Islamists come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very well educated and hold senior jobs. Others are not educated at all and might suffer from poverty or unemployment. Some believe in gradual change. Others cannot wait for instant and dramatic change. Some believe they can endure living with non-Islamists until further notice. Others believe that it is time for further notice.
The Islamists are neither a homogenous group, nor do they share common social, economic or even psychological backgrounds. But one thing they have in common is that their ultimate dream is an Islamic state. And despite the fact that the term “Islamic state” has several definitions, characteristics and shapes, for them most differences can be overridden until the dream starts to become true.
The Machiavellian rule that “the end justifies the means” has probably never been applied more smartly or efficiently than by the Islamists, especially those residing in the West. The peaceful, law-abiding, love-for-all and hatred-for-none Islamists living in London, New York, Vienna, Berlin, The Hague, Melbourne, Paris, Cologne and other cities in the West are not the norm in their home countries.
There are huge differences between the Islamists residing over there and their counterparts living here. And what lies beneath the smooth, loving faces over there is not always a reflection of what lies beneath their plans and ultimate goals.
A friend who has extensive experience abroad and mingling with Islamists who have migrated from their Muslim and Arab homelands seeking better lives once wrote a post on Facebook shedding light on the extremism of some Muslim communities living in the West. Even though he started his post by expressing bewilderment as to why religious extremism attracts some Muslims in Europe and the United States, his words carry a great deal of the answer.
“The extremism of some Muslims living in the West has always surprised me, not only when it comes to their appearances and rituals, but also with regards to the way they apprehend religion,” he wrote. He went on to recount memories of attending Friday prayer in Holland in the 1990s, at which the imam elaborated on the necessity of all females, young children included, abiding by the Muslim dress code.
My friend was shocked at the aggressive and radical tone with which the man spoke and the way he seemed to mesmerise his audience. “The sermon was filled with the spice that the radical religious discourse uses: establishing a caliphate, applying Sharia Law, conquering apostate governments, the Jews and America, and of course suppressing and dominating women,” he wrote.
What is said behind the closed doors of some mosques and Islamic centres in many countries remains unknown to outsiders. And if known, the effect of such words can be underestimated. It is true that most countries in the West have now woken up to the nightmare of the Islamic State (IS) group banging on their doors from within, realising that a culture of terror wearing the mask of religion is home-grown, yet the dangers of the Islamists may still be underestimated.
The thin line that separates freedom of expression on the one hand and hate speech on the other may be blurred in many countries of the world that strongly adhere to human rights. I remember a few years ago I witnessed a debate in London when a group of Ahmadi Muslims living in Britain decided to build one of the biggest mosques in Western Europe in a suburb of the UK capital. Many local residents expressed objections, fearing changes in the architectural spirit of the place.
Others were worried at the growing Muslim community and a change in the London they knew. A third group lobbied against the mosque, reflecting standard Islamophobia. At the time, many human rights groups and individuals lobbied for the right of the Ahmadi Muslims to have their mosque as long as the architecture abided by the law.
The word “law” is critical. What many in the West fail to understand when it comes to why the Islamists are more dangerous in their homelands and why some countries such as Egypt have decided to get rid of their rule has to do with law and democracy.
The idea of democracy marketed by the West as the optimum for all human communities is based on a system where laws, rather than individuals, rule. The rule of law in a democracy protects the rights of citizens, maintains order and limits the power of government.
The West has taught us that all citizens are equal under the law in a democracy. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group or gender. But in a system where religion rules, it is followers of that specific religion who rule. And it is those followers, and more specifically those who exercise authority within the hierarchy of the governing religion, who decide who gets what, when and where.
Does this sound like the Middle Ages? It should. No matter how much the Islamists get radicalised in the West, or even what sort of terrorist activities they perform if recruited or attracted to IS and other groups, they still get judged according to the rule of man-made law, not “divine” law as interpreted by specific theologians at a specific time.
While many countries in the West are starting to immunise themselves and their younger generations, including Muslim migrants, against radicalisation and their becoming involved in acts of terror, these same countries are still pushing us to “include” the Islamists in our “newly developing democracies”. They cannot grasp the idea that democracy and Islamism or any other sort of mixture between religion and politics do not mix.
Efforts to make us believe that “mild” Political Islam should be part of the political process in Egypt reflects either a lack of understanding or a deliberate plan to turn the country over to chaos.
UK diplomat Sir John Jenkins, formerly British ambassador to several Arab countries and head of a committee assigned by the British government to prepare a report on Muslim Brotherhood activities in the UK, complained that the mission to reach an accord among discordant approaches towards the Brotherhood was beyond his capabilities.
Jenkins was asked in March 2014 by then British prime minister David Cameron to lead a review into the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK. The report, delayed for months amid disputes about how strongly it should say the Brotherhood was linked to terrorism, assessed views in the Muslim Brotherhood about violence and the use of terrorism in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and other national chapters. Jenkins concluded that it was not possible to reconcile such views with the claim made by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in its evidence to the review that “the Muslim Brotherhood has consistently adhered to peaceful means of opposition, renouncing all forms of violence throughout its existence.”
The report showed that “the Muslim Brothers have engaged politically where possible, but they have also selectively used violence and sometimes terror in pursuit of their institutional goals. Their public narrative — notably in the West — have emphasised engagement not violence. But there have been significant differences between Muslim Brotherhood communications in English and Arabic,” it said.
A few weeks ago in an article in the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Jenkins warned of overreacting towards IS and Al-Qaeda, while turning a blind eye to the real issues. He was referring to the ability of the Political Islam ideology to mobilise small groups that include activists who might get involved in various political practices, such as incitement to revolutionary violence or even ousting regimes.
But despite what the veteran diplomat and authority on Islamism warned against and documented in his report, many Western countries are still defending the mixture of politics and religion in countries that have been plagued by Political Islam. The Islamists over there might be doves, but over here they are more like vultures.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly