What bothers me is not that we are unable to find solutions to our problems, what bothers me more is the fact that neoliberals are so utterly unaware of real structural issues that their attempts to sort out tangential problems will further exacerbate the main issues. Religious extremism, militancy and terrorism are not the cause but the effect of poverty, backwardness and disenfranchisement.
Empirically speaking, if we take all other aggravating factors out, such as poverty, illiteracy, disenfranchisement, deliberate training and arming of certain militant groups by regional and global players and, more importantly, grievances against the duplicitous Western foreign policy, I don’t think that the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the likes would find abundant supply of foot soldiers that they are getting now in insurgency-wracked regions of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
Although I do concede that the rallying call of “jihad in the way of God” might be one reason for abundant supply of foot soldiers to jihadists’ cause, on an emotional level, it is the self-serving and hypocritical Western interventionist policy in the energy-rich Middle East region that adds fuel to the fire. When Muslims all over the Islamic countries see that their brothers-in-faith are getting massacred in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, on an emotional level, they feel outraged and seek justice.
This emotional outrage, in my opinion, is a far more potent factor that makes Muslims vulnerable to radical ideologies and violence than the sterile theological argument of God’s supposed command to fight holy wars against infidels. If we take all other contributing factors out of the equation, I don’t think the Muslims are an “exceptional” breed of human beings who are hell-bent on killing heretics all over the world.
Peaceful, or not, Islam is only a religion just like any other cosmopolitan religion whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism. Instead of taking an essentialist approach, that lays emphasis on essences, we need to look at the evolution of social phenomena in its proper historical context.
For instance: to assert that human beings are evil by nature is an essentialist approach; it overlooks the role played by nurture in grooming human beings. Human beings are only intelligent by nature; they are neither good nor evil by nature; whatever they are, whether good or evil, is the outcome of their nurture or upbringing.
Similarly, to pronounce that Islam is a retrogressive or violent religion is an essentialist approach; it overlooks how Islam and its scriptures are interpreted by its followers depending on the subject’s socio-cultural context. For example: the Western expat Muslims who are brought up in the West and have imbibed Western values would interpret a Quranic verse in a liberal fashion; an urban middle class Muslim of the Muslim-majority countries would interpret the same verse rather conservatively; and a rural-tribal Muslim who has been indoctrinated by the radical clerics would find meanings in it which could be extreme. It is all about culture rather than religion or scriptures per se.