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Right Back Where You Started! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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To wish for something is one thing but the truth is another. Hope may numb the pain; however, it does not eliminate the pangs of reality.

These self-evident ideas should be present when we listen to those who tell us that the threat of religious terrorism has been abolished or that the Al Qaeda “trend” is in the process of decline, if, that is, it hasn’t actually declined already owing to the campaigns of advice and guidance and because of the “awareness” of Arab society.

These pessimistic ideas had filled my head as I watched news reports that have no direct relationship with the military operations of the “Al-Qaeda” movement but certainly reflected some acts that could be categorized as religious intolerance. And by religious intolerance, I undoubtedly imply the incubator of Al-Qaeda.

This news was issued only recently such as that which featured Maulana Abdul Aziz who announced from the podium of Islamabad’s Lal/Red Mosque recently his intention to establish Islamic Shariah starting with the area around the mosque and that the government should not object to his plans or else he would force a potentially bloody showdown with “thousands” of prospective suicide bombers who support him. He had practically begun to implement Shariah in his own way by stetting fire to piles of music CDs and burning them in public squares, portraying a scene that resembled a famous image of the Taliban. The news also depicted the anger expressed by some Islamist Kuwaiti representatives against the new minister, Noriya al-Sobeih, as she does not wear a headscarf. There was also news of the campaign of some Yemeni representatives of the Islamic Reform Party and the ruling congress (this reminds us of the joint campaign launched by the Muslim Brotherhood members and the ruling National Democratic Party against Minister Farouk Hosni!) against signing Rome’s Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Yemeni representatives were supported by a campaign that was backed by the imams of a number of mosques who believe that this treaty is against Islam because, “It is incompatible with Islamic law, and should not be applied to Muslims as judges will be Jews and Christians and there should be no jurisdictional authority of an infidel upon Muslims, according to them.” The issue was featured in an investigation by Jalal al-Sharabi on Al Arabiya.net.

There are many examples of these non-military fundamentalist “oppositions” that emerge in a society that fears progress and openness to the world. But let us look at other examples that are similar to pure Al-Qaeda activities during the past few days.

The Taliban has returned and strikes hard; as if we are watching its first arrival when it mobilized all axes of “jihadist” parties against communists. From the same place that it began in mid-1994 in the southern state of Qandahar in Afghanistan, the Taliban now sends new suicide bombers. Moreover, Mullah Dadullah announces its joint activities with Al-Qaeda and re-endorses alliance with Bin Laden. Last but not least, the Taliban tops all these activities by announcing the killing of the Afghan translator for the Italian reporter Daniel Mastrogiacomo who had been taken hostage.

In Iraq, the war continues and despite the successive security plans we continuously witness Al-Qaeda attacking with the help of the Shia Al-Qaeda represented by the al-Sadr group that is taking part in attacks. But this is another story.

In Saudi Arabia, security authorities took part in a fierce battle with one member of Al-Qaeda, 22 year-old wanted militant Walid al Raddadi who participated in the killing of French tourists on the road to Medina. In the Maghreb region, we hear and read about the new movement called Salafi Jihad which has launched under the auspices of Al-Qaeda and the ongoing war, the last campaign of which was launched by the Algerian government twenty days ago in pursuit of members of fundamentalist groups in the region of Kabylie under the name of “Sayf al Hajjaj” [a reference to Al-Hajjaj Bin Yousef al Thaqafi], a name that carries interesting connotations. And so on and so forth…

Thus, this is how the situation looks despite the entire clamor that we hear about transformation and reform and moving towards openness. The reality on the ground however is somewhat different. In this regards, we must emphasize that there is a state of fundamentalist opposition against any sign of openness no matter how trivial. Such opposition increases as the days go on but only in terms of stubbornness. Such a fact causes many Arab governments, as well as American authorities to become fed up and accordingly comply, negotiate and grant fundamentalist groups all that could be granted in order to get rid of this cause for concern. However, they will never be able to!

