Radical Islam in the 21st century

  By Kevin Brown, December 25th 2007; Revised
Contents »

Islam like many other religions over the course of history has proven it’s self extremely vulnerable to certain extremist tendencies among certain interests and demographics among the religion. The more intensifying and stronger character that led to the more radicalized variants of Islam are in most ways a direct product of many of the geopolitical events throughout the Middle East and indeed the whole Islamic world throughout the course of history, Starting with the fact that Islam was spread in many instances by the sword which was not unusual for religions and beliefs of the time but remained a crucial aspect for many of the Islamic faith in terms of how the religion spread and how it behaved towards non-Islamic influences. Then during the course of the Golden Age of Islam the religion in it’s heartland in the Middle East was besieged by Christian Crusades from Western Europe which sought to restore Christian dominance over the holy city of Jerusalem, This was also around the same time that Islamic territorial gains in Europe were being lost with such offensives being undertaken such as the Reconquista in Spain and the loss of other territorial possessions in Christian Europe. During the rise and course of the Ottoman Empire most of the Islamic heartland was under the control of this political entity and Islam remained relatively in place. Moving into the 1800’s more modern elements of radical Islam emerged most notably Whabbism which was founded by Mohammed Ibn Abd Al-Whabbi, Whabbism sought a return to more purer Islamic practices including a stricter interpretation of the Sharia(Islamic law) along with a through commendation of other non-Islamic faiths and even some Islamic beliefs and sects such as Sufism. After the First World War the Arab lands of the Middle East were no longer under Ottoman rule and breaking the promise of Arab independence in exchange for Arab assistance in bringing down the Ottoman Empire, The British along with the French put much of the Middle East under the mandate system. Also around this time large numbers of Jews driven by a desire to escape persecution in their homelands in Europe (mostly Eastern Europe) along with the drive of the Jewish religious ideology of Zionism begin arriving in mostly Arab and Islamic Palestine and soon run into conflict with the Arab Palestinians. The Balfour declaration soon followed which stated British support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. Then after World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust a Jewish state materialized in Palestine in the form of Israel which ran into constant conflict with it’s Arab neighbors who repeatedly failed to destroy it as a nation, This created a sense of failure among the Arabs and led to a resurgence of Islam not just in the Middle East( but in the Islamic World as a whole during the 1970’s) which led to the religion playing an even more important part in life and society as a whole. In terms of dealing with the non-Islamic world especially the West many Islamic societies (particularly those in the Middle East which is vital to the west due to it’s energy resources) became more inward looking and more hostile towards Western influences in a manner that could be compared to Japan before the arrival of Commodore Perry. This was also to influence and inspire the overthrowing of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by Islamic radicals under the direction of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini along with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan later on. All of this would give Islamic fundamentalists great influence in the Muslim world, Combined with another grievance which was of US support for Israel along with support for some repressive governments in Islamic nations. Combined later on with the basing of US and other non-Muslim forces on Arabian Peninsula during the Gulf War which is home to Islam’s two holist cities Mecca and Medina. This anger and frustration towards the United States of America and the West would lead to the emergence of a number of terrorist and Islamic Fundamentalist organizations claiming Islam as their inspiration and along with it a number of terrorist attacks on US interests throughout the 1990’s which climaxed with the attacks of 11th of September 2001 upon the United States itself, The attacks of which were carried out by Al-Qaeda an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization which was based and harbored in Afghanistan by the Taliban. This then led to the US and it’s Western Allies to declare a war on terror which concentrated on Islamic Fundamentalist influences.                                              


In the following months after the attacks of 9/11, The United States of America along with it’s allies went into Afghanistan militarily and ousted the Taliban Regime from power (which was lead by Mullah Omar a mysterious one eyed figure who came into prominence in the 1990’s) along with its Jihadist partners al-Qaeda (Which was under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden the son of privilege in a wealthy and prominent family back in the Kingdom). However the overthrow of the Taliban along with their Al-Qaeda allies ousting to the rugged hinterlands of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan created new problems for the US/NATO and the new Afghan Government as the remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda began waging a campaign of guerilla warfare often using tactics of terror such as bombings of civilian targets, kidnappings and killings of both Afghans and aid workers and the use of threats and intimidation against those who corportated with US/NATO forces or the Government, This bloody and pitched fight between US/NATO forces along with the Afghan Government against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists continues to this day. Also these two recently ousted Islamic radical groups were making allies and contacts on the other side of the border in Pakistan especially with the Taliban’s Pashtun tribesmen across the border, Who also assisted and abetted the escape of Osama Bin Laden and his remaining Al-Qaeda organization, They persist to this day to continue fighting and plotting against the West, and the moderate governments in the region. The Taliban along with Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and the close by related tribal territories of Pakistan continue to remain a threat to the stability of politically fragile Afghanistan and even Central Asia as a whole, Even though the US and it’s allies in cooperation with the more moderate governments of Afghanistan and Central Asia’s successes against them.

