Eradicating Radical Islam
Pax Americana Institute staff
8 October, 2018
The attacks perpetrated on September 11, 2001, though not the first acts of terror committed by radical Islamic groups, thrust America into a state of chaos and war which has continued through today. 17 years of war stretching across multiple theaters of operation have seen the death of over 6,900 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. (ICasualties) Rolling back the operational abilities of terrorist organizations through a multitude of different methods while simultaneously de-incentivizing would-be recruits from joining them are necessary to the successful eradication of radical Islam. Total elimination of the radical Islamic ideology, that which would see the entire free world and more specifically the United States submit to an irrational and ungroundable form of religious totalitarianism, is the only way to instill lasting peace throughout the world.
The United States is the primary target for those wishing to impose their radicalized Islamic rule over the world. The US stands today as Abraham Lincoln said in 1862, the “last best hope of earth.” (Lincoln) As the United States remains the arbiter for peace across the globe, radical Islamic groups will continue to push for its removal. Democratic institutions hinder the furthering of the radical Islamic mindset by allowing people to choose different outlets for all aspects of life, from faith to clothing style. These institutions have long been supported by the United States both domestically and abroad and have been applied during almost every single intervention by the US. The aspects of American intervention all across the world which support the institutions above is precisely why radical Islamic groups continue to fight, knowing there can be no middle ground. Threatened by US action, the war waged by radicals will continue to grow unless properly and totally eliminated. In the words of Michael Morrell, former American intelligence analyst and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, “The world is going to become an even more dangerous place regarding international terrorism.” (Morell, 301) The United States can not afford, for its own people and those residing within the free world, to lay dormant during the turbulent times of now and those ahead.
The history of Islam as a whole plays a significant role in the rationalizations that modern extremist groups use to justify their actions. Though many Muslims would claim that the history of their religion is largely peaceful, the fact remains that radicals use the past as a basis for their actions. Failing to address which portions of history support the radical ideology in Islam is inherently self-defeating to the end goal. Failure to address the rationale of groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Qaeda, from either appeasement or ignorance, have put the War on Terror in a bind.
Though many of the prophets and authority figures of Christianity are used by Islam, the main point at which most of Islam attributes its beginnings is after the birth of the prophet Muhammad around 570 AD. Muhammad claimed to have been spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in a cave on Mount Hira, a mountain close to Mecca, and was required to recite five verses of the Quran which stated that Allah was, “the Creator of man and the Source of all knowledge.” (Nawwab, et al.) Muhammad, in preaching his new found messages, was met with reluctance and retaliation. Those that did choose to follow Muhammad found themselves persecuted within Mecca and eventually fled to Medina. This would be the first rationalization that modern groups take from history, claiming that their actions today are a reflection of the actions taken against them during the early days of the religion.
A more militaristic piece of history came about next on the timeline of Islam. As support for Muhammad and his message grew, the citizens of Medina choose to unite under a single faith as opposed to maintaining individual tribal sects. Once strong enough, Muhammad led a conquest against those he considered pagans living in Mecca. The attacks, overwhelmingly successful on both an ideological front as well as a tactical front, saw those that would not follow Muhammad driven away. After consolidating, the clans accepting the teachings of Islam formed a federation under what would be called the Constitution of Medina. (Nawwab, et al.) Both the attacks and the constitution are used by radicals to justify their causes and methodologies. The militaristic past is used as a cornerstone for the current attacks, making claims along historical lines of driving out non-believers. The Constitution of Medina is utilized in the ideological front, twisted and manipulated in order to encourage what would be “moderate” Muslims to carry out their bidding.
Finally, perhaps the most important piece of Islamic history which is used today by radical groups everywhere, comes to fruition. After the clans chose to consolidate power, Muhammad sent letters to “the King of Persia, the Emperor of Byzantium, the Negus of Abyssinia, and the Governor of Egypt among others” asking them to submit to Islam peacefully, or face annihilation. (Nawwab, et al.) Muhammad would go on to lead a final conquest against Mecca, surrounding and taking control of the city. This final act was enshrined as Muhammad’s last great expedition as he died shortly after taking his some 15,000 soldiers to fight against those who would not follow him. (Nawwab, et al.) Today, radical groups see their missions as the modern manifestation of Muhammad’s journey and the continuation of his ultimate goal. To convert or kill is the methodology, seeing a world under a single Islamic rule is the end goal. The history of Islam does not necessarily guarantee that modern Muslims will be violent or have any tendency to kill non-believers. Instead, it should be understood that the history has laid the stepping stones for today’s radical terrorist organizations.
