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How to Combat Radical Islamists

Note: This article is intended to follow another by Mr. Mozaffari, which we published two weeks ago: "Is It Possible to Combat Radical Islamism Without Combating Islam?"

We need a cognitive approach to Islamism by conceiving it as a totalitarian ideology.

A clear and full internalization of the fact that Islamism is an ideology and not a religion will purify the whole question from a variety of difficulties. In many ways, Islamism is like an octopus. We have to aim directly at the head in stead of wasting our time and energy to deal with the complicated body. By evacuating religious contents from Islamism, we change our direction from theology to ideology, from religion to politics. In this way, we put forward the real face and real nature of Islamism. The Muslims, especially among the young people, who are potentially ready to give their lives for the sake of Islamist ideals, will find out that their struggle is not a part of a religious duty but purely an ideological and political one emanating from a dangerous utopia.

We also need an international tactical or ethical consensus. This is especially needed in the Western hemisphere. The reason for such a consensus is motivated by the fact that often some western political parties and leaders use anti-Islamic rhetoric for political purposes. This policy is not productive, and it can be dangerous.

Attacking Islam is precisely what Islamists are waiting for. They are insatiably trying to convince Muslims of two things: 1) Islamism is the true face of Islam, and 2) the West is an enemy of Islam. Therefore, politicians must choose their vocabulary more carefully by avoiding attacks on Islam as a religion and by avoiding hostile remarks about Muslims in general. Americans became aware of this necessity and consequently transformed their language in this field. They talk about "terrorists who hijacked a religion" and rarely comment on Islam or Muslims in a negative way. We have to remember that Islamists are still today using President Bush's famous "crusade" pronounced in September 2001 as an evidence for American hostility against Islam. It seems that to avoid attacking Islam and Muslims, indiscriminately, has become general U.S. policy. In this respect, the most recent evidence are the apologies which a top Pentagon intelligence official, Lt. General William Boykin, offers (October 17, 2003) to Muslims because of his negative comments on Islam. The Americans' prudence is re-affirmed in President Bush's speech in Indonesia (October 22, 2003). In an elaborated and well-balanced speech, the president repeated that "Americans hold a deep respect for the Islamic faith. We know that Islam is fully compatible with liberty and tolerance and progress because we see the proof in your country [Inodonesia]." Then, he states "Terrorists who claim Islam as their inspiration defile one of the great faiths. Murder has no place in any religious tradition". In this way, President Bush tried to reach two important goals: To make a clear distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism" and to demonstrate that Islamists have hijacked Islam itself.

During the past decades, repetitive experiences have showed that dialogue with Islamists leads nowhere. While in a democratic culture, dialogue is a MUST and a natural process, Islamists consider dialogue a clear sign of weakness; their own weakness if they accept a dialogue, and especially weakness in their opponents. Dialogue is an unknown word for Islamists. Nothing positive has come out of different dialogues of diplomacy with totalitarian regimes and groups in general, and nothing positive with Islamists either. The Chamberlain and Hitler agreement, the Roosevelt and Stalin dialogue, the European Union's "critical dialogue," the "constructive dialogue," the "Iran gate," the "dialogue" with Taliban and so on and so forth. None of these attempts at dialogue have been successful for the Western diplomacy.

If dialogue or compromise is impossible and ineffective, what to do then? The answer is short and brutal: pressure! Pressure can be gradual or accumulated; but it must be real and sufficiently strong and consistent for Islamists to feel it as such. If the pressure has no positive effect-- as it was the case with Taliban -- war should not be excluded as a last resort.

Therefore, we must constantly remember and learn from previous, related experiences to deal with other totalitarian regimes, groups and ideologies. They were defeated either by war or by heavy pressure. This goes for Nazism and Fascism. It also goes for the breakdown of the USSR. Based on criteria of success, it will be wise to forget any possible arrangement with Islamists and start using systematical force and pressure.

Finally, it is necessary and urgent to acknowledge what is predominately important is democratization of the world. If there is a clash, the clash is not between civilizations or between religions. The real clash occurs between democracy and despotism.