In 2003 the United States leading its partner nations in an assembled coalition invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on the pretenses of his brutality and the highly debated accusation that he still was in poecession of Weapons of Mass Destruction(WMD) which were left over from the First Gulf War and that he was seeking to diversify his WMD stockpiles and research. In the aftermath of the invasion The US led and administrated Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) greatly botched the national reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in Iraq through a great misunderstanding of the political, religious and cultural ways of Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. In addition militarily the US and the rest of the Coalition failed to secure Iraq’s post-war fragile borders and much of the many weapons depots built during the Saddam era that were around the country, This combination along with the fact that the CPA disbanded the regular Iraqi Army along with the rest of the Iraqi armed forces under the opinion that they were an unwelcome reminder of the Saddam Hussein Regime, Created ideal conditions on the ground for many organizations and factions(including Islamic extremists) that from the beginning of the Iraq intervention wanted a fight with the United States and the West as a whole as well as seeing a chance to quite possibly deal the US and the rest of the Western world a defeat on the battlefield. The Islamic extremist organizations that have sprouted up in Iraq have been both domestically and foreign founded this includes groups like Al-Qaeda in Iraq which had formed a strong presence in Iraq under the leadership Jordanian Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi who was thought to be in personal correspondence with Osama Bin Laden and the rest of the leadership of the main Al-Qaeda organization. Al-Qaeda in Iraq as an organization consisted mainly of foreign fighters from other Islamic countries, But also as well as Sunni Iraqi’s who were recruited by the organization in the aftermath of the invasion. It’s has been know for it’s extremely brutal patterns of various types of attacks and kidnappings which have involved brutal often filmed beheadings of foreign contractors inside Iraq and Iraqis who had dealings with the US and Coalition or new Iraqi Government, or those who were Shiites who are of the opposing religious ideology Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Also Al-Qaeda in Iraq under Al-Zarqawi had done much to stir up tensions among Iraq’s two different sects within Islam; The Sunni’s and Shiite’s, Both of whom with longstanding tensions which were only stirred up even more by the invasion and aftermath which Al-Zarqawi took advantage of with his organization to launch attacks on Shia Iraqi’s and Shia religious shrines. The attacks on the religious shrines have especially incensed the Shia in Iraq combined with tier past treatment at the hands of the Sunni’s has led the Shia to take reprisals against Iraq’s sizeable Sunni minority. These series of events have touched off a cycle of sectarian violence between the Sunni and the Shia, Although this fighting has mostly been left to the Arab majorities among this two groups as the mostly Sunni Kurds in the north of Iraq have been mainly isolated and have demonstrated a wish to stay out of the strife occurring to the South of them. The violence between both of Iraq’s two major sectarian groups has escalated into de facto civil war. Needless to say all the problems and longstanding tensions Al-Qaeda in Iraq has opened up has also created trouble for the United States as many of it’s Coalition partners steadily pullout of the troubled nation of Iraq due to many circumstances both at home and on the ground. The escalating fighting and casualties for the United States along with the sense that US forces in Iraq are caught in the middle of a civil war has also had negative effect in terms of the American publics perception of the war along with that of some in the American political body. So a shadow of doubt must be cast although very cautiously on how long the US presence is going to continue in Iraq. Also the US and Western presence in Iraq has to an extent inflamed passions on the Arab and the larger Islamic Street against the United States and the West. This it could also be argued has made the West even more of a target for Islamist fury as could be exemplified by the various bombings and attempts carried out in Great Britain over the past couple of years, A nation of which has been staunchly supportive of the US mission in Iraq up to including British troops on the ground in support of that mission. The United States and many of the Arab states in the Gulf also have to worry about Iran which is increasingly positioning it’s self as strong regional power which was suspected and still is suspected by many to be developing nuclear weapons, Iran also has possible designs on Iraq as the Islamic theocratic Government in Tehran has been very supportive of their fellow Shia and Shia extremists in war torn Iraq, In addition Iran doesn’t have to worry about regional threats to potential plans by Tehran since the US and it’s allies have removed Iran’s two main opponents in regional geopolitics the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein Regime in Iraq from power. It also seems that quite possibly that a regional Cold War is descending upon the Middle East with Iran facing off with tension against the oil rich Gulf States which are supported United States and with Iran fighting in the Middle East through Shiite Terrorist organizations which it will use and support as proxies. Iraq will most likely become in this scenario an unstable and somewhat chaotic frontline state in which both sides will fight by proxy. Iran it has been shown with the turn of events in Iraq to have become the exporter of Islamist influences throughout the Middle East including Iraq which has a Shiite Majority like Iran and is in a situation in which the Sunni Islamic extremists have lost much power and unity of the past couple of years. Iraq due to the various extremes of Islam will continue to be a bastion of instability in the Middle East for years to come.


