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Terrorism and the Global Crisis of Modernity: From Islamophobia to Democratization | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A woman shows a poster reading Islam is Peace during a demonstration of Muslims to speak out against terrorism after the November 2015 Paris attacks. (AFP)

Dubai – Terrorism does not result in direct repercussions alone, such as general fear among the public and the adoption of counter-terrorism measures, but it also produces indirect consequences that are no less dangerous.

It results in rhetoric that “stands against modernity, humanitarian values and the world’s march towards the future and progress.”

It instead takes us back to hatred and discrimination of days gone by. This has been demonstrated in the extreme far-right, separatist and ethnic speeches that are emerging in the East and West alike.

Another indirect and more obvious consequence of terrorism is Islamophobia, which is a natural result of the rise in terrorism. A spike in Islamophobia is noticed immediately after terrorist attacks and these numbers have increased dramatically in the past two years.

Some of the “unseen” repercussions of terror are the “decrease in political liberalism” and the rise in measures that counter it, such as the binding of people’s freedoms. It also affects peoples’ ties with each other and their freedom of mobility and immigration.

On the Islamic and Arab scenes, terrorism has led to a shift in priorities in that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has taken a backseat to the war against terror.

The Arab world’s pursuit of modernity and development has been exhausted and hampered by extremist ideology in the past and in the present.

“Close-minded” thought in the Arab world dates back to the era of the Islamic reform school of thought under Jamaluddine al-Afghani, Mohammed Abdo and others in the late 1880s and early 1900s. The school confronted modernity on the reform, civil and national levels and transformed into popular groups that emerged after the fall of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924.

It was embodied in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose founder declared his mission to eliminate partisanship and diversity. Other more radical parties soon emerged from under the Brotherhood’s umbrella and they even turned against the original party, accusing it of treason.

The “closed-minded” parties soon found themselves in a fierce confrontation with Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser and nationalist and Baathist organizations in the region. The confrontation with the latter organizations only justified their priority for the liberation of Palestine. Such a declaration “killed the democratic experience before it was even born.”

The parties managed to find middle ground between religion and nationalism and also between the religious and political authorities. This went on for a while, until extremist groups assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and became involved in the fighting in Afghanistan, which later yielded the fundamentalist al-Qaeda group and then ISIS. The latter has become an active and dangerous player on the regional and international scenes.

This is how groups that advocated the Islamic caliphate and political Islam thwarted reform in the late 20th century. They deemed all attempts for intellectual, political and social reform as treason, which veered states away from looking towards the future and back to conflicts of the past, which is where they remain.

These authoritarian currents denied diversity in favor of their slogan that “no voice can rise above the sound of the battle” against the occupying enemy, “Israel in particular.” With the rise of terrorism however, the priorities of these currents shifted towards combating the global phenomenon, which has started to pose a threat to the Arab identity itself.

Voices that have called for democracy during this time have been confronted with voices of rejection that see combating terrorism as a priority. The democratic demands of the Arab Spring of 2011 have been silenced and replaced by some voices that “reminisce” over the time that preceded the uprisings when the situation was more stable.

In the West, modernity and enlightened thought first came to the world in the 16th century. It did not predict that, in the 21st century, it would be facing a threat to its values, such as the one terrorism poses.

Some anomalies in the path towards modernity, such as Nazism, have not affected this pursuit. They were in fact quickly defeated. The pursuit now faces an alien threat that can undermine its security and the identity of its people, especially immigrants and the Muslim diaspora.

This threat is embodied in lone wolf attacks, which have been met with US President Donald Trump’s statements against Islam, issued prior to his election, a rise in Islamophobia and a spike in hate crimes against Muslims in the US and in Europe.