Strengthening Moderate Islamic Forces

MehreenFarooq, Expert on Extremism, Discusses Radicalization and Effective Countermeasures

19/04/2013 | 12:30 - 14:00 | DGAP | Invitation only

Discussion

Category: Terrorism

Why are radical Islamists gaining supporters? What can the West do to strengthen moderate forces in Muslim societies and weaken extremist groups? MehreenFarooq, senior fellow at the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE), spoke at the DGAP about the causes of radicalization and made a clear call to “strengthen moderate Islamic forces in order to prevent extremist tendencies.

Foto: DGAP

Inresearchingthe best ways of counteractingtrends toward radicalization within Muslim societies, MehreenFarooq conducted fieldwork in some forty Afghan and Pakistani cities. The expert on extremism works for theWorld Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE), an American non-profit organization dedicated to promoting better understanding between Muslims and Non-Muslims.

Farooq emphasized that terror is by no means a purely Muslim matter, although her own organization is largely concerned with Islamist extremism. It is worth noting that most of the victims of Islamist-motivated violence are themselves Muslims. Terrorists target places of worship and clergyin particular. “The goal of terror is to destroy social cohesion.”

Socio-Economic Work at the Grass-Roots Level

Radical Islamists follow many different strategies to reachtheir goals. First of all, they perform socio-economic work at the grass-roots level, often filling a void left byabsent government services. As an exampleFarooq cited Hezbollah, which is not only visible as a political party with anarmed wing but also manages hospitals and social institutions. Secondly, Islamists intimidate and muzzle those moderate forces and religious authorities representing a tolerant and nonviolent Islam – or kill them in attacks. Thirdly, extremist leaders make use of social and political grievances in order to offer radical “solutions” and gain supporters. Fourthly, Farooq points to the Internet as a place of radicalization.

Farooq is convinced that radical actors will gain more ground the quieter moderate voices become. Many Islamist groups specifically stir up hatred between religious communities. Especially vulnerable are those – naturally, still unstable – societies in democratic transition, as incertain North African countries. Salafists in Egypt, for example, are thus taking advantage of their newly won democratic freedoms to assert a non-democratic vision of religion and society.

Bringing Religious Forces on Board

Farooq spoke in favor of a soft power approach geared toward strengthening moderate forces in Muslim society and helping them consolidate social cohesion. “It is especially important to bring religious forces on board,” she said, “since the people in these countries are for the most part simply religious. This is the most effective way of reaching them.” Madrassas and mosques, preachers, and religious leaders must be specifically involved, as they constitute the “social hubs” in Muslim societies. Here,as some of those present at the event noted, it is not especially helpful that Islamic organizationstend to be viewed with overall skepticism in the West.

Radical Islamism, a participant noted in conclusion, is a backward-looking ideology that draws its strengthabove all from massive disillusionment with corrupt regimes and weak states. The best means of preventing further trends in radicalization is in the following: create transparency, speak out against corruption, and improve the socio-economic conditions. Farooq, too, affirmed this: “Good governance and transparency are the best preventive measuresfor terrorism.”

The event was jointly organized by the DGAP and the United States Embassy Berlin. Sylke Temple, editor-in-chief of the magazine InternationalePolitik, served as moderator.

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