Also shaped largely by history, not just in the Islamic community but throughout the world, is culture. Culture is a major factor in each person’s decision-making process, laying out a system of beliefs and interpretations for any given situation. The cultural aspects and standards by which an individual grows up abiding to help determine what and how they will think as an adult. In Islam, violence against disbelief has largely been a prominent characteristic of the religion itself. At the spearhead of this disbelief conflict lies the idea of jihad, one of the most controversial and somewhat misunderstood concepts within Islam. Jihad, which is often translated as “holy war” but is more accurately translated as “holy struggle,” can be separated into two different categories which in turn break down to two more for each. (Pooles) In the first category comes internal jihad or the internal struggle against disbelief. Internal, in this sense, is understood as the individuals struggle with disbelief within themselves. The second of the jihad categories is external jihad, or the struggle against disbelief in correlation with other individuals.
As stated, both categories of jihad can be broken down again, this time into peaceful and violent. Peaceful internal jihad largely revolves around prayer and self-reflection, fighting with disbelief by focusing the mind and spirit to become a perceivably better follower of the religion. Internal violent jihad would reflect something like flagellation, or whipping oneself in an attempt to make up for or prevent sins. (Abbot) Both methods of internal jihad can only affect the individual partaking in them, hence the internal aspect. This being said, internal violent jihad can set a standard by which it is okay to use violence in the absence of belief in order to motivate or force belief onto an individual.
External jihad is usually where the argument for and against Islam as a whole turns into an ideological mess surrounded by misunderstanding. External jihad, like internal, can follow along two general paths, peaceful and violent. Peaceful external jihad looks something like public preaching or public displays of the religion in a manner that is considered helpful to others. Anything from volunteer service to food pantry donations in the name of Islam would fall into this category. Violent jihad is the second course of action in the external category, causing issues of terror propagation and widespread fear of even “moderate” Muslims. External, violent jihad is rationalized for by modern day radical organizations by use of the hadith, the collections of teachings of Muhammad, and the direct attempt to model after what they perceive the prophet, Muhammad, to have been. (Achilov, 443) Further rationale for violence comes from use of the Qur’an whereas fundamentalists will interpret the struggles and suffering endured during external, violent jihad as a show of commitment to the cause. (Achilov, 446)
Jihad is a large portion of the culture which is used to justify the actions of radical groups. Though irrational, these groups use the religion and its regulations to impose their will upon other people, something which divides the non-Islamic world further apart on how to deal with the radicalization issue. Many aspects of culture can play a role, but often the ones which are prominent where the United States is currently conducting military operations, such as tribal leadership style, education or lack thereof and economic faults, are not indicative of someone who would support radicalization or terrorism. The wealth of a nation is often used to assess why those living in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan choose to radicalize but does not hold overwhelming weight in the argument. The largest supporters of terrorism actually fall to countries rich in resources with respectable GDPs per capita as adjusted for the purchasing power parity. Saudi Arabia, which was described by Hillary Clinton during her time as Secretary of State as “a critical source of terrorist funding,” and Qatar, which bolsters support for the political wing of Hamas by providing a safe haven, both maintain a GDP per capita (PPP) of $55,300 and $124,000 respectively. (CIA) (Mendis, et al.)
Those who choose to radicalize do not do it out of a lack of funding. Though poorer countries often serve as the training grounds for terrorist organizations, the majority of recruits and material support do not originate in the countries where training takes place. Instead, the correlation between poor countries and terrorist organizations falls down to the lack of organizational policing available in poorer nations, making training sites and black market goods readily available. Along with the idea that poor countries are suppliers of radicalized individuals often comes the notion that recruits and supporters are uneducated. Education has largely been regarded as a major factor in any given person’s decision to radicalize when in fact it holds very little weight. In a study conducted by the World Bank, it was found that 25.4% of foreign recruits to IS have university-level education and 43.3% maintained at least a secondary level of education. Only 13.5% have only an education level of primary education, and a mere 1.6% were illiterate. (Devarajan, et al. 15) Much like the economic argument, the education level of radical supporters is significantly different than the locations in which radical groups find haven.
The educational and wealth level of those supporting terrorism is also seen through the actual lenders of money and resources. The Saudi government and its prominent princes have long supported the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. (Carpenter) From within the Pakistani government, hardware and weapons were turned over to taliban forces in the 1990s which sprung them from “competing factions” into a substantial military threat. (Carpenter) Other significant examples of terrorism sponsorship from prominent, educated wealthy come from China, where many would never imagine to look. Whether it be through ideological support or an attempt to counter western influence through proxy wars, China has continued to supply “sensitive military technology to countries that have been sponsors of terrorism.” (Carpenter) These examples solidify the idea that the extremist ideology does not simply attack the poor and uneducated, but is also a way for anti-western ideologists to counter the United States.
