By Bakir Oweida
In a word, no, it is not a happy Eid. Actually, Muslims around the globe are in very difficult times. Yes it’s a punchy line with which to start an article on such holy occasion and I apologize, but it’s the truth. Despite this, tens of millions all over the Islamic world, and beyond, will exchange kind words, expressing very beautiful wishful wishes. I wish, like all of us, that we could happily celebrate Eid without the shadow of major concerns that pose a real threat to the security of Muslim countries and the happiness of their peoples. But, how it can be so? Whilst as I write and you read, most of the Islamic world is in such a mess.
An important question has to be asked: did this mess happen all of a sudden? Were not there warning signs that were completely ignored? Were not there whistle blowers who drew attention to serious catastrophes that were just waiting to happen? Were not there many an uttered word that warned of dangerous consequences if the Muslim world failed to deal with extremism?
It is one thing to be horrified by savage terrorist actions, but it is quite another thing to have a clear and decisive plan to deal with the roots of extremism
Yes, indeed, there were countless such efforts that go back to the 1980s and 90s. The warning voices of many Arab and Muslim thinkers, writers, commentators and some religious scholars, took clearer, louder and more daring forms in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 crime. Some of those who did their best to raise awareness paid dearly for their beliefs, while most of their well-intended efforts were dust binned.
From my own experience in following events, reading and editing – experience that has spanned from the start of violent “jihadism” in the late 1970s in Egypt, to the confrontation between the GIA (the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria) and the Algerian army, to al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack against America – I can say bluntly that yes, there have been many dangerous signs all over the Arab and Muslim world that were ignored. Also, there had been many voices that warned the worst was yet to come.
I recall the horrified public reaction all over the Arab world after the attack on the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz (October 14, 1994) after an attempted assassination was made over a fatwa that condemned him as a “kafir” for writing his great novel “Awlad Haretna,” or “Children of Gabalawi.” Of course, hundreds of articles were published condemning both the fatwa and the assassination attempt against him. Disapproval was voiced via television and radio interviews with many Arab intellectuals.
Scant field work
However, twenty years on and it seems scant field work has been done to uproot the ideology behind such an attack. Nothing has been done to understand why those responsible were brainwashed to believe the fatwa and attempt to kill the writer.
In Algeria, Arab and Muslim intellectuals themselves fell short of recognizing the dangerous school of thought that drove the GIA to declare a religious war against the majority of the Algerian people in their own country, trying to force them to change their way of life. When army and police personnel were slaughtered, sometimes along with their families, many Arab and Muslim intellectuals turned a blind eye. Some actually criticized the Algerian authorities for what they saw as a heavy handed response in dealing with the terrorists. When foreign persons were kidnapped and French monks were killed by the GIA terrorists, not much attention was given to the matter compared with what we see today.
Indeed, it is one thing to be horrified by savage terrorist actions, but it is quite another thing to have a clear and decisive plan to deal with the roots of extremism. The field work that was and still is needed to uproot the causes of extremism, and win back the hearts and minds of young generations in the Muslim World, has to be the result of hard work done by all those who have knowledge and experience in all walks of life. It’s not an easy task, it will take years to defeat all forms of extreme schools of thoughts, but it can be done. Tackling all sources of injustice – political, economic and social – is a must if there is a real will to rid the Muslim world of extremism that enables terrorist groups to grow stronger.
Of course, Eid will always be Eid, the atmosphere of euphoria and festivity will bring happiness to millions of Muslims families and to their neighbors of other religions. So, let us see the light in the tunnel. A happy Eid will one day arrive when no refugee children, of any ethnicity or religion, are scattered outside of their homes. Is this too hopeful? Regardless, a very happy Eid to you all.