By Omar Shariff
Gabriel G. Tabarani
In Jihad's New Heartlands: How The West Has Failed To Contain Islamic Fundamentalism, London-based author Gabriel G. Tabarani draws on his extensive experience in the Middle East to provide an insight into the phenomenon of extremism and what can be done to combat it. Excerpts from an interview:
· With the death of the Al Qaida supremo, and people’s weariness with the unending militant violence, do you think we are looking at a post-extremist era in the Muslim world?
· Following the toppling of the authoritarian regimes in Tunis and Cairo, both the Al Nahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are expected to do well in the general elections. How would you assess this probability, given that both Rashid Al Gannoushi of Al Nahda and Essam Al Erian of the Brotherhood are seen as moderate pragmatists?
- I suppose the best way to answer your question is to run through the gradients. First, I do not believe Al Nahda or the Muslim Brotherhood will gain sufficient support to form majority governments. The next gradient down from here is that they will form part of a coalition government with non-Islamist parties. This seems most likely, given the poll data (Muslim Brotherhood 20 per cent and Al Nahda 18 per cent). That accounts for the near term; the longer term will depend on how the Islamic parties perform in government or opposition.
· You contend that Ethiopia had to intervene militarily in Somalia when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was briefly in power — a period characterised by peace for the first time in many years. Is it fair to blame the ICU, when people at that time saw it as US-backed aggression by a dictatorial regime in Addis Ababa, which led to disastrous consequences for all concerned, especially Somali civilians?
- I never contend in my book that Ethiopia had no choice but to intervene militarily. However, given the situation at the time, "the hardliners ... began pushing the ICU [the then ruling Islamic Courts Union] into increasingly bellicose and radical positions that alarmed neighbouring Ethiopia and the United States. The ICU declared jihad on Ethiopia .... In short, the hardliners in the ICU did everything they could to provoke a war with Ethiopia, and in late December 2006 they got their wish."
So my aim in my book was never to contend or to blame. My objective is merely to put forth the truth in an unbiased manner, according to documented information. This is without taking sides or passing judgement.
Furthermore, to fully understand the Ethiopian government's actions at the time, more analysis would have been needed — however, I felt that this was beyond the remit of my latest book and thus was only touched upon briefly.
· Do you think Western political and economic interests can be aligned with the values and politics of moderate Islamist parties? If so, why has this not happened across the Muslim world?
Perhaps a more salient question would be: Why has cooperation between the West and the Islamist moderates not yet materialised? This is owed to the West's ignorance and misunderstanding of Islamist moderates' aims compared to those held by radical Islamic Salafis — this is understandable to a certain extent after the events of September 11. However, with the arrival of the Arab Spring, it would appear that the West (the US in particular) has tacitly accepted to work with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria and perhaps in other places in the future.
· The subtitle of your book is ‘Why the West Has Failed to Contain Islamic Fundamentalism'. But for the most part of the book, you have concentrated on the different challenges of militancy in various Muslim countries.
- You are correct in drawing attention to the subtitle. However, as mentioned it is a subtitle — there to add colour and clarity to the main title, that being Jihad's New Heartlands. I thought it is best for the reader that I focus the most part of the book on providing detailed analysis of Jihad's traditional heartlands, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and its new heartlands such as Yemen, Somalia, the Levant, the Maghreb, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As this book is written in English, it is most likely to be read by Western audiences who are likely to benefit most from an understanding of the origin of radicalism in Islam, a topic sensationalised by the Western press. I wanted them to get an appreciation for Islam as a religion of peace — how it was originally intended — and not as a warlike faith as some conservative pundits in the West may pretend.
-Omar Sharif is the Deputy Editor of the Gulf News