Categorized | South Asian Politics

Muslim world marred by internal divisions

Posted on 30 January 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari


 Pakistan is in the grip of a new series of violent attacks by militant Islamic groups that began two weeks ago. These groups are targeting state officials, security personnel and ordinary citizens. Earlier, similar attacks were made by these groups in June-July 2013. On both occasions the civilian government and the security establishment issued tough statements and adopted some security measures. Most of this was a reaction to what the Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan and other groups were doing. Pakistani authorities have not so far taken the initiative in the fight against terrorism.

 Pakistan is not the only Muslim country that faces internal conflicts, including violent attacks by militant Islamic groups. Several countries like Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are facing serious internal challenges.

 The Iraq government faces a militant challenge in Anbar province where Salafi and Al-Qaeda type groups have recently established their domain in parts of that province. The sectarian issue has gained prominence in Iraq. Therefore, despite the fact, the United States troops left Iraq some years ago, it has not seen stability in parts of its territory.

 Libya has not seen stable peace after the overthrow of the government of Colonel Gaddafi and his assassination. Different tribal and Islamic-fundamentalist groups are contesting each other and the weak Libyan government.

 Syria is experiencing two-fold internal violence. A struggle for power between the Damascus government and its opponent armed groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The insurgent groups fighting the Bashar-al-Asad’s government are fighting with each other also. Some hardline Islamist groups with linkages to Al-Qada are also trying to eliminate those among the insurgent groups that are viewed by them as rivals.

 The internal conflict in Bahrain is a power struggle among two major groups: the government and anti-government groups. This has strong Islamic-sectarian color because the majority of population is Shia and it finds itself excluded from the power structure.

 Yemen is experiencing tribal and separatist challenges coupled with the increased activity of Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.

 Egypt has not obtained stable peace after the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In 2013, the powerful Egyptian Army took control of the state by dislodging elected President Morsi who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi assumed presidency in 2012 and used his powers to strengthen his party’s political and ideological control over the state and society in total disregard to other groups. This sharpened divisions in politics, enabling the military to knock out the Morsi government. The Muslim Brotherhood’s resistance to military rule did not succeed because the resistance was done only by Muslim Brotherhood hardcore.

 Each country has its peculiar features of politics and society. Therefore, the details of the internal conflict vary from country to country but there are some common factors that are found in these Muslim countries which show that there are more than one struggle for power and ideologies going on simultaneously. Foreign interests get involved in the countries facing internal conflict and terrorism.

 The first common factor in these and several other Muslim states is the growing pressure of socio-economic inequalities. Each state has a small rich group of people, mostly the rulers or close to them. However, a large number of people suffer from poverty and under-development with little hope of improvement of their conditions. These people have little attachment with the state and get attracted to various appeals based on ethnicity, tribe, language and religion and religious-sectarian appeals.

  There is a crisis of leadership in these countries. Either the military provides leadership or a combination of military, bureaucracy and affluent tribal elite. They do not have an appeal which cuts across various divisions in the society. Consequently, the national framework goes in the background and the people think in terms of identities smaller than the state.

  Second common factor can be described as a pure and simple power struggle among competing interests where the tradition of constitutionalism and the rule of law is poor or non-existent. Therefore, invocation of law and constitution depends on the needs of a competing interest. If these help to achieve the group interest, there will be a lot of support for honoring law and constitution. If law and constitution become obstacles to achieving group agenda, these are rejected.

 Third, in the absence of competing worldly ideologies after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the decline of Communism, Islam has become political ideology for many groups. However, this has caused divisions because of hardening of differences of Fiqh schools. There is also a debate on the methods of implementing Islam of one’s choice. Whether through preaching or by coercion and violence?

  Different militant and non-militant groups are engaged in three-types of conflict. First, they are fighting against the West in order to push back its cultural and political impacts on the society. This struggle becomes more serious if the West, especially the United States, is viewed by them as a supporter of their adversary group or the state where these groups are engaged in religious and political struggle.

 Second, they often challenge the writ of the state in order to paralyze it and take its control to impose their preferred Islamic order. If that is not possible they want to create a territorial enclave for them.

 Third, these groups also compete with each other. Each militant group claims itself to represent “genuine” Islam and wants to destroy any group that does not subscribe to its view of Islam. These militant groups also fight with each other for controlling territory and material resources. Most of these militant groups subscribe to Salafi and Wahabi Islamic traditions or their local variations. Some of them describe them as an affiliate of the Al-Qaeda Islamic movement.

 These struggles, especially the intense use of violence, have caused divisions in each society and the state is either under siege by these groups or fights against these groups. This has reduced the capacity of the state to fulfill its obligations towards its citizens because continuous strife has adversely affected the economy and law and order.

 These states also become vulnerable to external intervention by the western state and other Muslim states that have some political interest in the troubled Islamic state.

 Unless the Muslim states address their problems themselves and learn to live in an environment of tolerance and accommodation, they will not overcome their internal divisions. Their economic situation is not expected to improve without adopting a more realistic approach to politics and economy and mange internal conflicts.

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