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Blair, Bashir, fundamentalism and the rules of the game! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair had little choice but to curtail civil liberties and deprive all extremists of the benefits of freedom. Most western democracies which have already taken similar steps believe Britain acted too little too late. In the wake of the London bombings, as head of the government, Blair is responsible for the safety and security of his country. In his latest speech, the Prime Minister said the presence of individuals who foster a culture of hatred and support terrorism by praising its perpetrators is no longer acceptable and extremists will not be allowed to exploit the freedom in British society to spread religious violence in the future.

The new measures announced by the government will enable it to crackdown on fundamentalist Islamists and extremist groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir and al Muhajiroun will be banned and their activities halted; their members and supporters will no longer be able to promise people an Islamic Caliphate and freely distribute pamphlets claiming democracy is in reality atheism, as some did in front of Hyde Park in London, only days before the 7th July bombings!

Meanwhile, governments in the developing world are grinning widely. “Didn’t we tell you?” they say, “Democracy does not apply to such men.” Sadly, the British authorities are unable to justify their past insistence on upholding civil liberties.

Developments in Britain are part of wider changes in international politics, as the world faces the threat of terrorism. After every terrorist attack, the world changes; a new culture, new attitudes, and new priorities emerge.

It is important to remember the goalposts on terrorism and al Qaeda were first moved by al Qaeda itself and its extremist ideology and not, as the British contends, by western governments. Members of al Qaeda are the ones who have changed the rules of the game and created an international headache the world is trying to contain.

To use simple terminology, al Qaeda sympathizers, scattered worldwide, want to engulf the world in the flames of their extremism and transform it into a battlefield. They believe no corner of the world should escape al Qaeda’s influence making it impossible to avoid confrontation. The world is seen through the angle of religious conflict; it is divided into two opposing camps, one of Islam and the other of atheism and insincerity. Whilst this struggle goes on, followers of al Qaeda await the inevitable battle with non- believers they believe they are sure to win.

No country is spared the evils of al Qaeda. Consider, for instance, Sudan , a country which was intimately connected to fundamentalist Islam in the past.

In recent months, the Sudanese government has signed a peace accord with non- Muslim rebels from the South led by John Garang, after over two decades of a disastrous civil war. It has also ordered the release from prison of one-time ally of current President Omar Bashir, Hassan al Turabi who was instrumental in institutionalizing Islamic Sharia (religious law). Following the agreement, the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) retuned to Khartoum victorious after a 22-year absence. As the capital celebrated, al Qaeda was outraged; peace did not correspond to its view of the future of Sudan . It wanted a continuation of religious clashes which the agreement between Bashir and Garang put an end to.

After the sudden death of Garang in an unexplained plane crash, ten days ago, Khartoum became the scene of violent clashes between Muslims and atheists loyal to the late leader, to use extremist terminology. Al Qaeda has always been careful to use exclusively religious terms when referring to certain groups of people. As these clashes were expected, it was guaranteed that al Qaeda would comment on them, using its frame of interpretation.

At the time, I read a report published on a forum on the Tajdeed website, affiliated to Saudi extremist Mohammed al Massari. Allegedly written by a Sudanese Islamist from Khartoum , the report denounced the Sudanese government and the ideology of Turabi as infidel because they wavered according to the latest circumstances. He accused Garang of being an atheist who fought Islam, adding that peace with his forces betrayed Islam. Instead, the SPLA should be fought and no effort spared by “the followers of the tradition of the Prophet” in opposing the pagans and enemies of God.

Herein lays the danger of allowing al Qaeda to spread its ideology. Sudan, went Turabi was in government, was the “capital of Islamic movements” and a paradise for groups calling for jihad (holy struggle), especially as the leader of al Qaeda spent five years in Khartoum, from 1991 until 1996, and invested around 150 million US dollars, according to some reports.

Followers of al Qaeda soon turned against their hosts and accused them of distorting Islam more dangerously than atheism. Mosques in the capital were no longer safe from terrorism and clashes erupted in the Um Dorman and al Ghareef neighborhood. Some observers believe those responsible might be related to the Egyptian extremist group, Takfir wa al Hijra (Condemnation and Migration) and its founder Mustafa Shukri, while others think it has a more recent phenomenon, and a third group deny any relation to al Qaeda.

Under Turabi, Sudan welcomed and sheltered all extremist Islamist groups which flourished and reproduced; supporters spread their evil at home before they expanded their reach!

In fact, it is almost impossible to encounter an active member of fundamentalist groups who has not spent some time in Sudan in the last decade with the trail of the would-be assassins of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak whilst visiting Addis Ababa , on 1995 also pointing to Khartoum .

Liberal leaders, like Blair and Islamist figures, such as Turabi or Bashir, have been deceived into believing they can control al Qaeda and keep it in check by changing the goalposts from time to time. Only recently have they realized that, in fact, it is they who are being manipulated! The situation is similar to Jurassic Park , a film by Steven Spielberg, where curious scientists clone dinosaurs to populate a theme park. When the security system breaks down and the prehistoric creatures escape, pandemonium ensues; those who cloned the animals find themselves being chased by them!

Politicians need to learn an important lesson: It is dangerous to play with religion and believe they can benefit from religious fervor when it suits them and sideline otherwise. Simply put, no shelve is hardy enough to bear the weight of a file as enormous as political Islam. Proven by history, yet again, this is one lesson we all need to learn!

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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