What Constitutes an “Islamist” Ideology?

All ideologies undergo rifts based on differences in approaches to implementation, nuances in the ideology, and personal interests that come into play. When one looks at the Cold War international communist movement known as “COMINTERN”, the unanimity and coherence of COMINTERN fell apart as a result of the historic Sino-Soviet rift of 1960. That rift, arguably, led to the downfall of the Soviet Union when the United States sought China’s assistance in the final stages of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The United States used the rift between the Soviet Union and China to its own advantage, and arguably it was the rift between the Soviet Union and China that weakened the international communist movement.

Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the basic template for today’s wide-ranging Islamist groups around the world, experienced an ideological rift in its early days. There was one segment of the Muslim Brotherhood that sought to keep the nature of the group as one based on social activity that was apolitical, and there was another segment of the group figure-headed by Sayyid Qutb that sought to become political and to engage in armed conflict with the regimes that were prevalent throughout the Muslim World. The Qutbeseque wing of the Muslim Brotherhood became the more widespread wing, and their ideology consisted of anti-Western sentiment and a drive to remove any semblance of Western civilization from Muslim societies. Today, there are a number of groups or franchisees of the extreme wing of the Muslim Brotherhood around the world, and the backlash against them is caused by the fact that one Islamist group is more extreme than the other.

This ideological rift within the global Islamist community is what determines their lack of success in overturning the various political establishments of the Muslim World. For one, weakness comes from disunity, according to the Prophet Muhammad. When looking at the relative moderation of Muslims in Southeast Asia, the extensively secular nature of governments and individuals in Central Asia, and the fight that secular regimes are having with Islamists in the Arab World and North Africa, one can conclude that there is a lack of a clear and coherent ideology emanating from Islamism.

If there is an ideology, it is one of sowing chaos by overturning a global order established by the West, which is unacceptable and intolerable in a world that is globalized by nature. The Islamist movement around the world has been a failure and will continue to be a failure in the days to come. There are now significant changes occurring in the Muslim World that will tilt the balance against Islamist politics in favor of more secular and western modes of living and governance. For one, the rise of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia will create reverberations around the Muslim World in the coming future. Despite the downturn in his reputation after the Jamal Khashoggi affair, Muhammad Bin Salman remains committed to modernizing his country and overturning an establishment that is in bed with religious extremists.

Already, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is a first step towards more extreme views, and as a result Saudi Arabia has joined the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in an effort to combat Islamist groups and viewpoints. Muhammad Bin Salman has also forged closer ties with India recently, and India is a country that is determined to take on the Islamist-based ideology of Pakistan’s military establishment. “Vision 2030” is another clear agenda and ideology-based platform that will turn the Gulf region into a more modern entity that will eventually steer away from the Islamist worldview that is characterized by anti-modernization and anti-westernization.

Furthermore, the lack of a clear, coherent, and viable ideology on the part of Islamists is also representative of a general absence of a singular ideology among Muslims as a whole. It was Al-Farabi, known as the world’s “Second Teacher” after Aristotle, who argued that the Muslim World could not be ruled by a single caliphate or ideology given the immense diversity in languages, cultures, and discourses within the Muslim World. Muslims range from secular to socialist to liberal-democratic and so forth. Muslims cannot be put into one box or category, as is the case with other groups.

Adding to the lack of a clear, coherent, and viable ideology is the lack of what is known as a “Grand Strategy” on the part of the global Islamist community. Philosophers and strategists of the past and present have put forth various definitions for the term “grand strategy.” For example, in the past, Sir Basel Liddle Hart defined “grand strategy” as the pursuit of what he called a “better peace.” Seeking to overthrow a Western international order does not lead to peace. On the contrary, an Islamist ideology would only fuel chaos and civil strife as evinced by their nefarious activities in places like Afghanistan as well as Syria and Iraq.

John Lewis Gaddis, in a recent book titled On Grand Strategy, has defined “grand strategy” as the ability to match what he calls “aspirations with capabilities.” Seeking to overturn global order because it is Western and replacing with a model of governance that even Muslims no longer accept is an aspiration that exceeds capabilities. There seemed to be a clear “grand strategy” on the part of the United States beginning in 2001 as America prosecuted its Global War on Terror (GWOT), but with the “Asia Pivot” and the rise of tensions between the United States and Asian major powers like Russia and China, U.S. strategy is in disarray. America’s willingness to make concessions to the Taliban in the current peace talks shows that Americans are now willing to take risks in altering their national security strategy such that Afghanistan will once again be left vulnerable to international terrorists that for one will lead to chaos in the heart of Asia and it may pose a threat to U.S. security. Although one hopes that peace can be achieved between the Afghan government and the Taliban, one must always wish for the best but prepare for the worst.

In addition to matching aspirations with capabilities, Gaddis argues that any “grand strategy” requires two things: proportionality and the pursuit of freedom. Gaddis refers to Edmund Burke, a prominent conservative member of the British Parliament in the 18th century, in an effort to define proportionality:

“All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. We balance inconveniences; we give and take; we remit some rights, that we may enjoy others…But in all fair dealings the thing bought must bear some proportion to the purchase paid.”

And in an effort to define freedom and liberty, Gaddis quotes John Quincy Adams: “Liberty is power…and the nation blessed with the largest portion of liberty must in proportion to its numbers be the most powerful nation on earth.” As a result, it would be implausible to suggest that an Islamist “grand strategy” – even if there were such a thing – would incorporate proportionality and freedom as core elements of an Islamist “grand strategy” due to their lack of success in various parts of the world as well as the fear that they stoke in Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.

Although the preemption of political gains by Islamists in places like Algeria, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, and Lebanon comes with a price paid by purist proponents of democracy, the immense price paid for concessions to Islamists can be determined in places like Afghanistan where Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Taliban are causing immense grief and headache for Afghans who are seeking a better life based on a Western model of development and societal order. Education, which is the lifeblood of democracy and human rights according to Schiller in a book titled On the Aesthetic Education of Man, is being hindered and obstructed in places like Afghanistan by Islamist groups such as the Taliban.

When you give a mouse a cookie, it will ask for a glass of milk. The United States and the Afghan government in recent times have made a number of concessions to Hekmatyar and the Taliban, and in return the latter has shown little to no interest in making compromises with the other side. Nor has the Taliban shown an interest in maintaining proportionality with the opposite side and all the while has been vehemently obstructive in people’s pursuit of freedom and liberty. “There is no compulsion in religion”, according to the Holy Qur’an, and thus the imposition of erroneous Wahhabi interpretations of Sharia and Islamic law by the Taliban and groups like ISIS on a populace is antithetical to the freedoms and liberties afforded by both Western and traditional Islamic worldviews.

In a situation where the international status quo of Western preeminence is being challenged by revolutionary Islamism, the status quo must prevail in order to prevent the kind of fitna (chaos) and civil strife caused by groups like the Taliban and ISIS that is plaguing places like Afghanistan and Syria from taking hold of even more societies around the world.

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