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Ideological War Center: Best Way to Combat Fundamentalism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman attends the opening ceremony of the G20 Leaders Summit in China in 2016. (Reuters)

Cairo – A few days ago Saudi Arabia launched the messages of the “Ideological War Center” on social media websites, explaining its purposes in the world’s most common languages.

The center that is affiliated with the Saudi Defense Ministry is among the most important ideas of deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is leading an intellectual revolution in the kingdom and that was demonstrated in his latest television interview.

The center leads us to ask: “Does all terrorism and extremism need intellectual and ideological means to combat them or is the security solution the only way to extinguish the raging fires?”

It is certain that today, terrorism is no longer a number of hierarchical cells that have a clear structure, such as the case of al-Qaeda. The terror group ISIS’s victory in Iraq two years ago inspired all hidden extremists in the world, which led to the spread of this cancer beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria in an attempt to infiltrate the Arab region and the rest of the world.

Given this reality, there is a need for the “Ideological War Center”, which works on “righting the wrong course” that the world has embarked on over the past two decades. Everyone though that terrorists will be defeated through security confrontations and intelligence pursuits, but they have been proven wrong.

One’s war on terror through security and military means alone is like waging a war against the idea of anger and hate, which are fueled by wrong policies, similar to the ones that turned Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Syria and Libya, into factories that produce terrorists.

It is here that the need for the “Ideological War Center” becomes very clear. The center is a product of jurisprudence and intellectual rejuvenation that corresponds with the rational nature of Islam, which is marked by its ability to be implemented in any time and place.

It is unfortunate that terrorism and extremism have in the past three decades found very fertile land in the minds of the Arab and Muslim youth. Is this the result of an intellectual shortcoming that has led to these grave perversions?

This is addressed by the global agenda of the “Ideological War Center” that is based on high philosophical, political and mental fundamentals. The center recognizes that the terrorism is based on wrong core ideals that pushed its adherents towards extremism. This extremism developed into a firm creed that cannot be shaken in the mind of the follower and will remain with him until his death. Combatting terrorism therefore can never take place through bullets, but through uncovering the errors, claims and means of deception that promote fundamentalism and terrorism.

We should ask: “What intellectual mistake took place in the Arab and Muslim worlds in the past few years that allowed this diabolical product to find life and lead the followers onto its dark path towards death?”

It is without doubt that the concepts of extremism and terrorism grew at first in isolated societies before later growing roots and becoming an organized movement with soldiers across the globe. Fundamentalist thought was able to cross borders through modern media methods, which unfortunately were the loudest and most effective in gaining sympathizers. This can perhaps be attributed to weak awareness methods and calls to direct the misguided onto the correct path.

In this light, the “Ideological War Center” has taken it upon itself to launch intellectual initiatives directed at Saudi and non-Saudi audiences in order to combat terrorism and ideological extremism.

“Ideological War Center” is significant because it is a global initiative that goes beyond the Arab and Muslim worlds, especially since terrorism and fundamentalism are global phenomena. Those responsible for the center are aware that extremism and intolerance inevitably lead to violence. Extremists firmly believe in the justness of their cause, act with an air of confidence and arrogance, consider themselves different from others and have a hatred to their small and large societies.

Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka said that the world is now comprised on intolerant people. It is a world where religions, ideologies and ambitions collide. The thoughts that fuel the swamp of intolerance can come from different sources, such as religion and various forms of oppression, but they all lead to the same conclusion, which is that that they are always right. This unquestionable confidence breeds a sense of arrogance, which distinguishes the stances of extremists and allows them to commit violent acts against the society that they despise. This society is hated simply because it does not believe in the ideas of the fundamentalists.

Here again comes the significance of the “Ideological War Center” in fighting extremism, eliminating its ideological and dogmatic roots and fortifying the Arab and Muslim societies.

It is clear in reading the initial messages and goals of the center that it has very good aspects in seeking to raise awareness on the right form of Islam both inside and outside Muslim societies. But what does that mean?

The center acknowledges that mistakes have been committed by certain groups that have affected the moderate understanding of Islam. This took place when religious thought became confused with opinions on religion. Religion was then politicized or politics was given a religious tone.

Thinker Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa’ once said that religion is surrendering to faith and having an opinion (politics) is surrendering to enmity. Those who make religion an opinion turn it into enmity and those who turn politics into religion have turned it into a dispute.

Therefore those who employ religion for political purposes and who claim that they are expressing the will of God are simply trying to pass their own ideas and convince the masses that they are in fact divine.

Raising awareness on the fundamentals of Islam should be met with major intellectual work on the outside because the positive image of the real global Islam has received dangerous blows throughout history. Several western writers and philosophers have harmed Islam. Take for example Professor Bernard Lewis and others like him, who have dug a deep trench filled with hatred and intolerance against the Muslim world. This hatred fueled antagonism and influenced policy makers and consequently led to disastrous reactions among the Muslim youth, who resorted to the path of violence.

The “Ideological War Center” therefore seeks to create a deep understanding of the problem of extremism, to pinpoint the vulnerable groups that are targeted by fundamentalists and find out the ways that these groups use to win followers.

These noble purposes require contact with the outside world, such as Asian, European and American thought, as well as with all those who believe in the spirit of meeting the other and confronting theoretical essays, such as Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” or Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History”, that the world has suffered from in the past two decades.

Several thinkers and philosophers have warned of the danger of the return to fascist and authoritarian rule that the terrorist groups call for and which the Arab and Muslim worlds have suffered from lately. Extremist thought proposes very simplified solutions to complex problems, which is a threat to all societies. However like all diseases, it has symptoms that we can guard ourselves from through adopting openness towards the other.

The “Ideological War Center” seeks to become a torch, not just a candle, of enlightenment in the modern world whereby it will present the principles of sound faith in a manner that recognizes the differences between cultures and civilizations. The center comes to bolster the vision of a modern Saudi Arabia, whose intellectual renaissance is being led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This renaissance calls for tolerance and respecting human rights. It calls for social justice and a universal vision that overcome racial and religious restrictions.