CAIRO – 2 June 2017: In the wake of 9/11 attacks, radical Islam and Islamic extremism emerged as the world’s biggest fears, a monster that kept feeding on uncertainties and ambiguities here and there, until it managed to overshadow the moderate version of the monotheistic religion and associate it with blood, slaughtering, wars and hatred, instead of compassion, peace and coexistence.
The threats of extremism have manifested themselves in too many ways in recent years, whether in civil wars and deadly attacks in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other Arab and Middle Eastern countries, or in numerous terrorist strikes in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and most recently Manchester. Simply, terrorist incidents associated with radical Islamic groups have become a global phenomenon.
A survey conducted by Pew Research Centre between February and April 2017 revealed that across 12 countries, a median of 79 percent of people surveyed were concerned about terrorism in the name of Islam, while only 21 percent were not concerned.
Let’s play-back the scene from this moment in time to the origins of “radical Islam.”
Although, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group or Daesh has lately dominated the scene, crowned notorious queen of radical Islam, groups of radical militants hiding behind the fake mask of Islam have actually kept growing and divaricating over time, until we lost count among their ideologies, agendas and smoking guns.
So what are the key groups imposing this threat of militant Islamist terrorism nowadays; and how do they differ?
The Islamist terrorist organization active in Nigeria, an African country on the Gulf of Guinea, has been responsible for thousands of deaths and attacks on security forces, churches, government institutions and schools since 2003.
Boko Haram’s version of Islam claims that it is forbidden for Muslims to take part in any political activities, including elections; as well as social acts (even wearing shirts or going to secular schools.)
The group is fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government “run by non believers,” as they say, and it seeks to build an Islamic state through bombings and assassinations in Nigeria and abroad.
Al-Shabab (Arabic for Youth):
The Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group emerged between 2004 and 2006. It dominates several areas of Somalia, and has been associated with acts of violence that killed hundreds of soldiers of the African Union mission in Somalia in 2015 and 2016.
The group imposes a strict version of Islamic Shari’a in the areas it controls, such as stoning to death women accused of adultery, and amputating hands of thieves.
Al-Shabab is fighting for a radical theocracy, inspired by the Wahhabi version of Islam. It has been outlawed as a terrorist organization by both the U.K. and the U.S.
Al-Nusra Front (renamed as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham since July 2016):
While Al-Shabab are merely affiliated with Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front has been officially a branch of the latter (even though it reportedly cut ties with Al-Qaeda when it assumed its new name.)
The group claimed several suicide bombings in the early days of the Syrian conflict, targeting militants and civilians. It is also famous for rejecting to pledge allegiance for the Islamic State.
The spoken objectives of Al-Nusra are to establish an “Islamic State” in the Levant and the states of the Mediterranean. However, it is currently mainly active in Syria.
Listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU, Hezbullah is a Shiite Islamist political, military and social organization active in Lebanon.
The group emerged as an opposition front against the Israeli occupation in the early 1980s; however, it later grew into the most prominent and dangerous of the current Shiites militias.
Hezbullah has also managed to take part in Lebanon’s consecutive governments; it is a combination of a political entity, a terrorist group and a resistance movement.
Some parties in the international arena have banned it as a terrorist breed; others consider it a legitimate geopolitical organization.
In early 2016, the Gulf countries and the Arab League declared Hezbullah a terrorist organization, accusing it of "hostile acts."
Originating in 1987, the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization seeks to get rid of Israeli occupation through an armed struggle, and to create an Islamic state in Palestine. It is famous for being the first Islamist group in the Arab world to win political election through the ballot box.
Hamas’s military wing has been designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S., the EU, and the UK.
It has been held responsible for most, if not all, attacks and suicide bombings emanating in the Gaza strip and the West Bank.
The broad-based militant Islamist organization was founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s.
Dominating the scene of dangerous radical Islam for years, Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for loads of attacks on civilians and military targets across the globe, such as the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people, the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 2000 people, and more prominently, the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
A quick summary of the Goals and Objectives of Al-Qaeda was reportedly found in one of the organization’s houses in Afghanistan, stating the following:
''1. Establishing the rule of God on earth.
2. Attaining martyrdom in the cause of God.
3. Purification of the ranks of Islam from the elements of depravity.''
Last but not least, The Islamic State (IS):
The Jihadist group has added a new level of brutality to the phenomenon of radical Islam; it has become notorious for its beheadings, abductions and mass killings in the name of religion.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) main goal is the establishment of an Islamic “caliphate,” governed with Islamic law, or Sharia. In 2014, the militant group renamed itself to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Not only has IS created and added to the chaos and violence in Iraq, Syria and Libya, it has also orchestrated major attacks in Europe and has been linked to terrorist strikes in Australia, Canada and the U.S. And most recently, it claimed the bloody attacks in Egypt, which targeted Coptic Christians.
