Very few people know that in Islam there are two kinds of jihad. The smaller Jihad is the more known one, namely the one which reflects a military struggle. But the greater Jihad which is less known is the internal Jihad -- or Struggle.
Few people also know that the Arabic word Jihad is used throughout the Christian Bible as well. II Timothy y 4:7 states I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. The Arabic verse uses the term fight for the word Jihad.
So whether it is the struggle or the fight for a better world, Jihad is certainly not a monopoly to Islamists.
How does this affect the current war on Islamic extremism that's most tangible form has been the Islamic State militias who have controlled large segments of land and people in northern Iraq and eastern Syria and whose success seems to be encouraging further acts of violence outside the Middle East?
World leaders have correctly pointed out that the fight against DAESH (the Arabic acronym of ISIS) must be both a military and an ideological one. We have heard and seen a lot of the former but very little has been done to tackle the ideologies behind this extreme group.
The need to deal with the extreme thoughts connected to this movement was made clear by extremists who carried out the heinous attack against a French satirical newspaper most likely because of the ideas it has espoused.
Whenever violent acts take place, the natural response is the need to obliterate the group or militias behind it militarily. There might be a good case for a military response but it would be a totally counter-productive effort if it is not accompanied by an equally strong ideological response.
It might be possible to kill the holders of some of these ideas but everyone knows that you can't kill ideas by using force. Extremist ideology must be tackled in a number of ways. The most important ideological response to extremism is the need to show that there are better and more effective ways to deal with the various issues that make extremism popular.
This includes the need to introduce real political reform in the countries that are of importance to the people that follow these extreme leaders. This applies both to the Arab countries whose autocratic leadership has left a large sector of the public without any say in what happens to them. But it also applies to the need to continue stemming racism and Islamophobia from many of the western countries where some of the home grown terrorism seems to be gaining strength. The issue is made complicated by murderous acts like that committed in Paris which tends to increase rather than decrease anti-Islamic racism.
In addition to political changes that must be introduced, Arab and Muslim intellectuals and leaders must end the self-imposed silence and speak out clearly and unashamedly. There is no reason to keep repeating that these actions are not a reflection of true Islam. What is needed is for writers and thinkers to produce concrete and practical thoughts and ideas that can be applicable to the 21st century.
Today's Arab and Muslim youth need to be able to find alternative role models and alternative ideas that they can adopt in this struggle of ideas that extremists are working tirelessly to defend while the other side is only giving lip service to. One successful idea called Takween (on a local Jordanian website ammannet.net) has been growing in audience over the internet as reform-minded independent writers from various backgrounds (culture, media, women's issues and workers rights) are producing daily analysis that is the antithesis to the DAESH ideology.
The individual efforts by some intellectuals is to be supported but much much more is necessary. The anti-extremism military effort can't produce any positive results if there isn't a combined change in both how ruling governments conduct their affairs (especially on the economic empowerment front) and to tackle every one of the extremists thoughts, ideas and practices. The battle will be long and cumbersome, but to win, all people of goodwill must work together to produce what is good and uplifting for a better future for all.