Islam's Civil War

(Originally published 18 May, 2014)

It has been branded a ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the pinnacle of terrorism courtesy of the images of 9/11  and has been been associated with repression, controversy and violence in the majority of the 21st century but what are contemporaries missing in the debate of Islam and extremism associated with it?  The question considers culture, history, and the misrepresentation of both in Western spheres and within that of the Muslim/Islamic community and thus far both ‘moderate’ sides that wish to co-exist have failed to answer the question with a degree of confidence required in the most complex of issues.

For years now, many look upon the external threat of Islam and ‘global jihad’ and there are many issues that come with the latter statement. What we must consider is that Islam and the Muslim communities are at war with each other as well the extremists being at war with the West and the rest of the world. It is an internal crisis that is easily forgotten and dismissed merely as an external challenge.

Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda. The most notorious group to emerge has been the ruthless jihad of Boko Haram which is tearing Nigeria in two with the objective of creating a Sharia state purged of Western influence and culture. In recent months the problem has evolved from sporadic but lethal attacks to a jihad insurgency, a full-blown out war against the government of Jonathan Goodluck (in itself a a-typical corrupt African state) with kidnaps and murder rife in an unstable country.

Mali has seen major upheaval that sparked a French intervention in 2011. Kenya is now embroiled in a conflict with Al-Shaabab in Somalia, the capital Nairobi persistently being shaken by Islamist suicide bombers.

It is an emerging problem that Nigeria and the West is struggling to contain much like the rise of Islamic extremism. Tony Blair’s speech highlighted various problems that the world faces when battling violent Islamism (including the words in which he conveyed this war against Islamism). Muslims around the world face a struggle with their religion. It is an identity crisis as much as a war and ideological conflict between two ‘civilisations’. For instance, those often murdered in their thousands and victims of the subverted and warped ideologies of the extremists are in-fact Muslims.

Incompetent portrayals of Muslim communities as a wholly anti-western pillar only serve to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

Nor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

Muslims are as much a victim of the extremists ideologies who commit atrocities in ‘their name’ as those who suffer in terrorist attacks across the globe and thirty-one innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child perished during the attacks on the World Trade Centre which has been regarded as the epitome (in images) of apocalyptic Islamist extremism.

Problems still remain within the faith though in terms of projecting the religion of Islam. Those who seek a world united by under the auspiciousness of Islam under radical Islamist though disregard the inherent cultural and religious dynamics that vary from continent to continent, regions,  linguistics and the varying interpretations of the Qu’ran. The cultural differences are also key and something which Islamic extremists often fail to recognise.

The Japanese Army slaughtered millions of people in the name of the Emperor and the radical segments of Shintoism in the 1930s and 1940s.

Historically we can obtain such evidence from the most unlikely of sources; the Japanese.  The Shinto ultranationalists had a vision of a New World Order united under the rule of the Emperor. Thousands of people were slaughtered in the name of Shinto-ultranationalism and the name of the immortal emperor. His words were considered a deity amongst the Japanese people and applied violently as such against the non-believers.

It was an ideal for which many Japanese were willing to give their lives for and European, American and Chinese soldiers and civilians witnessed first-hand this fanaticism in the form of kamikazes, banzai charges, suicide bombing, the utter contempt in many cases for surrendering Allied soldiers and ritual suicides in the face of surrender.


The reality was that Pan-Asiatic (a united Asia) aspirations, an Asia unified under the roof of the Emperor could not be applied to the realities of the 20th century as Asians came to despise what they saw as Western based imperialism on the part of Japanese expansion; sheer hypocrisy and failure to integrate and understand the dynamics and economics of other cultures. For this cosmic and warped war proclaimed by fanatics, the Japanese people paid with their lives as did the country’s ability to develop as a democratic entity.

The fanaticism, the cultural war against Western dominance and lack of realistic goals is very much amongst those who proclaim global jihad.  Islamic extremists will inevitably encounter similar problems when it comes to their global war on Westernism and ‘infidels’. Images of global jihad are unrealistic as they fail to recognise the pragmatics of cultural and religious dynamics that differ from region to region.

Kidnap, torture and drugs are at the centre of the extremist Islamist doctrines which besmirch the  faith once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse and like Europe has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period. Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance. Christianity and Islam are entwined in mutual history and experience and the latter isn’t the only faith marred by conflict and controversy.

Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and it is a serious problem, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition of extremist doctrines on both individuals and societies.

Understand this the problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam.

Enlightened distance between mosque and state which could potentially (I say this with caution after the failures of the Arab Spring) lead to healthy, liberal democracies has yet to take hold yet and with the Pax Americana waning, exhausted by war against extremist Islamism and loathed by much of the world population the future remains uncertain. 

In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable Islamic terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of terrorism in name of Islam in 2013 alone.

The weakening of the United States in foreign policy in both Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine ensures that both individuals and terrorists will have free-reign to act with more impunity than before. The consequences of 9/11 and Iraq are increasingly ominous as each year goes by and has brought American foreign policy under greater scrutiny then ever before in the 21st century. Nonetheless the Russians have and will continue to encounter problems with Islamic extremism no matter the result of the Ukraine crisis.

Tony Blair was mistaken in his recent speech that there is a global struggle between Western democracies and Islamic extremism. Such words only stoke the belief of the fanatics that their cause is just. In every conflict there are dangers which cut both ways based upon economic, political and religious motives. It is identifying the moderates on both sides of the spectrum which will ensure more questions are answered than are being solved at this current and most difficult of times. Inevitably this is a war which neither side can win.

Matthew Williams