Friday, March 6, 2009

Moderates Vs Jihadists: New clash of civilization?

Bernard-Henri Lévy, French public intellectual and journalist, speaking on Fareed Zakaria's weekly show on CNN, made an interesting observation that the new Clash of Civilization is that within Islam between the moderates and the Al-Qaeda led Jihadist extremists. Discounting for the hyperbole, there is strong immediate relevance to this claim.

Two recent events - victories by rebels in Pakistan's SWAT valley and Somalia - appears to indicate that the extremists are gaining ground. In both the cases, the Al-Qaeda allied Taliban and al-Shabaab, had forced the respective sovereign governments to embrace Sharia law.

Bernard Levy's version of the "clash of civilizations" is atleast an important sub-plot in the larger conflict between Islamic militants and mainly, but not exclusively, Western societies and their governments. A victory of the moderates is the only chance to atleast contain this enduring division. Anything else is a recipe for deepening divisions and violence. It is clear that the moderates need support, or else the momentum will rapidly change decisively in favor of the extremists.

I am a little bit surprised by the silence, forced or otherwise, of many of the leading moderates among the Sunnis. The victories of Al-Qaeda (Sunni organization) supporters are surely eroding the credibility and leadership of these moderates. Or is it that they have been forced into a corner by an environment of anti-western sentiments, fuelled largely by the policies of successive American administrations on Palestine, and cannot afford to take a moderate stance in public? In other words, has moderation been banished to being un/non-Islamic?

What lends credence to this view is silence of moderates like the Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of the Al-Azhar mosque of Cairo, seen as the highest authority in Sunni Islam, and a critic of suicide bombings and Al-Qaeda. He had earlier said that groups which carried out suicide bombings were the enemies of Islam, and that extremist Islamic groups had appropriated Islam and its notion of jihad, or holy struggle, for their own ends.

Is Obama administration taking note?

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