  Many of the instabilities of the Middle East have many root causes, However there is one very large one in the form of an antagonizing for many Islamists throughout the Arab World and now the larger Islamic World as a whole and one that those on this fringe could make a genuine connection with the majority of the World’s Islamic population over and this is the Jewish state of Israel which has been engaged in constant conflict in one way or another since it’s inception in 1948, Over the the issue of Palestine and the Palestinians, In addition Israel has made Jerusalem which is also very holy to Muslims it’s official capital(even though Tel Aviv serves more as a capital in this role) as well as the feeling among many in the Arab and Islamic Worlds that the Jewish State is encroaching on Islamic lands and has expansionist desires. Also over the years the resistance movement to Israel in what remains of the Palestinian territories has seen both political and armed fighting between the more   Palestinian Arab nationalist movements such as the PLO which tend to be more secular also, Against the more radical Islamic political and armed movements such Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, With both especially Hamas gaining political power over the past couple over years over the PLO’s political arm Fatah. Hamas with this increased political influence has gained control of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a number of other offices through out the Palestinian Territories, Much to the dismay Israel and of many in the International Community. Then in December 2006 a couple of months after winning the various elections, Fighting breaks out in the West Bank after Palestinian Security Forces disrupt a Hamas rally by firing upon it, Then came shortly after accusations by Hamas that the opposing Fatah Party was attempting to possibly assassinate Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, This combined with the fighting at the Hama’s Rally served as a fuse for a violent ideological struggle between Hamas and Fatah. This soon led to Hamas militants staging a violent takeover of the West Bank and brutally suppressing all Fatah and other opposition there, In the end this left only the West Bank in Fatah control and de facto leaving two separate and ideologically distinct Palestinian governments in power in the territories. The situation in regards to this has been an extremely tense standoff since. Then to the north of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories lays Lebanon where the Shia Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah which is also backed by Iran has a very strong presence and virtually has it’s own system of government, military forces, law, and social services separate from the secular, Officially recognized Government of Lebanon. Hezbollah which translates from Arabic as “The Party of God” is currently led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah who has proven to be an especially charismatic figure in leading Hezbollah. In terms of the history of the organization, Hezbollah emerged as the foremost and leading Shia faction in 1985 during the Course of the Lebanese Civil War, Before being put in this capacity earlier remnants of the future organization had been involved in the bombings of the US. Embassy in Beirut and the Multinational Force in Lebanon’s barracks in Beirut which killed 299 US Marines and French Paratroopers in total. Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 Hezbollah had been fighting the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and their allies the SLA (South Lebanon Army) in Southern Lebanon where the IDF withdrew to set up a security buffer for Israel it’s self, However since Israeli forces withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah forces had moved into the area and subsequently began occasionally carrying out kidnappings of Israel military personnel and shellings of Jewish settlements in Israel. Then this issue reached a boiling in July 2006 when Hezbollah forces in a cross border raid crossed into Israel and in an ambush of an IDF patrol captured and brought back into Lebanon two Israeli soldiers. This was followed was soon followed by Hezbollah demands for the release of prisoners of theirs being held in Israel. Then when negotiations refused to make any progress Israel then launched a ground and air campaign into Lebanon with the goal of not only the release of the IDF personnel that were captured in the cross border Hezbollah raid but also in many ways the destruction of the organization as a functioning armed force in order to perhaps permanently remove the threat to Israel’s Northern border. However ether of these objectives was not to be for Israel as it’s campaign into Lebanon was not only to failure in releasing it’s soldiers but was also to hurt Israel’s already dismal standing in the Islamic World with it’s air war over Lebanon which left many civilian causalities and it’s failure to destroy Hezbollah left the organization with a stronger standing and with more legitimacy with Islamic extremists region but worldwide also. All of this dealt a stunning political and military defeat for Israel much bigger it could be argued then previous experience in Lebanon. Looking at the Arab-Israel conflict and Radical Islam, The Islamists forces in this region are in a stronger position then ever both in terms of political leverage both among their own populations and regionwide and perhaps abroad, but they are also in a better position to threaten Israel militarily. Recently towards the end of 2007 a regionwide Middle East peace conference has been supported by the Bush Administration to take place in the United States in Annapolis Maryland. However many remain skeptical of the conference and the Islamists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon are boycotting it.