We are not only facing the persistence of non-militarized fundamentalist opposition, but rather we face the persistence of the militarized Al-Qaeda movement. The determination and outburst of these groups only needed two years or less to begin to rise to the surface and resume their work.

Well, I will not talk about the failure in defeating political fundamentalism; this is a complicated issue and tackling it would bring about many controversies. Instead, let us look at a certain section of fundamentalism, the supporters of which are few. With that I refer to militarized fundamentalism. Why have we failed in spite of this media surge and the blood that has been shed in confrontations with terrorism, to win over religious terrorism?!

Perhaps the question has been posed in an incorrect manner. In other words: could the battle with terrorism end in victory? Is it a partial or comprehensive battle that comes as part of a system of interdependent steps?

Can we effectively fight terrorists when we are incapable of fighting the culture of fanaticism?! A junior terrorist is a descendant of a senior fanatic. The relation between both is the same as that between the hand that carries a gun and the tongue that praises this hand!

How can we create an environment that wards off intolerance and welcomes openness if we and all that we do, fail to eliminate this climate of intolerance! In fact we practice this intolerance, to one degree or another, so how can we bring about such change?!

The person who killed the unarmed French tourists in Saudi Arabia committed the act having no idea about tolerance and openness-mindedness towards other human beings. And there are many like him, however they have not reached this degree unlike him who probably had nothing to lose or had an overwhelming audacity in his heart. I want to say that it is quite difficult to be assured that we have eliminated or at least have complicated the emergence of people like Walid Al Raddadi whilst we see people defending the source from which Walid Al Raddadi had extracted his ideas and the environment to which Al Raddadi belonged.

In all cases, this culturally and socially agitated climate is difficult and complex for us to expect to subside especially when we can see the waters of the Gulf preparing for an Iranian flood, the Iraqi rivers overflowing with blood and the Europeans and Americans seeing danger in every Arab and Muslim. I know that such an outlook is not a modern one; in fact it has its historical roots and backgrounds. However, my point is that the Western view was restricted with laws criminalizing racism and religious intolerance and was also preoccupied by the concerns for welfare and growth and local causes. But, this was only before the spark of friction ignited again and the fires reached their peak owing to the attack on the twin towers of New York.

Now, whatever Bush or Blair says about tolerance, the hearts of people in the west and Muslims are filled with anguish and still feed on what keeps these concerns aflame.

The picture is still bleak even after nearly six years have passed of the war on terror and of the biggest campaign of internal criticism that aimed at political Islam as well as the failures of Arab governments to achieve reform and “rise up” from the status of death and limpness.

We are right back where we started. The waterwheels of old sayings have started running once again.

But doesn’t all this push us to think of another attempt that is stronger than what we have already thought about, learnt and tried over the past years?!

What is the nature of this attempt? Should it be an ideological revolution, a new socio-political rebirth or other forms of cultural forces that aren’t present in our arena?! Perhaps.

What is certain about all this is that we have failed in the war against terror. We have failed to accomplish a rational Arab model; as those who take advantage of the increasing dark spells are those who regress and are the senior terrorists.

Perhaps it is because many of us did not take the threat seriously, or because some of us do not care about anything or even because many of us have lost hope that anything will change in the structure of the Arab bedrock. However, change starts from within each one of us and “Verily Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition,” (Quran 13:11). Unless tolerance exists within the hearts, nothing else can help. Similarly, in the French film ‘Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran [Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Quran], Monsieur Ibrahim Dmarji, the Turkish Muslim grocer in a Paris suburb said to the young French Jewish boy whom he adopted, “Do not search for the truth in books, but search for it in your heart.” During a long car journey from France to Turkey and in one of the villages of Anatolia they attended a performance by Sufi whirling dervishes who spun continuously around themselves. Monsieur Ibrahim told the little boy with eyes filled with tolerance and love: “They whirl around their hearts because the love of God is in their hearts.”

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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