OPINION

The damage of Islamist extremism

Islamist fanaticism is not a phenomenon that sprang up overnight on the international political stage. It was the consequence of a series of sociopolitical developments and the product of the choices and actions of certain governments. After a period of political experimentation (Arab nationalism, socialism and various independent movements), the successive failures of the Arab regimes, and the resulting disappointment among the Arab peoples, led to the rediscovery of religion. One of the catalysts was the military successes of Israel, a state which is itself the product of religion. But another reason, and perhaps the most decisive of all, was Islam’s glorious past. Overlooking its shortcomings, the faithful of Islam concluded that they could only regain past glories through total devotion to the ancient teachings of their faith. But although the rebirth of this faith was based on the spiritual consciousness of millions of humble Muslims, in chiefly Arab societies, its consolidation came from elsewhere. The boldness of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in overturning a powerful secular regime by flying the flag of Islam, and in humiliating the USA by holding 52 Americans hostage in 1979, was the first step. The successes of Afghan tribes against the Soviet military machine a little later provided a further psychological boost. Many states actively lent support to Islamist fanaticism. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA effectively supported the jihadists in Afghanistan from the outset. The Pakistanis and Saudis continued supporting fanatics even after the Soviet withdrawal from southern Asia. Islamic extremism also secured support from Sudan (due to domestic developments), Yemen (to avert a civil war) and Syria (to allow an intervention in Lebanon and then Iraq). Even Israel was involved at the beginning, contributing to the foundation of Hamas as a counterweight to the powerful Fatah organization and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Many of the governments of these countries felt the subversive presence of Islamist fundamentalists very strongly. Pakistan, which just recently witnessed the Red Mosque uprising, is still paying for the support it gave the Taliban in the past and now to Muslim rebels in Kashmir. The current regime in Saudi Arabia, due to its historical ties with the clerics, is trying to curb and control the jihadists and drive them beyond its borders if possible. Meanwhile the regimes of Sudan and Yemen are extremely fragile. A close relationship with Islamist extremism is eventually detrimental to its sponsors. Even Israel has paid dearly for its imprudence with Hamas. Such ties also harm certain foolish individuals, beyond the borders of Muslim states, who do not understand exactly what they are preaching but defend these extremists anyway, swayed by the anti-US and anti-Western message.