Keeping the historical, cultural, economic and educational factors in mind can help to formulate a plan to move forward on the ultimate eradication of radicalized Islam. Laying out the components of radicalization and how they relate to modern-day terrorist organizations paints a picture with significant political roots which have been both inflamed and capitalized on by radical Islamic group leaders. Individual terrorist attacks in support of any organization and located in any given country have always had political ramifications and have always been viewed, by the radical community, as catalysts for change. Inadvertently, the fear spread by radical Islamic organizations, the fear that they use as a controlling factor, has largely backfired in the political atmosphere of the free world.
All the pieces above make radical Islam prominent and thus dangerous, to both the Islamic community as a whole and all those other residents of the world. Though not the first time the US or the world had been brought to the reality of the threat posed by radical Islamic groups, the attacks on 9/11 struck a chord which has continued to hold the attention of the free world. Conducted heavily by the US and sometimes with support from other international actors, many operations have been undertaken since the attacks in order to fight radical Islam. The invasion of Afghanistan by United States special operations forces in October of 2001 kicked off the Global War on Terror which has seen fighting until today, making it the longest running war the United States has ever been a part of. (Collins) This being said, military operations are only part of the picture that is the War on Terror. Nation building, aiding in aspects such as education, cross military training, and infrastructure construction, has been one of the United States militaries operational undertakings from Afghanistan to Nigeria. In Pakistan, the involvement in nation building and education came as a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission Report, understanding that democratic institutions are vital to lasting peace as long as Pakistani leaders are willing to work with the United States. (Keen, Hamilton, 369)
A multi-faceted approach to the War on Terror needs to be created and communicated. Driving forward with the end goal of peace in mind is a noble cause for both the United States, who has maintained the position as the spearhead of the War on Terror, as well as the Islamic community as a whole. The plan to fight radicalized Islam, and eventually defeat it, has been largely miscommunicated to the public as a government overthrow operation confined mostly to Afghanistan and thus has seen issues with support. In the public sphere as of late, have been United States operations in Africa which have garnered a negative reaction from places like The New York Times where an article was published under the title of “An Endless War.” (Callimachi, et al.) Part of the problem is the lack of understanding of the long-term goals of building up nations so that they can fight independently of US support. Nations like Niger never could counter radicalization through military efforts; the US provides the necessary training for that to manifest itself in reality.
Changing the name of the War on Terror to the War on Radical Islamic Ideology spreads light on the overarching issue and puts in plain sight who the real enemy is. (Habeck, 174) Terrorism is the side effect of a radical ideology and treating the symptom as opposed to treating the cause cannot help to cure the disease. In combat zones, a hard line needs to be drawn in order to clear out locations which have been taken under control by radical organizations. This style of military operation, largely reflective of the Invasion of Iraq and battle of Fallujah, revolves around an ultimatum of leaving or getting treated as a terrorist. In addition to this, nations which allow radical groups to find haven within their borders cannot be tolerated and should be placed under heavy sanctions until they cease any and all activity with radical organizations. If a nation fails to comply with this and the organizations within their borders continue to operate they should be met with military force. This idea was also outlined in the 9/11 commission report, stating, “one of the lessons of the long Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most repressive and brutal government were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.” (Keen, Hamilton, 376)
Shedding light on education and propagating governments and individuals is another vital step in moving toward a peaceful future. Education on what Islam has been and the connections the religion has to radicalization is key to solving the issues at hand. Just as it would be irrational to call all Muslims evil, it would be self-defeating to claim radicalization has nothing to do with Islam itself. (Habeck, 41) Holding people like Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for publicly claiming that women had the right to education, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-proclaimed Islamic reformist from Somalia, on a pedestal and making them cornerstones for a modern and peaceful Islam gives a vision of working progress. (The Malala Fund) (The AHA Foundation)
Changing the mindset of followers, Islamic leaders and nations as a whole are neither easy nor quick, requiring resources and time on a paramount level. Radical Islamists do not share the end goal of world peace; they instead seek to control the world with an irrational ideology which persecutes those beneath its reach. If the United States and the other members of the free world do not choose to stand for a change and dedicate the resources necessary to ending radical Islam in the world, the suicidal and terroristic Islamic organizations will continue on their warpath not fearing death. The only way to find a stable future is to eradicate radical Islam.
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