In a recent thought-provoking article, Drs. Peter Knoope and Eelco Kessels of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, the Hague, have questioned the reationale of al Qaeda’s militant struggle and also taken on the dictators who have tried to invoke fears of Islamic fundamentalism by urging the West to stand by them. The Islamist radicals, on the other hand, have tried to use the presence of autocratic rulers as the legitimate excuse for their violent political struggle.
Libya’s Kaddafi, a man out of synch with the present day realities, for instance, came out with what he thought would serve to save his oppressive rule. Singling out al Qaeda as the enemy behind the unrest, Kadafi pleaded the world that “If you want to fight Al Qaeda, you need to support me”.
Col Kadafi’s rigid attitude and his message also reminded us of former President Pervez Musharraf, who as the president and the army chief, often projected himself as “the bulwark “ against Islamist terrorists and kept convincing Bush, Blair and their allies that he (Musharraf) was the only guarantee against al Qaeda.
Knoope and Kessels say: “The repressive regimes in Northern Africa and beyond as well as al Qaeda and its affiliates had until recently succeeded in projecting themselves as a preferred choice and alternative for fighting and checking Islamic fundamentalism. “
“This Islamic fundamentalism is, according to these regimes, either embodied by Al Qaeda, or in the more sophisticated version by the Muslim Brotherhood. In the dictators’ discourse, the former would inevitably create a breeding ground for violent jihadism, whilst the latter would attempt a totalitarian takeover via democratic elections of the one-man, one-vote, one-time variety,” argue the Dutch counter-terror experts.
ronically, both the totalitarian Arab Muslim regimes as well al Qaeda , have been trying to run down each other as “enemies.” Al Qaeda associates dub the Arab regimes as the “near enemy”, and justify their violent actions within and outside the Arab peninsula against the “far enemy” i.e. the United States and its allies. Both – regimes and al Qaeda – have also been touting themselves as “the alternative to the other.”
Unfortunately, western countries, driven by the commercial expedience of the United States, have tended to fall for what Hosni Mobarak, Ben Ali, or Musharraf told them, thereby lending international legitimacy to their oppressive and exclusive governance. The same applies to the US-led West’s relations with countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and so on.
The political upheaval that began with Tunisia, Egypt, and is now rocking Libya with blood and protests, underscores a simple reality. People, led largely by youth connected via the social media such as Facebook, Youtube and the simpler mode of internet messaging, crave for fundamental democratic freedoms and want to be included in the state matters. For too long, the ruling elite in these kingdoms, have thrived off an oppressive dictatorial system controlled by a few, and secondly the international acquiescence into their scheme of things (that rest on projecting the Islamists of various shades as the real threat to the world).
By doing so, Arab autocrats bought off decades of rule. And conversely, al Qaeda, too, benefited from this dispensation by branding its violent acts as a “struggle against tyrants and their western backers.”
What has emerged in recent weeks, the Dutch experts underscore, that “the way forward is not fear, but freedom, not repression but the creation of a vibrant political space,” based on inclusion and not exclusion.
The string of events i.e. the push for democracy and the craving socio-economic inclusion underline the need for all and sundry, particularly in the Muslim world, to back up the struggle for democracy and justice, and help liberal segments of the society religious scholars deconstruct al Qaeda’s deadly narrative that draws on violence as a legitimate means for political power. Civil society, intelligentsia and academia should also reject “unquestioned western support for dictators. Only then can we blunt and demolish narratives being peddled by al Qaeda and Arab despots.
Despots in the Arab-Muslim world have preyed on western fears of Al-Qaedaisation and Talibanisation for too long. We should all join hands o deny radical Islamists and their despotic detractors the gray area which they exploit to their advantage.