By Qanta Ahmed
September 8, 2013
“The Mosques are our barracks; the minarets our bayonets. The domes are our helms. The believers are our soldiers.”
This was the Islamist poem quoted by the mayor of Siirt, Turkey, in December 1997. Charged with using inflammatory speech, he was ejected from office and sentenced to jail by the Ankara High Court.
Today he is president of Turkey. During a decade in office, he has slowly but inexorably pushed secular Turkey, a member of NATO, toward an unabashedly Islamist future.
As a Muslim, I refuse to give up Islam to the Islamists. Neither should others who believe in a deeply pluralistic Islam. It is the only path to peaceful resolution of inevitable religious differences, within Islam and with other faiths.
Yet today pluralist manifestations of Islam are contracting. Never before has there been a time when Islam has been more threatened from within. That threat today is twofold — ideological and sectarian.
This is giving birth to an unprecedented age of conflict, waged in the name of Islam, by Islamists who corrupt the true meaning of the faith.
In Syria, Shia-linked Alawites are pitted against Sunni and Salaafi extremists in a war that has killed 100,000 people. In Egypt, Islamists, removed from power but still potent, are pitted against secular and mainstream Muslims, and “unbelievers.” In post-conflict Iraq, a deeply-fragmented, Shia-dominated government tyrannizes the Sunni minority.
In nuclear-armed Pakistan, Sunni Islamist policies infect the constitution creating a society that legally persecutes minorities. There and in neighboring Afghanistan, jihadists induct ever more children into the service of the Taliban. In the Northwest Frontier and elsewhere, the Pakistani Taliban execute vaccination workers. One result: Polio, once near eradication, is again crippling children.
Who are these people? All Islamists are Muslims, but most Muslims are not Islamists.
Islamists claim to manifest an official Islam, concealing their totalitarian ideologies in a veil of faith. They all wage war from an entrenched position of anti Western de-secularization. They claim ownership of the public space by divine right, suffocating everyone else. Today, whether in Egypt, Iraq or Pakistan, they seek to extinguish the few Christians in their midst.
Unlike other Muslims, Islamists are masters at manipulating the masses, preying on ignorance of Islam, and pitching a carefully cultivated populist narrative of virulently anti-western, anti-Semitic, anti-secular propaganda which arouses the uneducated and silences the naïve.
In the West, they are unwittingly aided by the political left. Fearful of inducing Islamophobia, it tries to suppress debate about the forces driving the radicalization of Islam.
This has contributed to a decade of warfare waged by America in a vacuum of knowledge about sectarian forces within Islam.
The result is tragically predictable. The Arab Awakening is on life support because Islamists seized the brief democratic opening that it created before institutions could be built to guarantee pluralism and protection of minorities. They won’t change their stripes, so democracy will fail unless Islamism is castrated.
There is only one way to reverse this trend. Moderate Muslims have to reclaim the dialogue and articulate the narrative honestly: Islamism is not just a regionalized, totalitarian threat. It is universal and must be confronted, not tolerated. It must be disarmed from within the faith. If anti-Islamist Muslims do not rise to the urgent challenge, it is not only minorities who risk extinction, but Islam itself.
Qanta Ahmed is author of “In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom.”