Seyed Rasoul Mousavi

نوامبر 25, 2009

The Dilemma of Radicalism: Different Approaches and Solutions

Filed under: English, مقاله — برچسب‌ها: , , , — سید رسول موسوی @ 12:18 ق.ظ.


Quran as the main holly text in Islam introduces Muslims as Moderate:

و كذالك جعلناكم امته وسطا لتكونوا شهداء علي الناس و يكون الرسول عليكم. بقره 143

«Thus we appointed you as a midmost nation that you might be witness to the people and that the messenger might be a witness to you.»

Furthermore, at the beginning I mentioned «In the name of God, the Companionate the Merciful». This is the verse that has been repeated about 114 times in the Holly Quran. How the followers of such a text could become radical? This is a very important question.

Many researchers have tried to answer this question and we can distinguish their answers in different ways. In this paper I categorize different approaches to Textual, Situational, and Strategic to understand the causes of radicalism. And I think it is the strategic one that has contributed to continuity and expansion of radical movements during the past decades.

Different approaches and solutions: a review

As it was mentioned above, we can distinguish at least between three main approaches: Textual, Situational and Strategic. Situational approach comprise those who emphasis on internal and external situation in the Islamic world. Those who refer to internal situation in the Islamic world as the main cause of expansion of radicalism, emphasize on different aspects like value systems, political systems and social systems. I will try to review these approaches briefly.

Textual approaches refer to some verses in Holly Quran and their interpretation as the main cause of radicalism. They refer to Salafist’s interpretations as a way of thinking and interpreting that has fueled radicalism. They also mention the religious schools in some countries as places that teach such interpretations of Islamic Holly texts. As a solution they ask the governments to close those schools and ban the supporting groups.

If we look at the history of Islamic teaching and scholarship we have had such schools in the past but it had not led to radicalism.

Furthermore, radicalism has been and is a global phenomenon, not limited to Islam. For example Isaac Rabin was killed by a Jewish Radical. Or there are many Christian radical movements in the west and especially in the US. It is also true about other religions, like radical Hindu etc. But in here I want to talk about Islamic Radicalism. To justify their behavior, all of them refer to their religious texts.

Situational Approaches

1-Internal Situations

The second approach emphasis on situation. In this approach we can distinguish between those who emphasis on internal and external situation of Muslim world.  Most of the researchers in the west emphasize on internal situation in the Islamic world as the main cause of expansion of radicalism. However, they emphasize on different aspects. Value system is the most emphasized one. Many people, even among the high ranking politicians in Europe and US has mentioned that the radicals are against freedom, democracy, human rights, rights of women etc. This is why they hate the US or the west. They believe that what’s going on between Radical movements and the West is «A Battle for Global Values»[1]. They call their opponents radical, terrorist, uncivilized and the foe of civilization.

It is needless to say that even current situation in many Islamic countries manifest that Islamic values and western values though not identical but compatible. You witnessed maybe the first example in the Islamic Republic that are two important values of Muslim and western world (Islamic+ republic). They do not mention the behavior of the US and some other powers in different parts of the world. I don’t think that behaviors like occupation, double standard, sanction and invasion are better than terrorism, hatred, etc.

Some others emphasize on tyrannical and corrupted political institutions in the Muslim world as the main cause of frustration and radicalism. They believe that lack of freedom and democracy in some Muslim countries, has led to frustration and hatred toward the west. They emphasize on democracy promotion as the solution. The do not recognize that sanction, occupation, intervention, and securitizing situation in the Islamic countries are the main obstacles of democracy and development. This group and the former do not pay attention to the reasons that dictatorships and corrupted regimes in the Islamic world have been supported by democratic countries during the past six decades.

