Islamism is a legitimate participant in democratic processes and a key challenge to extremism
Recent events in Egypt have outraged many who believe in justice, fairness and democracy. The brutality of the current regime in Egypt that killed hundreds of people; the double standards of the western countries, particularly the United States for whom democracy and human rights only apply if other countries follow their agenda; and the extent to which leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia have openly supported the killing of innocent people have provoked anger and frustration worldwide. There is an alarming pattern of anti-Islamism spreading in different parts of the world led by secular fundamentalists among others. Supported by sympathetic media, these so-called modernists or liberals are attacking their political enemies by employing tactics that are not only patronising but also aggressive and unethical.
Political Islam, which its followers call ‘Islamic Movement’, began in the first half of the last century with two major strands – one in the Middle East and the other in South Asia. Hasan Al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, which is now the largest Islamic organisation in the Middle East, while the Jamaat-e-Islami, founded by Abul Ala Mawdudi in 1941, spans South Asia. Both movements have a similar ideological stance: to establish an Islamically inspired state through democratic means. Both movements have been subject to oppression and disbanding by dictators only to come out stronger each time. Some elements of the Brotherhood broke away to take a more extremist position, but the mainstream have remained peaceful and democratic through trial and tribulation despite provocations from the establishment, political enemies and large sections of the media.
A small number of extremists are creating unnecessary terror and receiving widespread media coverage while the moderation of 99% of Muslims remains largely unheard. The US and its European allies are spending billions to counter these extremists and are struggling to cope with the wildfire that has spread in different parts of the world. Their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed miserably and created a permanent scar in their relationship with the Muslim world. Contrary to containing the extremists, they are fueling the fire by not addressing the real reasons of radicalisation, particularly in the western world.
At this critical time it is political Islam that could be the solution. Islamic movements like Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami call for Islamic politics through a free and fair democratic process, just as any other party would. If people like their political ideologies they can vote them to power. If they fail in their governance they can be voted out of power. What is the problem with that? Isn’t this that the west practices too?
Why western governments, media, and secular fundamentalists within Muslim countries are so against these movements need some thought. It would appear that this attitude is the implementation of Samuel Huntington’s theory on the clash of civilisations; a deliberate attempt to make Islamic civilisation, particularly in the form of political Islam, a threat to western civilisation. Secularists in the Muslim world are knowingly or unknowingly complicit in this narrative. The peaceful democracy that mainstream political Islam stands for counters the portrayal of Islam as ‘a religion of terror’ and establishes that there is no real clash of civilisations, that Islam can play a valued role in wider society and be included as a valid contributor to mainstream politics. It invalidates the War on Terror, which means billions of dollars of weapons industry will collapse; undoubtedly a key factor in the conflict. However, by propagating that Islamists are extremists and fundamentalists as part of the War on Terror narrative, rather than countering extremism many Muslim’s are being disenfranchised, which contributes to frustration and potential radicalisation. The success of democratic political Islam can counter this.
I am a well-wisher of both the Islamic movements and feel that these two movements have a lot to do in order to actually achieve what their founders had envisioned all those years ago. While the concept actually represents the way of the Prophet (PBUH)*, the methodology needs some fine-tuning as well as modernising. There have been mistakes along the way for which the movements have not yet gained the public support they deserve. On the other hand, the panic against Islamists promoted by the west, large sections of the media, the undemocratic rulers of the Middle East and local secularists is largely disproportionate and superficial. If the west had genuine sincerity about solving the problem of extremism, then political Islam would be the best option; yet they actively resist them. Why they are doing this is anybody’s guess.
The Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Morsi won the election over a year ago by a narrow margin to become the first ever democratically elected president of the country. Though commendable as an individual, he and his party made some crucial mistakes while in power giving their opponents much ammunition. Many Egyptians failed to understand that this was a deliberate project to eradicate ‘Islamists’ and weaken democracy, and jumped onto the bandwagon to oust Morsi from power, even if it meant a military intervention. They failed to realise the consequence of such actions on their fledgling democracy. The process of ousting an elected government should be the ballot box; but here the bullet had the last word. The consequences are immense. Egypt is in a terrible state with hundreds of civilians killed, an uncertain political future looming and a suffering economy due to the violent instability. Egyptians are facing brutality on a scale that even Mubarak didn’t dare to commit. Meanwhile Israel is pleased to see an unstable Egypt, the western world is pleased to see the demise of an ‘Islamist’ government (which may lead to extremism and further proliferation of the war on terror), and undemocratic rulers like the Saudi King are pleased to see the death of the Arab Spring and the further securing of their power.
There are some striking similarities between Egypt and Bangladesh, particularly in the way Islamists are being demonised and persecuted by secular fundamentalists. The two Islamic movements, Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, are now on the verge of being banned in these two countries with their leaders behind the bars. I sincerely hope that adherents of these movements will keep patience as they have shown before and will not turn violent. I expect them not to fall into the trap created by all these provocations. If they follow the path of the Prophet (PBUH) and remain steadfast in their cause through peaceful means, make some necessary reforms within their organisations while regrouping and remain closer to the people, serving them as they should, there will be much hope for their future.
The sooner the western world realises that political Islam is actually the solution to the problem of extremism the better it is for all. Let all transfers of power be through inclusive democratic elections. Rather than show a hypocritical affinity for democracy, let’s embrace and support its values. If Islamists win the hearts of their fellow citizens, let them run their countries until their term comes to an end.
*Muslims repeat “peace be upon him” abbreviated to PBUH at the mention of the Prophet Muhammad.
Image from: http://www.moroccoworldnews.com
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