Dr. Hayat Alvi for BeyondHeadlines
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has a real challenge on his hands. Militants have attacked a number of moderate Muslim clerics in the Caucasus, and some have died. The clerics were known to be voices of moderation and criticism against the fanatical militants, who are proliferating in Russia’s southern edges. Reuters (August 31, 2012) reports that in Dagestan, “more than a dozen young men from the village have ‘gone to the forest’ – the local euphemism for joining insurgents in their hideouts, says village administrator Aliaskhab Magomedov.” The reports indicate that these men are hardened Islamists as a result of working in the Gulf Arab states, returning home and violently spreading their Wahhabi ideology.
Similarly, in two African countries we see Salafist and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants destroying Sufi mosques and shrines. In parts of Libya, they are literally bulldozing heritage sites, not unlike the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues. In Mali, militants have literally chipped away at UNESCO heritage sites with hammers and chisels. These militants also want to target libraries and museums in order to destroy precious archeological icons and manuscripts that they deem “un-Islamic.” When you read Ahmed Rashid’s book on the Taliban, you learn that when the Taliban first came to power in the mid-1990s, and took over Kabul, one of the first institutions they attacked and destroyed were libraries, and didn’t even spare the books inside. Nothing has changed, except the geography. Such mentalities still may be among minority fringe groups. Nonetheless, their propensity for violence and destruction is not only horrendous, but also, alarmingly, proliferating in other regions.
Such is the venom of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology, and let’s not forget that the seat of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, has long upheld policies for destroying sacred and heritage sites, and carried them out forcefully within the kingdom. The Saudis, after all, are one of the creators and ideological inspirations of the Taliban. That is very telling indeed. In fact, the “League of Libyan Ulema, a group of more than 200 Muslim scholars … blamed the attacks on a son of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Saadi, and his Libyan Salafi allies it said were inspired by radical Saudi preachers. Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed said Libya had not seen such attacks for centuries. ‘Even Mussolini’s fascists did not treat our spiritual heritage with such contempt,’ he said” (Reuters, August 29, 2012). Italy under Mussolini occupied Libya until WWII.
While the West is preoccupied with vilifying Iran – and this is not to say that the Iranian regime is not a problem or a threat – Western powers are frighteningly myopic in terms of seeing the big picture: i.e., Salafism / Wahhabism is proving to be even more destructive, violent, intolerant, and hate-mongering on a daily basis than what we see coming from Iran, and not just in words, but also in action. The only thing is that the former is not on the radar, while the latter (Iran) is the object of obsession in the West. That scenario will only lead to repeating costly past mistakes. Can we say “Mujahideen” in the Af-Pak region?
The Libyan Ulema and citizens are extremely frustrated with Tripoli’s seemingly inability to stop the Salafi assault on the country’s shrines, mosques, and heritage sites.
“The League of Libyan Ulema (Muslim scholars) urged Tripoli ‘to pressure the government of Saudi Arabia to restrain its clerics who meddle in our affairs’ by training young Libyans in Salafism and spreading the ideology through books and tapes.
It also urged Libyans to protect Sufi sites by force.
Nayed, who lectures at the old Uthman Pasha madrasa that was desecrated on Tuesday evening, said the attackers were ‘Wahhabi hooligans (and) all sorts of pseudo-Salafi elements’ while government security officials were ‘complacent and impotent.’
‘Libya has to make a clear choice – either a Taliban/Shabaab-style religious fanaticism or a true Muslim moral and spiritual civility,’ he told Reuters.”
The Salafists – or, as Nayed pointedly and correctly calls them “Wahhabi hooligans” – are an imminent threat to the stability and security of the regions and sub-regions in which they operate. And, that is exactly their intent, to destabilize, coerce, bully, and terrorize. Although their militant ideologies have been dealt a severe blow since the mostly peaceful 2011 Arab uprisings and revolutions successfully changed regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Wahhabi hooligans also see the same events and outcomes as an opportunity to fill any gaps that may appear in the nation building processes in respective countries. Effective policies and law enforcement are needed to preclude them from gaining even an inch. Think of them as hyenas lurking in the darkness, only now they are audaciously operating in broad daylight.
The other major recent incident is the disgustingly shameful “blasphemy” case in Pakistan, which has landed a young 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, who happens to be a Christian, in prison. Instead of protecting this child and her family, the Pakistani authorities, in all their hollow wisdom, have thrown her in jail, and might make her stand trial. Blasphemy prosecutions can render death sentences. This has stirred outrage worldwide, especially among human rights organizations. Perhaps in reaction to the outrage, police arrested the local imam who some claim is the culprit in framing the child. But, this case is about more than just the tragic circumstances of this child, her family, and the Pakistani Christian community at large. This ludicrous behavior by the authorities and even the government, which initially called for “an investigation,” rather than calling for her immediate release, only highlights the moral bankruptcy of Pakistan. The expediency with which the so-called “blasphemy law” is used especially against religious minorities underscores the nakedly transparent bigotry that streams through Pakistan’s fabric. Furthermore, it is not only an example of moral bankruptcy, but it also illustrates the most profound absence of intelligence and reason. Regarding this case, there is no hole deep enough in the sand that would suffice for heads to bury themselves in, as far as I’m concerned. I close with a great quote by George Orwell:
“One defeats a fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary, by using one’s intelligence.”
(Dr. Hayat Alvi is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed here are personal.)