Moderate Muslims Mostly Silent About Radical Movements That Claim Islamic Roots ISIL and others thrive in large part because very few challenge their religious credentials

WASHINGTON – The self-proclaimed Islamic State, (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL), now established in parts of Syria and Iraq, must be destroyed. The sooner, the better. But, even more important, the crazy ideology, this bizarre blend of distorted religion and politics that sustains ISIL and other violent organizations that claim to be inspired by the true faith, should be discredited. Yes, as we should have learnt, while Osama bin Laden is dead, his ideas continue to live. Likewise, killing ISIL’s militants and their leaders, while essential, will not be the end of this fight.  

Military means not enough

Which is to say that whatever President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry may be able to do to put together an anti-ISIL coalition that in the end may be able to attack and destroy the fundamentalists now entrenched in Syria and Iraq, this will not be enough. We may destroy ISIL. But the ideological foundations most likely will survive and find other political vehicles.

Radicals must be discredited

In order to win this war, radicalism should be exposed, discredited and condemned. Muslim authorities should say, very loudly and convincingly, that good people who believe in Islam should totally and unequivocally reject an ideology that has no place within Islam.

But this is not happening. The broader, peaceful Islamic world is unwilling to speak up against this abomination that claims to have legitimate Islamic foundations. And this silence may be interpreted as tacit acceptance.

Moderate Muslims mostly silent

The fact that some Islamic clerics and their followers can preach a violent, intolerant dogma while the rest of the believers simply look the other way is equivalent to saying that these grotesque fringes after all may have a legitimate place within main stream Islam.

This silence may be interpreted as some sort of acquiescence. It may indeed mean that “moderate Muslims”, although in disagreement with the violent methods used by the radicals, still acknowledge that there are common roots. This ambiguity is pernicious, because it can and it will be interpreted as an endorsement.

Look, I am aware of some worthy initiatives undertaken by reputable Islamic scholars and other recognized religious authorities from within the Muslim World aimed at condemning and discrediting the beliefs held by the lunatic radicals. This is good. But it is not nearly enough.

The fact is that most Muslims look at the incredibly barbaric methods used by ISIL and others and keep quiet. They are silent. And this silence allows the voices of unreason to gain legitimacy.

ISIL finds followers

Their call to arms in order to fight for and enforce a crazy orthodoxy finds followers among the unhappy and the disconnected. At least some among the millions who cannot see a path to a good life in perennially backward Muslim societies may be tempted to believe that the root of their personal problems is that their leaders are not just, because they have abandoned the true faith.

Likewise, young Muslims living in Western societies who feel disadvantaged and discriminated against may be convinced that their plight is the result of a giant anti-Muslim conspiracy. And therefore it is their duty to rise and fight the unbelievers who are also their oppressors.

It cannot last

All rational observers may rightfully conclude that this wave of religiously inspired political radicalism can only be a passing phenomenon.

It is impossible to sustain a mass movement with such crazy foundations. Yes, all extreme ideologies –including radical Islam– will wilt, and eventually they will disappear.

However, let us not forget that even the most implausible ideologies are very real in their consequences. Do consider that Marxism-Leninism, another absolutely crazy millenarian utopia, gained millions of enthusiastic followers all over the world. These believers caused enormous damage over many decades, including the death of millions, before the eventual implosion of the movements and institutions inspired by Marxism-Leninism.

Better watch out

Which is to say that we better watch out. As demented as its beliefs may look to any rational person, for the moment ISIL thrives, feeling confident that the future belongs to the true believers.

Before their demise, these radical Islamists will attack us. They may come up with something really terrible, (yes, something like a dirty nuclear bomb).

In the end, we simply cannot predict how dangerous these radical Islamic movements are going to be. But they are out there, finding new recruits every day, in large part because of the ambiguity of main stream Muslims.

Of course, we can and should fight these militants where we can. But their true strength is in an ideology that has legitimacy in large part because other Muslims stay silent. And this is a real problem.

Clearly Western governments are in no position to effectively educate Muslims on how to distinguish between benevolent and crazy interpretations of their faith. This has to come from within the Muslim World. But we do not see any sustained effort in this direction.

How big a problem?

Given all this, and fully recognizing the limitations of purely military responses to a wider problem, it would be sheer folly to let ISIL leaders gain strength and prestige through their recent territorial acquisitions.

While this may not be the end of an ideology that finds fertile ground in societies unable to pursue a path to modernity, the self-proclaimed Islamic State must be destroyed.


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