Religion And Politics (VI)

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IVPart V

The Muslim Brotherhood and its brainchildren (II)

From any viewpoint, Sunni Islam created a set of fundamentalist movements, activists, and parties in the last decades of the last century. Already mentioned, for instance, al-Qaida (al-Queda) was the brainchild of the Saudi expatriate and former engineer and businessman Usama bin Ladin. This organization grew when Islamic jihad fighters with focal American support became recruited from across the Sunni Muslim world for the reason to contribute to the campaign to oust the Soviet soldiers from Afghanistan in the 1980s. Finally, the al-Qaida organization included operatives from dozen countries in the Middle East and South Asia.

The Sunni fundamentalist movent which tasted significant political power was the Sudanese faction of the Muslim Brotherhood – the National Islamic Front. Its leader, the Sorbonne-educated lawyer Hassan Turabi provided an Islamic model of democratization and spoke about the inevitable Islamization of whole Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. His influence on the central Sudanese Government was high and that was one of the reasons why Sudan declined into a civil war waged by the Government against Christian and animist rebels in the south (today the independent state of South Sudan). H. Turabi skillfully created self-image as the enlightened spokesman for the Islamic Awakening but ultimately failed to persuade the Islamic fundamentalists in other Muslim states.

Fundamentalist antipluralism and antifundamentalist pluralism

Historically, contemporary religious fundamentalism is one of several political forces competing for supremacy in the post-Cold War global arena of international politics. It has to be noticed that in all cases religious fundamentalism is representing the non-compromising, antipluralist approaches. As a good example, it can be presented the case from Israel where both the radical-fundamentalist Jewish settlers and the Sunni activists of Hamas violently opposed the peace process pursued by the Government of Israel and the PLO. In neighboring Lebanon, Shiia Hezbollah is exercising a radicalization influence over Lebanese politics which ultimately lead Lebanon to the war with Israel in 2006.

Respublica Christiana
Respublica Christiana

Across the Islamic world, the groups and networks of radical fundamentalists are destabilizing both religious minority and political factors dedicated to the overthrow, by all possible means, of Western-supported Governments in certain regions but especially in the MENA. However, in the USA and some West European countries, with strong traditions of pluralism, Christian fundamentalism has to play the game respecting the official legislation and the rules and generally is not using violent methods. In the US case, radical religious fundamentalists hope to transform the American society into a Bible-believing republic (the medieval Respublica Christiana), as they are believing it once was.

Religious fundamentalism can exist in democratic political systems like in nondemocratic societies, but it stands a much greater chance of dominating its enemies in the countries where pluralism and human rights are not so much legally protected. Yahveh granted them the Holy Land of Palestine where the Jews lived till 70 AD. The Jewish fundamentalist ideology is very concerned about the historical fact that the authorities of the Roman Empire expelled the Jews from their „Promised Land“ and, therefore, the Jews lived from 70 AD until the very late 19th century in diaspora across the world. However, the fundamentalist viewpoint is that the Jewish exile is religiously interpreted as divine punishment for not living in accord with Moses’ religious 10 commandments.

According to the fundamentalistic religious interpretation, the Jewish return to their homeland in Palestine was envisioned for when all Jews would live according to the tradition and, consequently, the Messiah would return and revive the Jewish kingdom in Palestine (Israel in 1948). The Jewish exile (diaspora) and redemption that is understood in the return to the Holy Land of Palestine are the focal concepts in Judaism as is Messianism. Jewish movements of the fundamentalists, however, defer in their interpretation of the present State according to these concepts.

Islam, West, and the spread of Islamic revivalism 

In the Middle Ages, it was a permanent struggle between Christian Europe and the Muslim states either in Europe or the Middle East. Muslim states have been controlling large sections of today’s Spain, Portugal, Balkans, and Romania. Most of the territories occupied by the Muslims have been reclaimed by the Christian Europeans, and many of their possessions in North Africa were, in fact, colonized as a consequence of the rising of the West European Great Powers in the 18th and the 19th centuries. These reverses have been, actually, negative for the Muslim world, religion, and civilization, which Islamic believers held to be the highest and most advanced possible, transcending all others. It was a very fact in the 19th century that the Islamic world was not able to resist the spread of Western culture – a fact which produced Islamic reform movements that have been seeking to restore Islam to its original dogmatic purity and power in the society. Nevertheless, a focal idea was that Islam should respond to the Western challenge by the policy of affirmation the identity of its own beliefs and practices.