   Other regions of the Islamic world have also been rocked by religious radicalism in recent years. This includes regions and nations stretching the Islamic World from North Africa and the horn of Africa to parts of the Former USSR to South and South East Asia. The most of the “moderate” Arab states throughout the Middle East largely excluding the ones on the Persian Gulf except Saudi Arabia all face ever pressing and serious threats from Radical Islamists to their various regimes power especially oil rich Saudi Arabia which would turn into a economic disaster for the West should it fall to Islamist influences. In Pakistan the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Western provinces has caused much unrest there and the Pakistani military and security forces seem ineffective in fighting them, In addition support for some of these extremist Islamic elements remains high in the nation and further combined with the already existing political instability and the precarious situation the Regime of Pervez Musharraf is in, Means that Pakistan a nation that currently possesses nuclear weapons which in the event of a possible overthrow of the government by Islamic extremists would mean that these types of radicals would have control of a nuclear arsenal that they could possibly use or quite possibly transfer to an Islamic extremist terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda. Concern over possible political changes in Pakistan like these have come more to the forefront in the past few months as President Musharraf’s grip on power looked very tedious. However disturbances in Pakistan have calmed down although it’s unsure for how long. There have also been concerns as of recently like Pakistan of some of the nations in North Africa like Algeria, Mauritania and the Western Sahara region of Morocco of turning into sanctuaries and bases for Islamic militants. The same goes for Somalia where in 2006 a Taliban like armed movement friendly to Al-Qaeda was about to gain hegemony over the chaotic and lawless nation which prompted an Ethiopian military intervention with significant US support. In addition some nations in North Africa specifically Algeria and Somalia have seen a recent upsurge in violence and instability caused by militant Islamic radicals. Much remains to been seen how radical Islam will continue to effect North Africa a region with an already violent history regarding such political and religious factions. Other regions of the world such as regions of Russia such as Chechnya and Dagestan have been rocked by sporadic fighting by Islamic extremists who have largely taken over the separatist movement there which started in the 1990’s as secular but has moved in an Islamist direction over the past years into the 21st Century. In addition a several of the now independent former Soviet Republics such as Uzbekistan faced imminent difficulties with Islamic militants, However support from the United States in the wake of 9/11 and the intervention in Afghanistan led by the United States has meant that many Islamist gains in these Republics have been beaten back but many still remain. In Southeast Asia the nations of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and India have all experienced the violent force and emotion of Radical Islam some more adversely then others. Indonesia which is the world’s most populous Muslim nation has experienced sporadic yet deadly terrorist attacks by Islamic militants and continues to feel small waves of social and political unrest caused by religious motivations. Both the Philippines and Thailand where Muslims are a minority, Continue to fight Islam based insurgences which exist in areas and regions of their nation’s with large Islamic populations. Even the rapidly growing superpower of India hasn’t been left untouched by outbursts of violence caused by Radical Islam, Where this is seen in India in terms of conflict is the currently quiet but highly unstable and disputed region of Kashmir where India is fighting a dirty war against Islamic militants along with somewhat often outbursts of violence between Hindus and Muslims more in India it’s self. This all shows with strong evidence that Radical Islam as religiously inspired ideology has had a dramatic and arguably dangerous impact on geopolitics and world affairs going into the 21st Century and will continue to do so in the future.


   Radical Islam’s resurgence in the 21st Century as shown before is the result of the West to some extent due to past Western Power’s failures to take in depth looks at how their geopolitical actions would effect Islamic nations most notably during the past century. However the West most distinctly the United States has made many errors and miscalculations in dealing with the Islamic World, For example the aftermath of the Iraq war and the failure to understand the many tense and amplified differences in the two main Islamic sects in Iraq. This high cost in both lives and resources example along with other examples of combating Radical Islam and the general US foreign policy view towards the Islamic World, Shows in many ways that could be interpreted as US policymakers having only a superficial knowledge of the in-depth differences in politics, religion and culture in the Middle East, In addition the same could be applied to Western policymakers as a whole. It could also be argued that the course of geopolitics and demographics are against the West in fighting Radical Islam as Radical Islam has already made it’s debut in Western Europe among the Muslim immigrant population which unlike that in the United State for the most part, Is not integrating into society, has high poverty and unemployment rates and faces discrimination and from general unacceptance from the native populations, and is vulnerable to extremist influences which have entered these nations, This is especially true among the Muslim youth. This influence not only extends to recent Muslim immigrants to Western European nations but to second and third generations who have become radicalized and this was evident in Great Britain in the summer of 2005 in the aftermath of the 7th of July London bombings in which just about all of the men involved in the attacks were born in Great Britain. This is also proven in France where in also in 2005 and most recently in the fall of 2007 mostly young Islamic immigrants of all generations who hail from North Africa began rioting over alleged wrongs directed at them by mainstream French society, Although this is not the most damming evidence of the radicalization of the Muslim community in France, However it is certainly not a good sign for the future of French society or the West in general. The most recent geopolitical events that deal with Radical Islam shows the West and many nations in general face many difficult challenges and paths of action in dealing with this virulent religion based ideology.                                         


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