Saturday, July 30, 2016

Has There Been an ‘Islamization of Radicalism’ Rather than a ‘Radicalization of Islam’?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – A Russian commentator argues that it may be more useful to speak about “the Islamization of radicalism” rather than about “the radicalization of Islam” as is usually done and to examine more critically the idea that the era into which the world has entered is one characterized by a clash of civilizations defined increasingly in religious terms.

            In a commentary on the portal, Vladimir Malakhov says that all too many people are prepared to accept the idea that what is happening is “a war of religions” and are generally unwilling to consider any criticism of this highly simplified view of what is taking place (

            At the end of the 20th century, he says, “supporters of the revolutionary transformation of the world grouped themselves under red banners; now at the start of the 21st, they do so under green ones.” Thus, Malakhov argues, “radical Islamism plays in our days approximately the same role which radical Marxism played in the 1970s.”

            At that point in time, “all kinds of ‘red brigades’ terrorized the Western public because they considered that this was the only way to overthrow capitalism. Now this function has passed to the jihadists, who declare as their enemy not only a specific kind of social order but the entire Western world as such.”

            And because there will always be found people within the West “who want to settle accounts with it, the ranks of the warriors of jihad never will remain without new recruits.” And such radicals will find Islamism because they see it as the embodiment of radicalism even before radical Islam finds them.

            “Today’s terror has largely although not exclusively an Islamist underpinning. But it would be inexact to declare this to be the radicalization of Islam. Rather, one should speak about the Islamization of radicalism,” the latest slogan for those who for their own reasons want to challenge the Western order.

            In support of his argument, Malakhov begins by observing that “religions do not fight with one another.” Instead, “people who make of religion this or that political use do.”  The current upsurge in terrorist acts shows this: many radicals with little justification claim to act in the name of Islam or the Islamic State.

            In considering each case, one cannot be certain just how direct a connection there is between the horrific actions of ISIS in the Middle East and any particular terrorist outburst in the West. Instead, he says, it appears that there are “two parallel processes” going on, both of which deserve to be taken into consideration.

            “On the one hand,” he writes, “the Islamist terrorist underground” is obviously involved in some of these horrific events. But “on the other,” one can see “the self-indoctrination of individuals who for biographic reasons begin to imagine themselves to be soldiers of a global jihad.”

            This phenomenon, he argues, represents “something truly new,” because it means that almost anyone with a highly developed sense of grievance regardless of background may choose to ally himself or herself with Islamism just as many of the same kind of people did with the Red Brigades two generations ago.

            But this “innovation” has another and more serious consequence, Malakhov says. It reduces to “nothing” the ability of nation states to control their own populations even on their own territory because in today’s globalized environment such borders are meaningless for radicals of all stripes.

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