In the next 20th century, this idea of Islamic revival was developed in several different ways and finally created the basis for the 1978−1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution which was, in essence, anti-Western (American). The Iranian revolution has been originally fuelled by internal opposition to the authoritarian US-backed Shah of Iran, who had accepted and tried to promote some forms of modernization based on the Western experience (land reform, women’s rights to vote, secular education, etc.). Nevertheless, the Iranian Islamist movement which succeeded finally in overthrow the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919−1980) brought together people of diverse interests but, anyway, attached to Islamic fundamentalism to power together with Ayatollah Khomeini, who provided a radical reinterpretation of Shiite ideas.

Islamic revolution
In January 1979, Tehran was rocked by surging protests in support of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then in exile in Paris

Ayatollah Khomeini after the Islamic Revolution established a governing authority organized according to the pattern of traditional Islamic law, traditions, and customs. In Iran after 1979, religion became the direct foundation of all political and economic life as it was set up in Qur’an. The Islamic law of Sharia became revived and, therefore, for instance, males and females are kept strictly separated, women are obliged to cover their bodies and heads in public, practicing homosexuality is forbidden, and adulterers are stoned to death. This strict Islamic code of morality is accompanied by an extremely nationalistic outlook that is primarily turned against Western negative cultural influences and politically against the Zionist oppressive Israel.

It is of absolute truth that the crucial aim of the authorities of the Islamic Republic in Iran is to Islamicize the state and society (like the intentions by the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Government in the 1990s). In other words, Islamic philosophy, teaching, customs, law, and tradition has to become dominant in all spheres of life. The Islamic radicals in Iran want to the deeper Islamic revolution and to export it abroad to other Islamic states too. In essence, the ideas which have been formed and promulgated by the 1978−1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution have been projected to unite the whole of the Islamic world, i.e., all Muslims across the world, but primarily for the political purpose to oppose Western influences and politics within the Muslim communities. However, in practice, those Muslim Governments where the Shiites have been in minority (the Sunni in power like in Saudi Arabia for instance) did not align themselves closely with the religious and political situation in Iran, especially with the Iranian foreign policy. Nevertheless, Islamic fundamentalism reached a significant level of popularity in most of these other (non-Shiites’) states, and, consequently, different types of Islamic revivalism elsewhere became stimulated by the Iranian revolution.

On one hand, Islamic fundamentalist movements succeeded to achieve influence in many of the MENA’s and South Asia’s countries during the last decades, but on other hand, they succeeded to take political power in only two other states alongside Iran: Sudan and Afghanistan. Sudan was ruled since 1989 by the National Salvation Front of Hassan al-Turabi and the Taliban fundamentalist authorities in Afghanistan were consolidated in 1996 but was ousted from power in 2001 by Afghan opposition forces and the direct US military involvement (aggression and occupation). In some other Muslim states, the Islamists gained even significant influence but have been prevented from rising to power partially due to the assistance by Israel and the USA. For instance, in Algeria, Turkey, or Egypt, the Islamists were suppressed by the state or the military (with great assistance by Israeli and American intelligence).

There are many academics, scholars, or politicians who believe that the Muslim world due to the fundamentalistic influences is going towards a confrontation with the rest of the world that do not share the Islamic fundamentalistic beliefs and policies like, for instance, political sciences Samuel P. Huntington who has argued in his works in 1993 and 1996 that struggles between Western and Islamic views and values might become the cause of the so-called worldwide „clash of civilizations“ with the ending of the Cold War 1.0 and with starting the turbo-globalization. In other words, according to those thinkers and public workers, the nation-state after 1989 became no longer the focal influential actor in international relations and, therefore, the rivalries and conflicts are going to happen between larger civilizations, cultures, and religions.

