The forthcoming withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan threatens to boost radical Islamist forces and highlight the United States’ failure to develop “a global strategy to combat extremist Islamist ideology,” says a leading commentator.
“The emergence of democratic governments in the greater Middle East has offered the United States opportunities to help its ideological allies confront the Islamist narrative of victimhood and revenge,” writes Husain Haqqani, formerly Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2011. “Instead, the dictates of U.S. politics have reaffirmed that narrative.’
The notion that al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups can be defeated through sporadic, targeted killings “fails to take into account how drones and other remote tactics are used to encourage extremism among the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims,” he contends.
“Ideologically motivated radicals can recruit, train and regroup even after their leaders have been killed in drone strikes.”
The virulence of such ideologies is nowhere more striking than Pakistan where a recent attack on a Lahore high school demonstrates how radical groups are using the blasphemy law to undermine moderate political discourse.
“Teachers and students are repeatedly being targeted by extremists because they are against the secularism” or nonreligious curriculum taught at schools that aren’t madrassas, says Peter Jacob, who heads the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights organization in Lahore. “It is unacceptable to these conservative minds, and since they have ready-made ammunition in the form of the laws, and no restraint from the government, we see them operating freely,” he says.
“The rise of extremism in Pakistan’s urban center has been a visible trend since the last one decade,” says Raza Rumi, a Lahore native who currently works for the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank. “Lahore is no exception to this trend and has witnessed the onslaught of extremists’ incursions into the public space.”
Such developments appear to support Haqqani’s assertion that “the ideology of Islamist revivalism, rooted in a culture of grievance and victimhood, remains powerful.”
“Newly elected Islamist governments in some Arab countries, such as Egypt, will most likely fuel hatred of the West as a substitute for economic and social success, just as Iran has done since its 1979 revolution,” he fears. “This, in turn, will continue to produce a steady flow of terrorists ready to kill Americans.”
Radical extremism can only be defeated through a long-term, sustained war of ideas conducted by Muslim democrats and modernizers within their own communities, says Haqqani, a professor of international relations at Boston University and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
“Eventually, the United States will have to find Muslim allies who help limit the influence of ideas or organizations that turn some young Muslims into terrorists,” he argues. ‘Washington has made few efforts toward that end, depending on friendly autocrats or whoever manages to get elected instead of working to strengthen modernizing democrats who share Western values.”