The U.S. costs in the war on terror has exceeded, in some estimates, 2 trillion dollars. Despite this huge cost, the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism and terrorism has not been defeated.
Killing Osama bin Laden has been a great step but it is certainly not the end of the story. Terrorist acts are still threatening the world and lately the attacks on Non-Muslim minorities have been on the rise in many parts of the Muslim world.
The United States has reached the point where it must re-evaluate its strategies in fighting radical Islam.
The primary focus of the United States in the war on terror has been to target the terrorists themselves. This approach, while needed, has proved to be unsatisfactory.
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This is a very important lesson to be learned by the U.S. administration. They need to start thinking in alternative and more efficient approaches to fight Islamic radicalism.
The United States cannot simply spend another 2 trillion dollars using the same approach again and again and hope for a different result. This approach is not going to defeat Islamic radicalism and expecting a different outcome will be disastrous.
The United States must consider expanding its primary focus in the war on terror from the jihadists to include the mullahs and scholars who incite hatred, violence, and dehumanization of others. The hate-filled teaching of mullahs and scholars ultimately manifest itself as terrorism.
The United States must interrupt the radicalism cycle at the incitement stage. This approach is much more effective than a late intervention when terrorists have already been created.
The advantage of this approach is that the scholars who incite the use of violence — unlike the jihadists — are fewer in number, more visible, and above all want to live. The latter point is extremely important.
Targeting jihadists does not deter other jihadists from committing acts of terrorism because a jihadist’s motivation is martyrdom. Conversely, many of the scholars who preach violence, without participating in the jihadi activities, are interested in living and enjoying their political power and occasionally wealth.
An example to illustrate how violent teaching can materialize can be found in the Islamic scholar from Egypt (Ashraf Abou Anas) who recently said to his followers, in a province called Imbaba, “We will not be real men if we did not burn every church in Imbaba.”
This simple statement that appeared on YouTube
triggered thousands of Muslims to attack churches in Cairo and resulted in burning of churches and the killing of many innocents. Some of these innocents were burnt alive.
When the scholar’s statement was put on YouTube, he realized that he would be prosecuted and severely punished by the authorities. He immediately released another statement to change his message of hate. He replaced his message of hate with a new message, a message that promoted peace, love, and harmony. This obviously was an attempt to save himself from punishment.
This illustrates how preaching can incite violent atrocities and how the scholars who incite the violence can turn to peaceful preaching but only if they believe that they will be held responsible for the violence that results from their teaching.
Conversely, the threat of being punished will not easily change the beliefs of a true jihadist.
When scholars who promote violence realize that they will be persecuted as terrorists and judged as a criminals they are likely to change their violent message to a peaceful one. This change can prevent many terrorist acts and atrocities.
Targeting these scholars must also include targeting the individuals and organizations that help them promote their violent message. Therefore, promoting violence against others needs to be treated as material support for terrorism.
Some may argue that those who incite violent acts or justify them are protected by the laws of freedom of speech. Pastor Terry Jones, who recently burned the Koran, was not allowed by a U.S. court decision to demonstrate peacefully in front of a mosque. The U.S. authorities made this ruling in the belief that this demonstration could disturb peace.
Therefore, if the act of a peaceful demonstration in front of a mosque is seen as disturbance to the peace in our society; then how should the teaching of young Muslims to declare war on Non-Muslims to spread Islam is a religious duty be seen?
This same principle needs to apply to those who promote that the life of Non-Muslims is inferior to the life of Muslims. These beliefs are being taught from many Shariah books which give jihadists the justification that they may kill Non-Muslims.
Many violent and deadly Muslims riots were initiated by mullahs who incite violent acts. In addition, some leading Islamic scholars such as Sheikh Youssef Al-Karadawy have justified suicide bombings against Israeli civilians (to including pregnant mothers).
If these scholars knew that they would be prosecuted in international courts for inciting such hatred and violence, perhaps many of them would change their message of hatred. This in turn would protect many young Muslims from the destructive outcome of violent teaching.
Expanding our focus in the fight against Islamic radicalism is imperative. The United States needs to change from just targeting the jihadists, who conduct the terror acts, to targeting the scholars, who promote violence.
Treating and persecuting the scholars who promote violence as terrorists and criminals will be a more effective and less costly tool in weakening the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.
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