By Barry Rubin
As I’ve predicted since February, a major consequence of the Egyptian revolution and the rise of radical Islamism there will be a return to the terrorism of the 1990s which destroyed the tourism industry; targeted Christians; murdered moderates and secularists; and killed government officials and bystanders.
Now a group has attacked two police stations in el-Arish. And of course CNN misses the point. Those responsible, it reports, are, “Takfir-wal Higra, a group sympathetic to al Qaeda’s goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate.” Actually, the group originated in Egypt long before Usama bin-Ladin began his political activity. And in Egypt, terrorist Islamists come out of the Muslim Brotherhood, demanding faster and more extreme tactics. We will be seeing a lot of such people in the coming months and years.
Once again, this recalls to me the 1981 book of Muhammad Abd al-Salaam Faraj, The Forgotten Commandment. I read it soon after it appeared. At the time, the book seemed like the ravings of a marginal figure, one for whom even the Takfir-wal Higra group of the time was too moderate. Faraj posited that jihad had been brushed aside for centuries by those who wrongly interpreted Islam and must be restored, immediately, to be top priority.
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In retrospect, Faraj did ideologically for Sunni Muslims what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did for Shias: the creation of a new and powerful revolutionary Islamist movement. In the 30 years since this book was written, the once-obscure ideas of Faraj have swept the minds of millions of people and caused many thousands of deaths. They are now in sight of hegemony in the Sunni Muslim world.
Here’s another interesting point. Faraj proves wrong both of the two major sides of the Western debate on Islam. If Islam is so innately a religion of peace then why did Faraj’s argument–based on the holiest texts–become so successful? Obviously, one is not dealing with a few extremists but with radicals who can mobilize mass support and persuade people to accept their view of Islam as the correct one. And they are winning.
But if Islam is so innately warlike and extreme, why did Faraj have to write the book and there mustbe a battle to make Muslims behave as the radical Islamists want? Why are so many of those killed or intimidated by the Islamists those who also consider themselves pious Muslims, whether reformist or, as is far more common, conservative-traditionlist?
The policy lesson, then, is neither to demonize nor apologize for Islam but to ally with the Islamists’ enemies among Muslims and to lose all naivete about the Islamists’ strength, intentions, and ability to draw on deeply held Islamic texts and beliefs.
So Islam can and is interpreted in different ways. Those who show that Muslims don’t always adhere to the texts and still consider themselves to be good Muslims are right. Yet those that show the revolutionary Islamists have strong arguments based on the holy texts and–most important of all–are winning over many others–are also correct.
Up until now the mainstream Western position has been that the Muslim Brotherhood will protect people from the “radicals,” now called Salafists. Yet even if the Brotherhood isn’t advocating violence now it is only because they are making such good progress toward seizing power and transforming Egypt in other ways. Like Hamas and Hizballah, they have no problem in running election campaigns and murdering opponents simultaneously.
The first attacks have been against the gas pipeline to Israel, which the government has been “helpless” to stop and against Christians, where the government has often acted vigoriously…by arresting the Christian victims.
So far, though, most of the violence has been in the form of criminal anarchy. (I’m tempted to write that Cairo is becoming as bad as Paris and London.)
Now even CNN figures out that terrorist groups are forming. Soon they will swing into action.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com