The burkini row in France is another sign that Islamophobia in many countries has reached unprecedented levels. Unfortunately, most of it is fuelled on false assumptions by individuals who prey on the fears of their countrymen to seek an advantage either in the polls or in office. The Republican presidential nominee in the United States, Donald Trump is an excellent example.
Trump is not alone in stoking such lies and preying on the fears of those who are not really aware of all the facts. Many of the recent collection of presidential contenders in the United States lined up to take potshots at Islam and Muslims as they pursued voters. These people are from the same category as their forefathers who burned and lynched Afro-Americans and others of colour before the US Constitution stepped in and protected the minorities.
What has fuelled Islamophobia fears in recent times has been the rise of extremism attributed to Muslim militants. While Muslims the world over quietly condemn the acts of these terrorists whose actions have no link with Islam, they cannot understand the birth of militant groups who go about spreading their brand of terrorism in the name of Islam. But to understand the rise of militant groups like Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Al Qaida and their heinous and abominable attacks on civilians in the US, France, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan and many, many more countries, we must refresh our historical memory.
The roots lie in the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union. Opposition to the Russian forces who invaded Afghanistan was heavily financed and armed under the direction of the then US president Ronald Reagan who feared Soviet expansion and was very suspicious of their ideology. Under Osama Bin Laden, the Mujahideen, an international coalition of militias was organised and provided field training by the CIA and US military advisers and then set about in the war to free Afghanistan from the Communists. They eventually morphed into both Al Qaida and the Taliban.
The Independent in the United Kingdom ominously wrote many years ago that ‘When the history of the Afghan resistance movement is written, Mr Bin Laden’s own contribution to the Mujahideen — and the indirect result of his training and assistance — may turn out to be a turning-point in the recent history of militant fundamentalism’.
Speaking to a gathering of students at an auditorium in the University of Colorado in Boulder in October 1998, just seven months before his death, Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani political scientist, writer, journalist and anti-war activist echoed the words that would one day prove foretelling. He was strongly critical of the Middle Eastern strategy of the US and believed that the US generosity in training and arming independent militia would one day backfire.
He said: “In Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last 400 years, for all practical purposes. It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan … the US saw a rare opportunity to mobilise one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the ‘Evil Empire’. Money started pouring in. CIA agents started going all over the Muslim world, recruiting people to fight in the greatjihad.”
Once the jihad against the Russians was won, Ahmad was concerned that the lust for war in many of the veterans of that conflict would not easily dissipate.
American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky is even more outspoken on this issue. He said: “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: Stop participating in it.”
Bin Laden is gone, but his twisted philosophy remains in the minds of those he left behind. With the fall of Iraq, more militant groups were liberated to form their own strongholds. They went about spreading their form of terror, always using Islam as a cover to justify their warped motives. They do not speak for all Muslims, nor do they embrace Islamic values. They are terrorists and nothing else. They spread their militant ideology through the use of terror. There is no heaven waiting for them. Muslims today must up the ante and demonstrate to a suspicious world we are neither terrorists nor does our religion promote such vile acts. We must reach out to people of other faiths and establish that. Muslims cannot afford to remain silent and inactive. Let us reach out and be heard for what we truly are.
Pat Bergstresser, an American social worker said: “God created everything and for a good purpose. We must put our hearts, minds and spirits together to work on solutions based upon mutual respect and compassion rather than destruction of things that are different. If we destroy what God has created then aren’t we disrespecting God?”
This is the message of Islam.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena