Causes of Islamist militancy

Causes of Islamist militancy
Militant Islamist fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.

As terrorist violence from 'Islamic' militants spreads across the world, from Peshawar to Paris, affected states are struggling to devise effective responses.

So far, most of their responses have addressed the visible symptoms of the terrorist threat through military, police and intelligence measures. These are, of course, essential to stem the terrorist tide. Unfortunately, these responses are often insufficient or incorrect.

To develop the right responses, it is essential to honestly analyse and address the principal causes of 'Islamic terrorism'.

The fundamental origins of Islamist extremism and militancy lie in the failure of Muslim states, and other states with Muslim populations, to deliver jobs, justice and dignity to a growing army of young people. The economic, social and demographic indicators in Muslim countries are some of the worst in the world. Their societies are imbued with inequality and injustice.

Similarly, Muslim youth in the advanced Western countries have not become integrated in the social and economic mainstream.

Poor, unemployed and disaffected youth have always provided ready recruits for radical and rebellious movements.

The basic rationale for radicalism has been provided by the political and economic suppression of Muslims for so long in many places.

The plight of the Palestinians and Kashmiris are two examples. The memories of brutal colonial actions in Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Indonesia and other Muslim countries, are part of historical Muslim grievances. The oppression and discrimination against Muslim minorities in India, Burma, Russia etc, have added to these grievances.

These real and perceived historical injustices provided the basic justification and support for ideologies that advocate antipathy towards the West and the active propagation and 'defence' of Islam.

The rise of radical Islamist movements was gradual and fitful. At some periods in the post colonial era, some of these Islamists were sponsored and supported by Western powers.

However, with the 'failure' of the Western capitalist and the Soviet communist models, Islamic movements, financed often from abroad, were able to move into the political mainstream in many Muslim countries.

Tolerant societies, like Pakistan, saw the rise of parties propagating a narrow and exclusivist version of Islam.

A major turning point was the use of Islamist zealots to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The seven-member mujahideen alliance, sponsored by the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries and Iran, was composed exclusively of 'Islamist' groups. Forty thousand 'Islamic' radicals were imported from across the Arab and Muslim world, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. These original 'foreign fighters' also included Muslim rebels from Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Xinjiang.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, this deadly cocktail of hardened local and foreign 'jihadists' either stayed on in Afghanistan-Pakistan or returned to their countries to spread their toxic ideology and fighting experience. These fighters and their descendants form the core of Al Qaeda and its franchises in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa as well as the IMU, ETIM and TTP.

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