The dangers of IslamophobiaIslam is based on two sources. First is the Quran, the collection of revelations from Allah, and the other is the Hadith, the collection of sayings of Prophet Muhammad. To the Muslims, the lessons in the Quran and Hadith are absolute.
“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land — it is as if he had slain mankind entirely,” the 35th verse of chapter five of the Quran says. The Hadith also includes lessons in various places that any life — not only mankind but even a small plant — must be valued. This is why Muslims around the world condemned the attacks on Paris by the Islamic State as “anti-Islamic” and “anti-civilization” actions.
Since the Paris attacks, Islamophobia has spread widely in Europe and around the world. In France, hate crimes against Muslims went up by six to eight times, damaging the image of French tolerance. In the United States, attacks on mosques and Muslims are on the rise.
It is particularly worrisome that the sentiment of Islamophobia is being used for domestic politics. The proof is the soaring popularity of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after he said he wants to surveil mosques, bring back waterboarding and even behead Islamic State members who are captured.
It is not my concern alone that the wide spread of Islamophobia may lead to the clash of civilizations warned by Samuel Huntington.
There are about 1.6 billion Muslims, and the vast majority of them are moderate believers, whether they are Sunni or Shia. The problem is a small group of Islamic fundamentalists who aim to build a global Muslim community devoted to the Quran and Hadith by going back to the era of Muhammad and the caliphate.
They refuse to interpret Islamic doctrine in the context of modernity, instead viewing it literally. That is why they dream about a new regime of theocracy as an ideal Muslim society.
About 10 percent of all Muslims — 160 million — are Islamic fundamentalists. But not all Islamic fundamentalists are extremists. Although some Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are fundamentalist countries, they are largely conservative because they do not want radical changes. But the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram are radical fundamentalists who not only reject secular governments but the legitimacy of other Islamic states.
The extremists want to destroy the existing systems using radical measures, with the aim of building up a new Muslim community. Perhaps about 10 percent of the fundamentalists — 1.6 million — sympathize with them. Among those sympathizers are an even smaller number who want to become a shahid, or martyr, through something like a suicide attack.
Hating and showing hostility towards 99 percent of Muslims because 1 percent are radical fundamentalists is not only a massively reductive generalization, but also a very dangerous act. When the world turns against the entire Muslim community because of the small group of fanatical extremists, every Muslim may become an enemy of the Western world, and this is a most dangerous trap. This is the shortcut to the clash of civilizations. This is precisely the confrontation that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda want — the confrontation between the Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harab. We must not fall into this trap.
Military actions that retaliate against the actions of terrorists are fair, but cannot ultimately lead to a true resolution. Physically annihilating the Islamic State and Al Qaeda won’t completely erase them. The more the Western world retaliates, the more sympathizers will support them. When a shahid is taken out, more shahid are created. This is the ongoing dynamic in the Muslim world.
We must pay attention to the structural reasons behind the spread of extremism. Resolving the perennial political suppression, economic inequality and discrimination between factions and tribes — as well as youth unemployment — in the Muslim world is the most appropriate approach to root out terrorism.
But the leaders of Islamic countries also have enormous responsibilities. They must look at themselves and consider reforms that target the structural problems making terrorism an appealing option for so many. They must also engage radical fundamentalists to find opportunities to help them turn around.
If they just blame the United States and Europe and sit with folded arms, terrorism will continue to spread like poison mushrooms. It is time for us to reset the pendulum of history, which is heading towards a catastrophic ending.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 30, Page 35