The third group believes that though the majority of the Muslim world is moderate, however their weakness in comparison to the radicals has led to the domination of these societies by the later. This argument refers to the advantage of radicals over moderates. It is said that the radicals have «money» and «organization» but the moderate’s dose not. «This asymmetry in resources and organization explains why radicals … have influence disproportionate to their numbers.»[2] This approach sees to solution in «creation of moderate Muslim networks» and the United States «has a critical role to play in leveling the playing field for moderates.»[3]

These approaches neglect that the grievances of all Muslim worlds, even liberals and seculars, are similar and somehow identical. These grievances include occupation, intervention, humiliation, sanction; double standard ….As the Gallup world poll of 9000 person in the Muslim countries manifest, Radicals and Moderates has many things in common. Both radicals and moderates admire the west for its technological achievements, democratic procedures and freedom of speech.[4]

If we look at different political movements in the Islamic world during the 20th century, we see that the Islamic radicals are the last. We have experience different National, Social and Liberal, all secular movements with the same dissatisfactions. And it was the western countries that one way or another contributed to their failure both in domestic and foreign policy arena. Now that these groups have lost their political and social bases in the Muslim world, the west is looking for them. They don’t know that the US has lost its credibility even among the liberals and seculars.

2-External Situation

The second group of situational approach emphasizes on the external situation. As I mentioned it is foreign intervention, occupation, invasion and double standard that has led to the creation of appropriate situation for radicalism to grow.

Radicalism as a way of thinking has always existed and will continue to exist. As a psychological problem of a few people, it always exists. But as strong political and military movement, it needs suitable environment. Such an environment has gradually been provided for them during the last decades. And its root cause goes back to narrow minded strategic calculations that still exist in the US and the west.

Behaviors such as occupation, intervention, double standard, sanction etc. that led to creation of current situation in the Islamic world in general and Middle East in particular, stem from the dominant strategic calculation in the west that: «To control the world we need to control the strategic sources and locations». This way of thinking has led to above mentioned behaviors in the Muslim world in General and M.E. in particular. This strategic calculation has not changed, at least, since the cold war bipolar system. The current internal and external situation in the Muslim world is the byproduct of this way of thinking.

Different movements have reacted to this situation. We have had radical (national, liberal and social) movements, all of them secular.  If we just think about how to defeat them, we may succeed, but like the past, it will be replaced by another movement and may be even more dangerous. If we want to resolve the problem, the West in general and the US in particular need to change their way of thinking and behavior.

Democracy and moderation would not grow under a heavily militarized and securitized environment. In order to foster democracy we need the confidence of the people. To have that, occupation, invasion, sanction and intervention must end.

Future perspectives and scenarios:

As it was mentioned, what is going on has nothing to do with values, political systems and economic situation. During the past decades almost all global powers have tried to increase their influence in the Middle East for strategic reasons. The strategic importance of the region has increased during the past few years and it will continue to increase during the coming decade.

1-    US dependence on foreign oil has increased during the last one and a half decade from 42% in 1991 to almost 70% in 2008.

2-    Once again the US faces rising powers with unclear future direction and she needs more instruments to control them.

3-    US allies and friends in the M.E. are facing with many internal challenges and their dependence on US support is increasing.

4-     US involvement in the Persian Gulf and M.E. has increased after sep. 11.

For these reasons, the United States dose not have so many options. US withdrawal from the region will lead to empowerment of both its regional and global rivals.

If the US wants to continue the Bush administration polices, she had to deal with stronger regional and global forces with limited resources. It is not possible without paying huge costs that the US economy cannot tolerate.

The last possible and rational choice for the US is to use its regional and global influence positively to solve regional problems like Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghanistan conflict, and support a regional security framework comprising all regional countries. This option will improve the US image in the Muslim World and paves the way for decreasing huge costs of over-extension of military forces. At the same time, it will contribute to expansion of democracy in the region.

The root of all the problems goes back to the US strategic calculations and behaviors. In order to create a positive image, the US needs to take positive concrete steps to manifest that it is on the side of justice, development and prosperity in the Middle East and the entire world.


[1] . By Tony Blair

[2] . Buliding moderate muslims Networks, p xii.

[3] . ibid.

[4]. John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed, What makes a Muslim radical?,


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