Combating violent extremism is complex. The fact that violent extremism persists indicates that our ways of combating it has not worked. In a global society violent extremism cannot be bombed away, walled away, or insulted away.
Moreover, it is difficult to defeat a people who are willing to die for their ideology. We do not need to defeat them but win them over with a better ideology. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Extremists and homegrown terrorists are people who are looking for direction and inspiration in their lives. They are attracted to the ISIL and their like because they see direction and action no matter how misguided. These people see the hypocrisy in their political and religious leaders and find honesty of purpose in the extremists who espouse an ideology of eradicating “evil.”
The solution is to surmount the ideology of fringe by the ideology of Prophet Muhammad. Contrary to the claim of extremists, Muhammad used love, compassion, education, patience, and prayers to win the hearts of the people. United, we can address the misguided ideologies of Wahabis, Salafis, and Maududis, and have them banished not by legislation but by popular disgust.
This requires that in all circumstances we must stand up for truth, righteousness, fair dealing, and justice. We must win the hearts of the people. This is the true version of Islam that will trump all aberrant ideologies that lead to cruel and repellent behavior unbecoming of humans.
For both the West and for Muslims, this means we identify and support Muslims that exemplify the true Islamic teachings of moderation and justice in all affairs. The press and media should educate themselves and not spew ignorant and false propaganda. This is going to be a painful struggle and will require education and prayers and God-fearing people who act honestly and justly.
We in the West have been enablers and facilitators by our support for dictators, tyrants and despots. When the CIA was training Osama bin Laden, no attention was paid to what the masses were being taught in these Muslim majority nations. This perverted ideology is now a part of their genes. It took decades to be ingrained in them and will take a long term strategy to rectify. Short term, we must restrain and contain them with force. Long term, we must educate the leaders and masses about the true ideology of Islam, which implores morality in social and political discourse.
Likewise, critics of religion must refrain from simplistic generalizations about people of faith. The same Bible that commands Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) also exhorts them to “kill every man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” who worship any other God (1 Sam. 15:3). The same Jesus Christ who told his disciples to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) also told them that he had “not come to bring peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34), and that “he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke22:36).
It took the Catholic Church centuries to evolve as a civilized institution. It is true that many Muslim majority countries have a distorted view of Shariah that curtails rights and freedom. The leaders of these Muslim countries have duped the masses into believing that true Islam is having their version of Shariah-oriented government and enforced religious laws. That a caliphate must be established and through it a political-religious hegemony. These corrupt leaders use Shariah as a cover for their carnage and conquest and to advance their misguided ways.
But while extremist zeal is easy to condemn, it will require multiple revolutions to head off. These revolutions will require much of people in the Arab-Muslim world and also for the people in the West to shed their ambivalence and stop playing games. Muslims must be in the forefront. We must reclaim our true faith by getting behind the ideology of The Prophet Muhammad.
The time to act is now. Otherwise this drift towards fanaticism, extremism and self-annihilation will continue and accelerate to a point of no return.
Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah is the National Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA