Violent extremism, which knows no bounds and poses a threat not only to the Middle East but to the entire world, can be described as the most dangerous and chronic issue the world is grappling with, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an opinion piece published by Turkish daily Cumhuriyet on August 11. The text below is a Press TV translation of the Persian text of the article:
This serious threat, which has so far wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria, has cast its evil shadow on the four corners of the region. The pervasiveness of extremism and those who defend it on the global stage has already proved what detrimental impacts it can have on the geopolitical and security environment, not just in our region but in many other regions of the world.
The crimes, including massacre, committed by extremists and their destructive measures in Syria and Iraq have shocked the world. Terrorist attacks in recent months in Europe by Al-Qaeda affiliates, the so-called 2015 Baga massacre at the hands of Boko Haram, the terrorist attack on Tunisia’s national museum, suicide attacks against civilians in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, and the ruthless massacre of 147 students in Kenya have laid bare the increasing threat posed by violent extremists.
This [ominous] phenomenon first came to global attention following the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union and the formation of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; it took on new dimensions with the US invasion of Iraq and the formation of various groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda in that country and ultimately with the emergence of IS.
Massacres, rapes, forced conversions, torture and slavery and other crimes which are shamelessly being propagated by IS on social media have laid bare the types and extent of threats posed by this outfit.
Recruitments by IS from 90 countries worldwide, including from Western industrial “democracies,” is a warning, which speaks of the fact that there are many structural problems and negative social developments. The Takfiri tendencies of this terrorist group have emboldened it to attack different social strata and even boast about its mistreatment of humans and their enslavement.
The criminal behaviors of this Takfiri group have been copied by other Takfiris. IS and al-Nusra Front have beheaded members of each other on numerous occasions and this is indicative of their propensity to commit crimes. In one such instance, in March 2014, fighting between the two groups in northern Syria left over 1,000 dead.
Sacrilegious destruction of historical mosques, holy sites, ancient churches, gravesites and temples, and brazen demolition of historical artifacts – representing the rich cultural heritage of the region – reveal what kind of future these extremists have in mind for the region.
The horrendous crimes committed against Yazidis revealed the horrible designs violent Takfiris entertain when it comes to minorities.
The massacre of 1,700 Iraqi Air Force cadets in Tikrit in June 2014, and the subsequent release of the images of this massacre through social networking sites and boastfulness about it showed what kind of future would await the people of Iraq if extremist groups were not confronted.
These attacks target the social fabric and structure of a region which takes pride in its rich, diverse heritage.
Where does violent extremism originate from?
Human values such as affection, compassion, patience, forgiveness and optimism are the fundamental components of the message that all religions, especially Islam, have been trying to promote throughout history.
Nevertheless, over the past two centuries, a small group of demagogues has begun to operate under the pretext of reforming religion.
This group pursues its own goals and short-sighted agenda. It has made efforts to alter the fundamental message of Islam and distort religious teachings. It has also attempted to take affection away from religion. The Takfiris and their followers took a harsh stance on those who refused to accept such an interpretation of religion and regarded them as heterodox.
Based on such unfounded interpretations, they rejected the narratives that were incompatible with theirs and engaged in viewing as irreligious all those who either held different beliefs or belonged to a different population.
They claim they are the only ones who have a right understanding of Islam, and that the truth is in their possession in its entirety.
Such a viewpoint is the essence of Takfirism. In my mind, the current problems in the region, extremism included, are rooted in that viewpoint.
As long as such an interpretation of religion was confined to a small group of individuals, these individuals could – and can – have their own beliefs.
The problem emerged when some wealthy and powerful individuals began to promote these ignorant interpretations in Islamic countries far and wide, and to impose them on people in poor nations through money and propaganda.
This time around, the priority of this wealthy, powerful group was not “religious purity” any longer; rather, their activities were in line with certain political goals and a number of short-sighted strategic calculations.
Unfortunately, that was how individuals and groups that were susceptible to radical ideologies because of their social and economic conditions were lured.
Although the majority of those who believed in Takfiri interpretations had always refrained from resorting to the use of force to spread and enforce their beliefs, some took up arms, and in some cases, even rebelled against their own masters. It was exactly at this point that violent extremism was born.
The vicious cycle of foreign intervention, radicalism and regional instability
While it is necessary to investigate the roots of IS and Company in the historical trajectory of distorted interpretations of Islam, as described above, one should also pay heed to the important role of Iraq’s bloody developments in the past decade in the formation and growth of existing extremist groups.
Political and military interventions in the Islamic world, particularly in the 2000s, caused many difficulties, provided fertile breeding ground for extremist demagogues, allowed the most radical of them to overwhelm others and thus, the ground was prepared for violent extremist groups to take shape.
IS, not a new phenomenon
There is now consensus that violent extremists exploited chaos in Iraq during the occupation of the country by the US. A group like IS, which feeds on turmoil and chaos, grew thanks to the instability and unrest that emerged following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Extremists also found opportunities in the Syrian crisis and through the support they received from individuals, circles and governments in the region; they made up some fake cause, and turned into monsters that sometimes even threaten their own masters and supporters.
Their transnational call on the deprived, aimless youths in Arab countries following the relative failure of the “Arab Spring” and in Western countries enabled them to swell their ranks and grow rapidly.
Military intervention and crude efforts aimed at social engineering of Middle Eastern communities are reflective of the depth of illusions in the policy-making of the US and some other Western powers vis-à-vis the region.
What was referred to as the Greater Middle East Initiative and was aimed at reshaping Middle Eastern societies along social and political lines with the ultimate goal of exporting “democracy” had provided a theoretical framework for military intervention.
This initiative prompted intense resistance in the region, and only managed to lead to more extensive instability.
Those who devised this plan were incapable of understanding the fact that democracy cannot be imposed on a nation through brute force and that it does not take root in a society under the rule of an occupying military. The damage done to Iraq and the region while attempts were being made to enforce this illusory scheme was so extensive and deep that years of endeavors to undo it have had little effect.
The objective of these policies that were formed based on utter ignorance of the innate dynamism of the region was to impose on it a completely alien model in contradiction to the traditions, cultures and lifestyle of native societies.
The continual instability that befell a number of societies in the region as a result of this process paved the way for the empowerment of violent extremists, and caused a vicious cycle in which foreign occupation and radicalism fed one another, in such a way that extremists were enabled to exploit the social and cultural gaps that emerged. Predicting such a scenario was not very difficult.
In a speech at the Security Council on February 17, 2003, I said, “Today, the extent of instability in the region and uncertainty about the future in Iraq is beyond our imagination. Given the conditions of Iraqi society, and in view of the situation in the entire region, ambiguities abound; and none of the sides can factor in these ambiguities in advance with any degree of certainty. But one outcome is almost certain, that extremism will massively benefit from this irresponsible adventurism in Iraq.”
Today, no one can deny that extremists and terrorists are by far more powerful than what their demagogue masters could imagine in 2001, and are operating in more regions in the Middle East.