As examples of such conflicts can be seen in the cases of the bloody destruction of ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s when the Islamists in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo played significant roles during and especially after the wars. Members of al-Qaida visited Bosnia-Herzegovina and established friendly relations with the Muslim Government in Sarajevo which during the war was financed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. A leader of al-Qaida visited Albania in the 1990s too. On other hand, the US-led wars in Iraq in 1990−1991 and 2003 became rallying points for radical Muslims and the Islamists. The US-led occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 came as an explanation of the causes of the terrorist attacks on NYC and Washington on 9/11 by the Islamists. The wars in Chechnya in the 1990s attracted many Islamic militants who supported the idea of the creation of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

At the moment, Islamic fundamentalist opposition is building its influence in several Muslim states or regions like Indonesia, Nigeria, or Malaysia. Already some Nigerian federal provinces implemented the Islamic (Sharia) law. Islamic symbolism and forms of clothes are significant markers of identity for the growing Muslim communities living outside the Islamic world like in West Europe. Political events like both Gulf Wars, 9/11, or the occupation of Afghanistan provoked intense reactions of the Muslim populations across the world either against or in response to the West.

Religious terrorism

After the Cold War 1.0, religious radicalism and terrorism have arisen as one of the focal ideological generators of international relations. As the example, al-Qaida/Qaeda („The Base“), a notorious terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden and motivated by a violently radical form of Islam, attained new levels of notoriety in 2001 by sponsoring the 9/11 terrorist attack in NYC and Washington, although the network had previously gained attention for another bloody attack on US targets worldwide like the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Nevertheless, all al-Qaida’s terror acts directed against US targets were inspired by Washington’s gangster foreign policy of a post-Cold War 1.0 neo-imperialism.

CIA - Ben Laden
Osama bin Laden

There are other Islamist organizations like Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza or Hezbollah („Party of God“) in Lebanon which are embodying a deadly combination of ethnic nationalism and religious fanaticism directed, in fact, against the Zionist Israel and its dirty policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide on the Arab Palestinians. Nevertheless, these groups demonstrated waves of suicide bombings since 1994 which became politically effective to bring the Zionist Government of Israel to the negotiating table with the PLO. In Algeria, there is the Armed Islamic Group which was seeking to overthrow the secular authority and install Islamic regime and Shari’a law. The group was terrorizing and killing, for instance, secularist teachers, journalists, or women who have been wearing Western clothes. In some Arab countries like in Egypt, for example, Islamic radicals, fundamentalists, and extremists are striking foreign tourists (in Luxor in November 1997 as an example) but as well as Egyptian citizens for the political purpose to discredit and, therefore, weaken the national Government.

However, as a matter of fact, religious terrorism exists not only in the Muslim world but in some other cultures too. It was a radical Japanese religious sect, Aum Shinrikyo, using homemade nerve gas in a terrorist attack in the Tokyo metro in 1995. Some other confessionally motivated terrorists include Sikh separatists in India or Jewish Zionist extremists in Israel. In the USA, exists a similar combination of religious fanaticism and political separatism which is motivating Christian white supremacists and some other militant groups which are organized in defiance of the secular Federal Government in Washington, D.C. like the Christian Patriots or the Aryan Nations. It was the case in 1995 of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that was, in fact, a domestic terrorist act done by American white supremacists to commemorate the FBI’s assault on the Branch Davidian apocalyptic cult’s compound in 1993.

It has to be a remark that religious terrorism can get very frightening features as religious terrorists regard violence as morally justified, and furthermore even to be spiritually sanctified for the purpose of goals inspired by tenets of their faith. For instance, Islamic extremists are not considering the killing of nonbelievers as murder, and they as well as think that fighters killed while committing some act of terrorism are getting a place in heaven as „holy warriors“. To fight against religious terror and religious terrorist groups in many practical cases is extremely difficult for at least two very reasons: 1) They are getting support from disaffected religious and/or ethnic groups; and 2) Their believers’ fervent commitment.

Nevertheless, we have to remember that people and countries sharing the same religious faith, tradition, customs, and values as the members of terrorist organizations, however, do not automatically share and the goals of the terrorists or approve of their terrorist fighting methods. On other hand, the (Islamic) terrorists are justifying their actions as a form of jihad („holy war“) or spiritual struggle for the right faith but most Muslim leaders followed by the majority of the Muslim believers are condemning the use of terror in the name of God just as most Christians reject the terrorist violence committed by some Christian fanatics.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply