The trend toward increasingly radicalized Islamic communities in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa can be easily documented. However, this trend is not well publicized. The trend began long before 9/11, but it has gained a great deal of momentum over the past decade.
Today the issue can no longer be ignored.
The safety, cultures and economies of the west (and for that matter – the world) have been adversely affected by an emerging extremist, intolerant and militant brand of Islam whose self proclaimed goal is to conquer the world and compel infidels to embrace their version of Sharia (Islamic) law.
The most virulent of these extremist Muslims, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra and ISIS (ISIL), make the earlier terrorists groups of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood look moderate by comparison. These more radical groups even endanger other Muslims who do not embrace their fanatical vision of Islam. Over the past two years I have personally seen scores of Muslim refugees who have poured across Turkey’s southeastern borders to escape the slaughters in Iraq and Syria.
To be sure, the vast bulk of Muslims, including those in the Middle East, are wonderful and peaceful people. I have met dozens of Muslim strangers who volunteered to travel with me to remote ancient sites throughout Turkey. The locals know where there are ruins and without their assistance, I would never have made some of my discoveries. Many of them have invited me back to their homes for çay (tea) and to meet their families. The friendship and hospitality that I’ve received from them is a gift that I cannot repay. I have never felt threatened or disrespected in my many journeys throughout Turkey or the Middle East. And I generally travel alone.
However, the voices of the radical Muslims are slowly winning the day. Even in America and Europe, numbers of young Muslims are traveling to Syria and Iraq to join one of these groups. Why? There are several reasons for this, but in my limited space let me just mention one.
The Muslim extremists have effectively convinced others that what we in the west call a ‘war on terror’ is really a war on Islam. These radical groups have waged an ambitious campaign on the internet and in Islamic media to persuade other Muslims that America and Europe are in Muslim territories in order to stir up sectarian strife and to kill Muslims. A common term used to describe foreign military powers in Islamic lands is ‘Crusaders’, conjuring up images of the Muslim / Christian conflicts from 1,000 years ago. Military bases that we have in a host of Muslim countries are considered the modern crusader castles that must be destroyed by faithful Muslims. Many moderate Muslims also believe this is true. The more we pour our military might into the Muslim holy lands, the more this mentality is fostered.
So what’s the solution?
First, we must understand that radical Muslims will never heed the voices of Christians or secular sources from the west. Change can only take place by persuading the moderate Islamic community to actively and passionately speak up against Islamic extremism. Even Muslim voices from American and Europe will be ignored. Imams from predominantly Muslim countries must address the problem regularly in their Friday sermons. The lives, property and welfare of Muslims in all of these countries is at stake.
Second, any military solution to militant Islamic groups must be conducted by a concerted and united effort of predominant Islamic countries. This could be led by the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), an organization of 57 Islamic states that has close relations to the United Nations. The United States and European powers need to withdraw military forces from strategic areas and replace them with this united Islamic military force.
Mark Fairchild, Ph.D., is the Professor of Biblical Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.