Democratization of the Muslim world stands as the key word to combat Islamism and with it to combat current global terrorism. It represents a huge and vast task. Let me emphasize only one aspect of this, which I think is the most important. The Islamic world is producing three main things: Oil, Terrorism and Emigration. Thus, we have an Islamic Bermuda Triangle which is threatening peace and security in the world. The best way to break down this Bermuda Triangle is of course to do it within the Muslim world and by Muslims themselves. Unfortunately, democratic forces inside the Muslim world have not been able to break this Triangle. Therefore, external support is essential. To support democratic forces inside the Muslim world is an inherent and necessary part of the anti-terrorism war. External support can take different forms: conditioning economic aids to improving human rights and democracy is the first step. Awarding the Nobel Peace Price to a Muslim and Iranian woman (Shirin Ebadi) is an elegant and hopefully efficient stimulus. In extreme case, military intervention cannot be avoided. The ongoing war in Iraq - despite its doubtful legal foundations - represents a method to break down the Islamic Bermuda Triangle. In this sense, the war in Iraq is a 'strategic war' against the roots of terrorism, while the war in Afghanistan stands mostly as an "operational war" or simply a "theâtre d'opérations."

When combating Islamism, one of the main problems and difficulties is how to deal with millions of Muslims who are living in Western countries. Starting from the facts, it is apparent that Muslims in western countries are far too dispersed to constitute a compact bloc. In terms of social, cultural, political and religious orientations, the division among them is deep and real. Roughly, Muslims are divided into two large categories: Muslim Believers and Cultural Muslims. Islamists are predominantly issued from the first category. Cultural Muslims represent an agglomerate of peoples embracing agnostics, liberals, socialists and so on. In general, Cultural Muslims do not represent any tangible threat. The attention therefore must be oriented to the Muslim Believers who roughly are divided into Moderates and Radicals. Both are potential sources for Islamism; the former lesser than the latter.

Now, how to identify a Radical Muslim today in the Western countries? In this regard, there are a number of helpful indices. First, a Radical Muslim is of course a believer, who practices the rituals of Islam. But, this alone is not enough. A Radical Muslim is a man (rarely a woman--perhaps because Prophet Muhammad expressed his skepticism over women's capacity to hold a secret!). A Radical Muslim is constantly in communication with others. He can be a lonely man in the city and locality where he lives, but is with permanent communication with the outside world. Communication goes through mail, e-mail, fax, telephone (mobile and public) and so on. He is also a man who reads much and is generally a quiet person carefully avoiding clashes with the police and other public authorities. He is also traveler, a globetrotter! He is a young man with an average age of 25-27 years. In Southern Europe, Radical Muslims are issued from North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). In the U.K. essentially from Pakistan. In Scandinavia, from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan. Iranian Islamists are working under the auspices of Iranian authorities, generally as diplomatic personnel or as business persons.


Today, the world is facing a single global terrorism, which is Islamist. In my analysis, I did not approach the force of the global terrorism. I took it as a given fact. Islamist terrorism is perhaps not as powerful as some people would imagine. However, according to Institute for Strategic Studies (in London), Islamist terrorism has been reinforced following the war on Iraq (October Report 2003). We may say that global terrorism at least appears as a huge troublemaker. In this study, I tried to demonstrate that the real danger lies somewhere else. Islamist terrorism is the expression of a totalitarian ideology. Therefore, the world is facing a new totalitarianism, which has been neglected for decades. Consequently, combating Islamist terrorism cannot be reduced to a simple classic counter-terrorism. Classic Counter-terrorism's highly necessary efforts and investigations must be accompanied by coherent political, cultural and economic actions.

In short, my propositions to combating Islamist terrorism without combating Islam are resumed in the three following points:

¢ Continuous pressure on Islamists and, if necessary, conduct of war;
¢ Dialogue and cooperation with moderate Muslims, and
¢ Effective support to democratic forces inside the Muslim world.

© Mehdi Mozaffari

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