths not to point fingers at this moment of grief and indignation. This is indeed a moment for us all to reiterate our commitment to go all out against zealotry and terror, and buttress our solidarities globally for a final push to eradicate the forces of darkness once and for all. That is easier said than done if we continue to ignore the elephant in the room.

Look at who were the top figures in the Muslim world from different countries that came out and issued provocative and reprehensible statements subtly or overtly justifying the terrorists in the recent weeks. All of them belonged to one ideological spectrum, albeit minor differences between them – political Islam. While religion as faith always elevated human beings to heights of nobility and grace, religion as ideology unleashed mindless violence on a genocidal scale.

We stand with the victims of all terror attacks. We disagree with the controversial cartoons, and, as a Muslim, I am offended by them but I can realize the underlying politics, ongoing exploitation and manipulation that are pursued behind this issue for political purposes. Linking the Prophet Muhammad, who represents a great sanctity amongst Muslims and is far too great to have his name and status exploited in cheap politicized campaigns, to violence and politicization is unacceptable.

Terrorist attacks are not Islam, they are the Islamist interpretation of Islam, and will always deserve our unqualified condemnation, and whole-hearted support in uprooting its terror.

That is precisely the spirit with which our Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan participated at the unity rally where hundreds of thousands of the French people and tens of world leaders gathered in Paris in 2015 to condemn terror attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killing of hostages in a restaurant and a Jewish supermarket.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi greet as they visit the Holocaust memorial together with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas prior to their historic meeting in Berlin, Germany October 6, 2020. (Reuters)
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi greet as they visit the Holocaust memorial together with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas prior to their historic meeting in Berlin, Germany October 6, 2020. (Reuters)

The sad truth, however, is that we are exactly where we were five years ago because nothing was done to curb the murderous Islamist propaganda in Europe. It is high time European authorities paid closer and urgent attention to the tumor spreading far and wide in their midst. As for the UAE, we are clear-headed in our opposition to extremism and terrorism in all forms and speak out against them without the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ customary in some circles. We believe that opposition to extremist ideas, alongside promotion of cultural and religious tolerance and harmonious coexistence, is the only way to root out the scourge of terrorism.

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