Eradicating Terrorism: Reforms and More Reforms

Silhouette of several muslim militants with rifles
Silhouette of several muslim militants with rifles

No country is immune from the scourge of terrorism. If a country thinks that it has terrorism under control, believe me it has not; terrorism will thrive elsewhere and will come back with a vengeance. Recruits are available the world over. They can be reached, indoctrinated and manipulated into a deadly one-person army in no time.

Whatever their individual religious beliefs and associations, members of organizations such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boco Haram and the Taliban, though a minuscule fraction of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, are invariably associated with all Muslims and Islam. Why have Muslims become so associated with terrorism? The majority of terrorist acts seem to originate with individuals who claim Islam as their religious faith. Bombs and more bombs can kill but they cannot eradicate perverted teachings, hate and injustice. It's time to face facts, address the problem globally, and now, before it permeates every corner of the world.

The Lifeblood of Modern-Day Terrorism

A Religion Hijacked:
Islam was hijacked early on. Most Muslim rulers claimed Islam for legitimacy but did little to uphold its essence -- unity of God's creation, justice and freedom. Religion quickly became an instrument of the power to control and rule. A few lived a life of luxury, while many suffered in poverty.

Today, hereditary rulers, dictators and compliant clerics have taken over the pulpit and interpret Islamic teachings for their own benefit. They even implement policies that directly contradict the Quran and the practice of the Prophet. In many Muslim countries, it has become a crime to question or discuss the teachings of the Quran, discussions that were encouraged the Prophet. Instead, clerics and rulers have advocated rote memorization of the Quran, with no free debate of its underlying philosophy and its message.

Perversion of Islamic Teachings: Islam is a rules-based religion, with the rules outlined in the Quran and interpreted by the Prophet Mohammad. Rules in turn provide the foundation for effective institutions. The discussion of the philosophical foundation of Islam is necessary for Muslims to establish institutions for justice and for economic, social and political progress.

Although Muslims may uphold the Five Pillars of Islam in Muslim-majority countries, there is much more to Islam, and their societies do not convey the characteristics one would expect of rule-compliant Muslim societies; in other words, of societies that have adopted the rules and institutions professed in Islam.

Failed Muslim States: The indicators of failed states are to be seen everywhere in the Muslim World -- armed conflicts and civil wars, massive human displacements, refugees and immigration from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; the emergence of ISIS on the global radar and its horrific atrocities against Western interests and its even more devastating, though less advertised, atrocities against Muslims; a few living in unbelievable luxury while the majority live in poverty; hundreds of millions of disenfranchised masses with no decent employment or prospect for a better future; and Western countries increasingly predisposed to erecting higher barriers to Muslim entry and sending drones to kill terrorists where they live, but ignoring the reality that the West's actions are providing the foreign training ground and the fuel to make terrorists out of some of their own Muslim citizens.

The Fruits of Twentieth Century Collaborative Colonialism: While Muslims should accept the major share of the responsibility for the failure of their countries, world powers should acknowledge some responsibility. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the world powers carved up the Empire with little regard for ethnic, sectarian and religious fault lines and they supported strongmen rulers in the Middle East whose rule has been marked by ineffective institutions (especially the absence of the rule of law and representative governance), economic and social stagnation, corruption with the enrichment of a few and false interpretations of Islam to perpetuate oppressive rule. Average citizens in most Muslim countries have been robbed of their freedom and live in societies that afford little hope.

Muslim Immigration to Escape Oppression and its Fallout: Understandably, living with armed conflicts and wars, oppressive conditions that limit religious debate, little political and social freedom and not much hope for a better future, Muslims have been immigrating to the West in the millions.

In the West they find many of the freedoms and the quality institutions envisaged in the Quran. But their transition to the West has not always been smooth. Muslims have not always assimilated to their new homeland. In some host countries, Muslims have been segregated in ghettos with limited opportunities for a high-quality education and good jobs. These conditions -- for which Muslims and non-Muslims should share responsibility -- have bred resentment, especially among the Muslim youth, who have sought Jihadist outlets to escape their alienation. Moreover, Islam has received a bad rap for the un-Islamic and terrorist acts of a few, while Muslims and leaders of their host countries have not done enough to educate the general public about Islam's core values of Unity, Freedom, Peace and Justice. This has resulted in a vicious circle with Muslims feeling alienated and non-Muslims feeling threatened in their own homeland.

Reforming the Muslim World

Religious Reform: First and foremost we must recognize the fact that religion occupies a central space in the East-West divide. Muslims the world over have to assume responsibility and take back their religion from oppressive rulers and terrorists. If they are unwilling to do this, then there is little hope for a more peaceful and unified world.