Radical vs moderate Islam
The concept of an “Islamic State” or the idea of politicized Islam seems to be a common line among all the groups. However, another simple way to sum up the commonalities among radical Islamic groups is to distinguish between those trends and the moderate (true) Muslims.
An article entitled “The Truth about the Moderate Muslim as Seen by the West and its Muslim Followers” has gained quite a momentum in foreign media, authored by Egyptian professor Ahmed Ibrahim Khadr in 2011.
It sets the major distinctions between radical and moderate Muslims, which include (Translated verbally from the article):
“Radicals want the caliphate to return; moderates reject the caliphate.
Radicals want to apply Sharia (Islamic law); moderates reject the application of Sharia.
Radicals reject the idea of renewal and reform, seeing it as a way to conform Islam to Western culture; moderates accept it.
Radicals accept the duty of waging jihad in the path of Allah; moderates reject it.
Radicals reject any criticism whatsoever of Islam; moderates welcome it on the basis of freedom of speech.”
Khadr goes on setting other major differences between moderate (true Muslims) and radicals, including how each perceives freedom of expression, democracy, minorities’ rights and how they consider alliances or cooperation with the west.
Tracing the origins of radical Islam’s notorious threat
Muslim Commentators and experts take the trip all the way back to the seventh Century Kharijites, who were reportedly the first to develop extreme doctrines that set them apart from the mainstream Muslims; and they even adopted the scarecrow of “takfir,” declaring their opponents as nonbelievers and worthy to death. However, a more realistic and contemporary view would stop the time machine at the onset of the twentieth century, with the birth of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his book “The Brotherhood: America’s Next Enemy,” Eric Stakelbeck, CBN News terrorism analyst, portrays the Muslim Brotherhood as the society that “laid down the jihadi gauntlet from the very outset.” He argues that every Islamist terrorist in the modern era started as a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, and was influenced by the ideologues of Sayyid Qutb.
Indeed, before assuming the highest positions of leadership in IS and Al-Qaeda, the world’s three most extremist leaders Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Osama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri all belonged to the ideological school of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Few of the existing militant groups demonstrate a clear-cut connection to the Brotherhood; however, all seem to have stemmed from its ideologies.
Hamas and Al-Qaeda illustrate quite a valid proof.
The history of Hamas starts with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its concern with the Palestinian cause. Some scholars have even considered the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood as the “primary political movement in Gaza” up till 1955.
At the spark of the Palestinian Intifada, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of the MB in Jordan and founder of the Gaza Brotherhood’s social institutions, met with other members of the Brotherhood and founded Hamas, with a new perspective of violent resistance against the occupation.
Hamas’s constitution issued in 1988 stressed on being a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to its founders, Hamas acted as a “wing” of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, while establishing itself as a political movement with independent structure from the Brotherhood.
A more contemporary era of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas started after the Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mursi took power in Egypt in 2012.
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi_(R) meets with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal (L) in Cairo - REUTERS
Unlike the clear-cut connection with Hamas, the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda has been debated for decades. Even though the claims that Bin laden was directly recruited by the Brotherhood have not been confirmed, it is conclusive that his two main Islamic instructors, Muhammad Qutb, Sayid Qutb’s brother, and Abdullah al-Azzam, were affiliated with the Brotherhood.
The Foundation for the Defence of Democracy in Washington has also confirmed that at least five leading members in Al-Qaeda were initially brotherhood members: Ayman Al Zawahiri; the Egyptian Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attack; Abdallah Azzam, former member in the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood and co founder of Hamas and Al-Qaeda; and Hassan Turabi, a prominent MB member who hosted Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders have also admitted, on many occasions, an ideological connection with Al-Qaeda; even though, they denounced their violent means. In an interview with Mahdy Akef, former Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood in Egypt, he called Bin laden a “mujahid,” and confirmed that the Brotherhood supported the activities of Al-Qaeda against the occupier.
Founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan el-Banna (Middle) -
So, the time machine seems to stop in 1928, when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood emerged to stand up against the rise of Western imperialism and the decline of Islamic virtues. Although, it has never been as hostile or aggressive as the current militant groups, the Brotherhood did pioneer the idea of restoring the Islamic Caliphate; and gave birth to the extremist ideology that regenerated over time.
“Islam requires that the Muslim community unite around one leader or one head, the head of the Islamic State, and it forbids the Muslim community from being divided among states…” the MB founder Hassan el-Banna reportedly stated, setting the premise for the gory caliphate that is taking more and more lives every day .