Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Defeating ‘Daeshism’

Military strategies to confront Islamic State group terrorists will not alone defeat the ideas on which Islamic State thrives. A new and concerted effort is required for that, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

Political analysts now commonly make a distinction between “terrorism” and “terrorists”. The former is an “act”, and before that a “concept” which, as I have previously discussed, has its origins in the political thought of the Kharijites. The latter refers to the members of a movement that transforms — or tries to transform — the idea into reality.

Observers and analysts also generally agree that the state will ultimately prevail in its fight against terrorists, regardless of their strength, because the balance of power is always on the side of the state (that is, if the state has not collapsed). But the same cannot be said with regard to success in the fight against terrorism. The idea remains strong and pervasive because it has an element of faith that fires ardour and an element of doctrine that commands sacrifice.

A differentiation of this sort can be made between “Daeshists” and “Daeshism”. The former are graduates of the various schools of terrorism, sometimes literally, given that Daesh (Islamic State group) organisations are merely the result of schisms in the notorious Al-Qaeda organisation.

Sometimes, observers remark on differences in degree between Daesh organisations and their predecessors, whether in extremism and fanaticism, in ignorance and stupidity, or in the extent to which military action is prioritised to the exclusion of “political” action. Observers also note the degree of brutality that characterises the Daeshists, their strategies of disseminating fear and propaganda using state-of-the-art technologies and, lastly, their race against their terrorist predecessors to control and dominate the so-called “caliphate” state that emerged from the realm of ideas to reality — or so they claim.

The current international drive against Daeshists, as slow as it seems, has scored a degree of progress that was unimaginable a year ago due to divergent aims and interests. However, direct Russian intervention on the ground in Syria marked a turning point, not just in the politics of the Middle East but in global politics as well. From the military standpoint, Daesh is shrinking.

If, as appears likely, the current diplomatic efforts succeed in bringing an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the Daesh entity will be isolated in a patch of territory straddling Syria and Iraq and will be deprived of an active alternative on Libyan territory. The road forward will be far from easy, of course. But the fact is that the only other alternative for regional and international powers is to bow to more terrorism, more refugees and more offence to the Islamic faith, all of which are clearly unacceptable.

 Still, the foregoing military dimensions do not solve the original problem: the “Daesh” idea or concept. It is this that attracts recruits, draws them from all quarters of the world and propels them to kill their fellow human beings, from California to Paris.

Ali Bakr, a researcher in Islamist affairs, has identified a set of “core” ideas in the terrorist concept that form the “common denominator” between all its branches, including “Daeshism”. He enumerates eight: al-hakimiyya (sovereignty of God over human affairs); al-jahiliyya and al-takfir (the pre-Islamic state of ignorance and condemnation of heresy); al-inizal and hijra (insulation and migration from heretic society); al-walaa and baraa (loyalty and purity), the duty to change the evildoer, the duty of jihad, the inevitability of confrontation against the heretic world, and the duty to attack foreigners and “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) at home.

This set of ideas has engendered gross distortions of and departures from the fundamental principles and spirit of the Islamic faith and creed. At the same time, they have become one of terrorism’s instruments for disseminating fear and panic in the hearts of believers, perhaps to a degree unprecedented in Islamic history or even in human history.

Amazingly, refuting these ideas theologically does not require extensive probing into the relevant sources and exegeses in the branches of Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Sometimes, all that is needed is a thorough understanding of the Arabic language and the meaning of words at the time of the Islamic Revelation.

I do not intend to discuss these ideas further here, but perhaps it would be useful to add a useful point that has to do with the historical setting in which most of these ideas were reformulated, in what is tantamount to a large and ongoing conspiracy against the Muslim people and the Islamic faith through processes of labelling “enemies” whose heads need to be cut off.

This setting is characterised by a perpetual state of acute polarisation between “good” — on which side the terrorists and their colleagues find themselves — and “evil” (namely everyone else), and by a perpetual state of inevitable conflict. This notion has had the effect of globally isolating Islamic countries and keeping them remote from the centres of development and areas of influence. It has also worked to place the Muslim people and the Islamic faith under the glare of doubt and suspicion.

In a world that is complicated enough due to the interplays of commerce, travel and major technological revolutions, a condition such as this triggers flare-ups of conservatism, ultra-conservatism and even fascism, which target Islam and the Muslim people. It is sufficient here to observe developments during the Republican and Democratic primaries in the US, which reflect the alarmingly rapid growth in such trends.

In Europe, where there were surges of sympathy for refugees from Arab countries inspiring a number of humanitarian responses, such sentiments quickly receded when it was discovered that some of those core ideas had penetrated among the masses of people fleeing the fields of bloodshed and destruction in the Arab and Islamic countries of the Middle East.

Combatting terrorist ideas require more than just refuting them. Correct alternatives need to be put out there and placed in their appropriate historical context. During the past decades, perhaps since the early 1970s, there arose an immense ideological vacuum in this region. Like all other vacuums, this one was begging to be filled, and all sorts of mad ideas and notions began to search for vacant slots.

They soon began to wreak their heavy toll in the form of assassinations, organised violence and, ultimately, the destruction of states, whether by riding revolutionary crests, capitalising on sectarian tensions, or playing every available divisive and destructive gambit. Therefore, the advocates of renewing religious thought they should be at the forefront of the revolution against terrorism and “Daeshism”, and not just the battle against terrorists and “Daeshists”. The two arenas are intimately connected. It is the idea that lures, recruits and generates those states of lunacy that drive some people into waging personal wars that result in horrific massacres.

Refilling the ideological vacuum is a major battle that demands intensive efforts. It involves not merely the search for truths with regard to religion, the people and their history, but also processes of conveying such truths to Muslim masses around the world.

This, in turn, requires a new language — one that is less pedantic and more straightforward; a language that is, above all, more human and knows how to convey its humanitarian substance, via modern communication technologies, in ways that can influence the generations of youth who are targeted by demonic forces trained in psychological techniques for penetrating young minds thirsting for new ideas.

Ultimately, victory over Daesh is possible and even likely. But we must bear in mind that we cannot defeat Daesh without defeating Daeshism.


The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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