In the 1990s, fundamentalist Islam began to emerge as the only coherent ideology to pose a credible threat to the West. Islamic fundamentalism is clearly a global phenomenon. Its adherents can be found in an almost unbroken line from the Abu Sayyaf in the
To understand the extent of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism to the non-Muslim world, it is important to understand the impact the end of the Cold War has had on the political landscape, and to carefully consider the political agenda and salient characteristics of the transnational fundamentalist movement itself.
THE POST-COLD WAR: A MIXED LEGACY
The end of the Cold War left the world with a more mixed legacy than is generally admitted. While the defeat of communism and the peaceful annihilation of the Soviet Empire represented a tremendous moral as well as political victory for the West, the collapse of the
One can say that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the
The collapse of the Soviet empire discredited communism as a viable ideology, especially in the eyes of developing nations. As a consequence, communism is no longer viewed as worthy of emulation. Yet, while communism was defeated, democratic ideals have not necessarily triumphed. Democracy, like communism before it, is essentially a non-indigenous ideology imported into Muslim territories only in the last one hundred years or so. By contrast, the notion of governance according to traditional Islamic principles is a familiar and appealing concept in these regions. Islam clearly has what one might call the “home-field advantage”.
The post-Cold War ideological vacuum has been filled by Islam as many leaders in the Muslim Middle East, North Africa and
The political universe, like the natural one, abhors a vacuum. At its height, the Cold War generally worked to suppress other political ideologies and movements as both the Americans and the Soviets (and their respective allies) committed tremendous resources to either democratic or communist parties and leaders in Asia, Africa and the
The increased popularity of Islamic rule in the post-Cold War era was eloquently demonstrated in
Elsewhere in the world, the absence of Soviet authority in places like
Black Market Weaponry
On the military front, the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and the concomitant loss of centralized control over its vast military arsenal have given the fundamentalist Muslims unprecedented access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capable of making relatively small terrorist groups or nations into world military powers literally overnight. In fact, there have been a number of detailed reports concerning the ease with which Soviet-made nuclear weaponry or other sophisticated military technology can be smuggled out of the country and purchased in the black market.3 This is the world into which Osama bin Laden and others have stepped, with ready cash in hand, and it is the reason why the fundamentalist movement represents such a grave threat to world peace in the present age.
DEFINITION AND OVERVIEW OF POLITICAL AGENDA
Before proceeding any further, let me state here as I have stated previously in other contexts that my remarks are limited to one politically active and politically radical segment of the vast Muslim world, and that I do not mean to suggest or imply that all 850 million to 1 billion of the world’s Muslims are terrorists or necessarily supportive of terrorism of any kind. In fact I consistently use the modifier “fundamentalist” in connection with the term “Muslim” in order to make evident that I am referring specifically to this radical segment. If Islam is an issue in the current political debate, it is not because of anything I or others have written or said but because fundamentalist governments (e.g., Iran, Sudan), political parties (e.g., Islamic Salvation Front), terrorist groups (e.g., Hizbullah, al-Qa`idah, Vanguards of Conquest) and guerrilla organizations (e.g., Armed Islamic Group, Taliban) have themselves made Islam a central issue by pointing to that ancient monotheistic faith as the justification and inspiration for their violent words and deeds. Unfortunately, these groups have essentially hijacked and appropriated the language of Islam in explaining and justifying their actions and by purporting to act for expressly religious reasons.
The term “Islamic fundamentalist” is not a theological term but a politically descriptive one which describes persons or parties that have a very specific and defined domestic and foreign policy agenda. I tend to favor the foregoing term over the terms “Islamist” or “political Islam”. “Islamist” is a colorless term that does not convey the return to the early days of the Prophet’s rule and the fundamentals of the early faith to which the modern day fundamentalists aspire. The term “political Islam” strikes me as similarly unedifying and even redundant since Islam is, by definition, a faith that has been intimately and inextricably involved in politics from the very beginning.
The Muslim fundamentalists seek on the domestic front the establishment of an Islamic theocracy or religious dictatorship (including, if necessary, the violent overthrow of the existing government), the adoption and strict application of the shari`ah, Islam’s traditional legal code, and the eradication and expulsion of all non-Muslim influences on their society and way of life.
In terms of foreign policy, these groups adopt an implacably hostile and adversarial posture toward the West, with talk of military and terrorist strikes against it, the desirability of killing Western citizens, and the necessity (indeed the religious duty) of undertaking a jihad against
Fundamentalist groups can be Shi`ites like the Islamic Republic of Iran or Sunnis like the regime in
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