December 31, 2019 Abdul Haqq

“You can fool all the people some of the time…”

“By time,

Indeed, mankind is in loss,

Except for those who believe, do good deeds and urge one another to the truth, and urge one another to steadfastness.”[1]

The end of each year and indeed, decade are occasions for reflection. The last decade witnessed the emergence and proliferation of fake news across most echelons of society, including political leaders.[2] Fact checking has become a prerequisite when attempting to verify news. From untruthful leaders to pretenders to the throne,[3] societies have experienced the divisive and destructive nature of misinformation that has lead to polarisations across societies, not to mention rising tides of racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.[4]

The remit of this article is not to address already well documented accounts of misrepresentation and their adverse effects on particular communities or faith groups; it is however, to provide a clarification and overview of a religious movement upon which a plethora of research and articles has emerged, often providing inaccurate portrayals that contrast previous historical narratives that distinguished them from extremism. The focus will therefore be on none other than Salafism and its adherents. The article will comprise excerpts from my 2009 PhD study illustrating an insider-perspective and how Salafism is distinguishable from what are referred to as the Islamist, largely politicised, ideology of Muslim Brotherhood  (Ikhwani) and the violent extremist Takfeeri/Kharijite belief synonymous with terrorism.

Reasons for misrepresenting Salafism & its conflation with extremism

In my thesis, I observed:

‘Salafism, in its most basic form, is intrinsically apolitical and the strong attraction to its ideology and methodology is due to an emphasis on the acquisition of authentic knowledge based foundations, coupled with socially conservative practices.Indeed, the Salafist position is considered antithetical to the Takfeeri understanding of Jihad. The latter’s emphasis on both political and apparently knowledge based principles of Islam, although misrepresented by them, appeal to susceptible young Muslims who are disgruntled by a perceived over emphasis on politics from the Islamist/Ikhwani constituencies on the one hand. On the other, the youth, while attracted to the ideological and knowledge based focus of Salafism, are disillusioned by the movement’s apparent political disengagement. Violent extremists are thus successful in attracting youth due to their ability to amalgamate Islamist politicisation with Salafist ideological underpinnings. These two powerful components provide the impetus behind the attraction for violent extremist propaganda.’ [5]

My earlier observations highlighted that:

‘…consideration of three distinct movements (Salafism, Islamism and Kharijism) and their areas of divergence from each other, as one and the same entity with only slightly differing objectives, serves to obfuscate and unnecessarily complicate the true reality of extremist ideologies today…

Their respective ideological and methodological delineations, although similar rudimentarily, have evolved to such a degree that they now remain distinct from each other in particular doctrinal and methodological approaches. To generally categorise them as belonging to one and the same group, each being situated at different ends of an imaginary spectrum, is to [obscure] parameters between movements that have been polemical in their opposition to violent extremism and those seeking to justify it.’ [6]

Conclusion

Other reasons contributing to Salafism’s misrepresentation exist, among them being some of the behavioural characteristics of Salafist adherents themselves. However, as I have explained in previous articles, they cannot be characterised as extremists, unless there is a preexisting ideologically extreme mindset. Some altogether nefarious motives also contribute toward the confluence between Salafism and extremist ideologies. In fact, the counter-terrorism field has become a well-oiled industry in which ‘terrorism experts’ regularly seek to validate their existence by providing appropriately tailored narratives to assuage their financial benefactors’ political objectives. As Darryl Li correctly observes:

Terrorism experts are less faithful scribes of empire than they are enterprising vendors eagerly hawking new wares in the hope of catching the eye of a fickle and easily distracted patron.[7]

Despite this somewhat gloomy reflection of the current state of affairs, there is optimism that the new decade will herald a renewed advocacy for truth and at the same time, a decline of the existing climate of fake news.  After all: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.[8]

 

 

[1] The Qur’an, Chapter; The Time, 103, verses 1-3.

[2] Kessler, G; Rizzo, S & Kelly, M: ‘President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1055 days’, Washington Post, 16th December 2019: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/16/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/

[3] Ingram, H J & Whiteside, C: ‘Caliph Abu Unknown: Succession And Legitimacy In The Islamic State’, War on the Rocks, 25th November 2019: https://warontherocks.com/2019/11/caliph-abu-unknown-succession-and-legitimacy-in-the-islamic-state/

[4] Dearden, L; ‘Religious hate crime rises 40% in England and Wales with more than half directed at Muslims’, 16th October 2018: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/uk-hate-crime-religious-muslims-islamophobia-police-racism-a8585846.html

[5] Baker, A: ‘Countering Terrorism in the UK: A Convert Community Perspective’, 23rd November 2009, University of Exeter, pp.345-6

[6] Ibid, pp.138-9

[7] Li, D: ‘The Universal Enemy: Jihad, Empire and the Challenge of Solidarity’ Stanford University Press, 2020.

[8] Abraham Lincoln, Clinton Illinois, 1858: http://abrahamlincolnassociation.org/you-can-fool-all-of-the-people-lincoln-never-said-that/

 

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