Extremism is currently in a very good state; it is experiencing a golden age and is expanding geographically. It has emerged from the tunnels and the caves and has become a part of public life, even acquainting itself with media outlets. It has established parties, nominated candidates, and entered parliament chanting slogans of freedom, justice, and dignity. Yet despite these manifestations of civility, some extremists continue to label others as infidels, disbelievers and atheists, provoke divisions within society, and spark sedition by adopting radical views that are typified by intellectual distortions and narrow-mindedness. As a result, the “armed” extremist current continues to emerge under vague names, but carrying the same ominous ideology.
Extremism has reared its head in North Africa-in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Mali-and still enjoys a strong presence in Yemen, Somalia, and other hotspots.
The extremist ideology and its adherent organizations have served as a magnet attracting foreign intervention into the Islamic world’s affairs. This in turn has resulted in the systematic and ongoing killings of hundreds of innocent Muslims. Yet one is still amazed by the schemes and tricks of these extremist groups that continue to justify the great evil they are committing.
Here, the responsibility must be placed primarily on the Muslims themselves to confront this ideology and those groups, for this is not the role of states such as the US, France or Britain.
The Islamic world continues to deal with extremists as groups adhering to a different “culture” with different “opinions”. Yet even free and democratic societies are aware that there must be limits to protect freedom against whoever abuses it. For example, Western societies have dealt with neo-Nazi groups as a cancer threatening break up the social structure they are seeking to strengthen, and so these societies have sought to criminalize such groups and curb the spread of their ideology, even if everyone in these countries is theoretically “allowed” to express their opinions freely.
What happened recently in Mali, for example, was a flagrant assault committed by groups of outlaws (who are not originally from Mali, but rather have come from abroad to occupy territories there and then declare the establishment of an Islamic republic compliant with Sharia law). Remarkably, these events gained sympathy and understanding from a considerable portion of the Islamic world. People strove to justify the actions of these extremists and provide explanations for them, neglecting the magnitude of the damage caused or the huge negative repercussions.
Extremism has come now to power, or at least it is participating in it, as well as in the political, social, and economic decision-making process in general.
The criminal and despotic nature of these extremist groups is increasing in proportion to their strength and capabilities. The ideology itself remains intact and there are still those who continue to adopt, advocate, and justify extremist acts on the basis that their underlying rationale is drawn from Islamic culture, which must be appreciated, respected, and championed.
This confusion in concepts can help to transform an absolute truth or bare fact into an illusion and vice-versa, and this explains why we see continuing heinous accusations and death threats being leveled against anyone adopting a contrary opinion. This also explains the attacks that are regularly launched against intellectual and patriotic symbols, under the pretext that they are supporters of secularism and Westernization.
Mali is not the last stop for the extremist train; it is merely a station along the way.
We are facing a potentially lethal path towards further bloodshed in the region, and nevertheless the issue of extremism is still being handled with kid gloves. We see the same scenes time and time again and they will only serve as license for intervention in our countries’ internal affairs, whether militarily or intellectually, as long as the Muslims fail to take control.
We are facing the greatest challenge the Islamic nation has ever faced since the first fitna [sedition] that emerged following the reign of the rightly-guided Caliphs. These recent events can be considered another fitna, and the price will be exorbitant if it is handled in the wrong manner.
Mali is not the final stop, remember this well.