Rejecting Jihadism?

ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS

I have just received an email from the Libya Human and Political Development Forum (LHPDF) which provides a summary of a very interesting series of discussions, organised by the Libyan online newspaper Akhbar Libya, about the deradicalisation of salafi-jihadi groups.  Among those present was the Director of the LHPDF, Noman Benotman, himself a former senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which publically rejected its previous support for salafi-jihadism in September 2009.

The discussions focused mainly on the effectiveness and impact of a murajaat (re-evaluation) of ideology and modus operandi by terrorist organisations, and if there was any hope that this could continue in the future.

Reproduced below is a summary of the discussions:

  • The process of murajaat has been recognised as an effective method of deradicalisation adopted by Islamic Jehadist movements, since the initiative by the Jamaat Islamia of Egypt in 1997. It has created a sea-change within the Jehadi trend, with re-thinking of Islamic ideologies and debate over the methodology and approach of Islamic work in several countries. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria are the most important cases, with Yemen, Mauritania and Singapore coming second. 
  • There is an important distinction between the murajaat as a process and the murajaat as a program. One difference being that, as a process, the whole group decides to enter into dialogue with the full authorisation of its members. In a program, however, certain individuals choose to enter into a rehabilitation program to help them reintegrate into society.
  • Any murajaat that do not include a re-evalution of the group’s ideological understanding and interpretation of Islam, is a flawed process and could only be described as pragmatic.
  • To de-legitimise violence and armed action is central to the whole process of re-evalution. The aim of murajaat to achieve this objective to a great extent, and the exercise cannot be said to have successed, and any degree of deradicalsied achieved, until this becomes second-nature or a matter of wider consensus among the jehadists and Islamic groups or movement.
  • The states and regimes that participate in this process are still largely influenced by short term considerations, and behave within a limited scope determined mainly by security arrangements and objectives. There is a dire lack of strategic thinking. This should lead eventually to much bigger objectives of political and general reform — something the government in the Middle East are not inclined to want.
  • The lingering fear is that the security systems in these countries tend to run all these effort into the ground and frustrate all readiness and enthusiasm to talk, review, and debate. They are seen to exploit the process of dialogue and murajaat for their own narrow political and propagandistic aims. This is bound to deplete and undermine any good will that might exist.
  • The internal armed conflicts between Islamic groups and Arab regimes have contributed, in various degrees, to crippling human development and diverting resouces and efforts of society on wars that led to total failures. The Islamic groups never successed in attaining power and getting rid of the regimes, as much as they helped to create chaos, disorder and disunion. They, in fact, led to a dangerous state of destabilisation of the whole society.
  • al-Qa’ida and its allies have taken the jehadist struggle in a completely different direction which is alien to Islam and its basic values. Islam, its concepts and teachings, have become synonymous with a nihilistic violence that has no intellectual or valuable meaning.
  • It is difficult to justify the reasons of violence by simply one factor. By looking at policies and practices of violence, it is not difficult to conclude that they have a central role in the spread and legitimisation of violence. They cause Islamic elements to resort to violence through dictatorship and totalitarian rule. They create and nurture political stagnation, in addition to their failure to develop society thereby bringing about such appaling social and economic enviroment.
  • There is real and present danger that some Arab states, through their security systems, are clearly and deliberately working to feed on violence and terrorism. They adopt this policy in order to secure for themselves a place in the world map drawn by the USA and the world community. They also use this to justify the policies of internal repression and stifle democratisation and public participation, and by the absence of freedom and the violation of human rights.
  • Questions remain about the real reasons preventing al-Qa’ida from responding to the murajaat of the LIFG. We can cite two reasons for this: a) the powerful intellectual basis of the analysis, being based on the original salafee approach, which is the reference for the intellectual framework of al-Qa’ida itself; and b) al-Qa’ida’s unwillingness to be drawn into open media debate, that might have negative long-term repercussions on the whole al-Qa’ida organisation.
  • The LIFG owes the success of its dialogue in Libya to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, its main sponsor of the reconciliation dialogue and who remains an enthusiastic supporter of its total fulfilment. It is, therefore, quite essential that experiments in other countries should seek the involvement of a figure, or figures, with similar stature and influence. Saif’s commitment to the project was vital, while he does not entirely represent the state or the political system engaged in the dialogue. He remained a neutral mediator in all the disputes and difference that occurred along the way between the security system and the Group. He also dealt with any hiccup openly and with full transparency from the beginning.
  • For the murajaat to have a lasting effect, it must remain as an intellectual, ideological and political undertaking, rather than a fundamentally religious re-thinking. Otherwise, radical detractors would find them an easy target to revile. The onus would then fall on the governments to respect and honour those groups conducting the dialogue to encourage them into peaceful action rather than intimidate them to revert to violence and armed activity. The regimes, in the meantime, need to develop their political systems to favour more openness and understanding and take in various groups and sections of society as a legitimate and legal alternative for those who defend their human rights and respect their freedom of expression.
  • If all fails, and the people decide to collectively rise in the face of rulers who refuse to treat them as citizens and as human beings, it must be taken as the will of the people as a whole and an expression of their collective desire. It will then be unjust and wrongful to oppose such a will or thwart it, and the responsibility shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the repressive and totalitarian regimes.

focusonislamis[at]standpointmag[dot]co[dot]uk

@FocusonIslamism

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