Oppression in Muslim countries, justified in the name of Islam, has created hundreds of millions of innocent and disenfranchised Muslims eager to leave their homelands. False teachings attributed to Islam by Jihadists have supplanted Islamic teachings emphasizing the oneness of creation, freedom and social and economic justice. It is up to the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world to peacefully debate the underlying philosophy of their religion, institute needed reforms and drive out the false teachings that have increasingly permeated Islam. The campaign to eradicate terrorism is more about spreading Islamic teachings of Unity and reform than about dropping bombs on terrorist targets.

Constitution and Legal System: While leaders in some countries claim the Quran as their constitution and Sharia as the law of the land, it may be time for Muslims to examine these claims and their impact. The duplicity of rulers in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East is glaring: they claim Islam yet rob their citizenry blind and impede the emergence of effective institutions to modernize their countries.

Muslims, like non-Muslims, deserve the opportunity to vote on a constitution. The essentials are the form of government and its electoral system, where power (executive, legislative and judicial) is vested and how it is to be exercised, the rights of the citizenry (life, liberty, and freedom) and the regulations and implementation of public affairs. Moreover, there must be a clear system to revisit the constitution and to make amendments as needed over time. Muslim countries can, and should, incorporate Islamic values (many of which are compatible with those of liberal democracies) into a modern-day constitution that protect the rights of the citizenry from oppressive rulers and fanatical Jihadists.

Similarly, the rule of law or the equal standing of all before the law is essential to creating flourishing societies. Justice is the glue that holds a society together and encourages everyone to participate and grow. Sharia was an interpretation (based on the Quran and the life of the Prophet) of a legal system by a group of Muslim scholars (all men) centuries ago. Times have changed. Muslims need a legal system that embraces foundational Islamic values and the realties of the one world that we all share.

The verbal deference of some rulers to the Quran as their constitution and to Sharia as the law of the land has given oppressive rulers and Jihadists cover to exercise their injustice in the name of Islam. Muslim reformation begins with Muslims taking back their religion.

"Islamicity" Indices and Reforms: Islamicity Indices can provide Muslims with an important instrument to peacefully achieve these much-needed reforms. The indices are not focused on one chapter or verse from the Quran, but are intended to capture its teachings as a whole on topics such as justice, freedom, poverty, opulence, equality of opportunity, the sharing of God's bounty, etc., and these can in turn be aggregated in a number of ways to provide even broader indices of prevailing economic, political or human rights conditions.

The purpose of Islamicity indices is to encourage each and every Muslim to take possession of his or her religion based on its indisputable source -- the Quran -- rejecting pronouncements from clerics, rulers, the media and much less from extremists, who all have agendas. It provides Muslims with a performance indicator of their rulers, governments and communities. It isolates successes and failures in order to derive better policies. The contemporary socio-economic state of Muslim countries is not stellar and a change of policies is required for a turnaround. Both Muslims and non-Muslims may begin to attribute the current state of affairs in Muslim countries not to Islam, but to its correct source -- Muslim rulers and governments, their cronies, and their foreign backers and the failure of individual Muslims to take ownership of their religion. Most important, these indices can be the catalyst for positive change in the Muslim world, by providing a benchmark and room for debate.

It is harder for clerics and rulers to dismiss these indices. If they object to any element in an index, adjustments can be made but the story will not change significantly. Islamicity indices reveal the performance of countries for all to see. Successes and failures can be assessed to derive better policies.

Participation of the Non-Muslim World:
The countries receiving Muslims immigrants must be lauded for their generosity. However, for all sides to benefit, Muslims must do their utmost to assimilate and their hosts should endeavor to learn about the religion of their new compatriots -- not to disparage Islam but to tout its important teachings that are common to all free societies.

The other contribution is from the great powers. The great powers should encourage, no coerce, leaders in their client Muslim countries to embrace political, social and economic reforms that support a future that includes freedom, representative government and economic opportunities for all their people.

International Cooperation and Policies

It will take thoughtful, longsighted and sustained policies and initiatives on a global level and on many fronts to arrest Muslim terrorism and begin a well-grounded turnaround. Terrorists can recruit and operate anywhere. Moreover, if the fight is left to a few countries they may focus on their own selfish interests and ignore the interests of the rest of the world. No matter how thoughtful and comprehensive the approach, it will take time to succeed. The longer a comprehensive global approach is delayed, the more entrenched terrorism will become.