By Arab News
By Sabria S. Jawhar
Now that Donald Trump has informed us that he has “at least 20 Muslim friends” I can sleep easy at night knowing that when he bombs Muslim countries if he becomes president of the United States he’s doing it for our own good.
Many of the Republican candidates for president have promised to wipe Daesh off the face of the earth: Ted Cruz (“We will carpet bomb them into oblivion.”), Trump (“I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, every single inch, there would be nothing left.”) and Ben Carson (“To destroy them, to eliminate them.”) are just a few extreme examples of the absence of rational thinking.
Sure, this is election season rhetoric and plays to the fear and anger Americans have since the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. But it also illustrates just how clueless the world’s leaders are in attempting to stamp out terrorism. And when a candidate for office feels compelled to tell the world that some of his best friends are Muslim or African American or Mexican or whatever ethnic and cultural category they are pandering to, then you know for certain that once they are in office they will do no better than their predecessor in keeping the world safe.
Now we have Philip Hammond, the UK foreign secretary, lecturing the leaders of Muslims countries that they are not doing enough to deal with the threat of extremism. At the recent security conference in Munich, Hammond said that Muslim countries using solely security measures to fight extremism are only addressing the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. “While the West is facing a security problem, the Islamic world is facing an existential challenge,” Hammond said.
Hammond is correct up to a point. He deserves credit for pointing out that Muslim countries are not doing enough. Saudi Arabia can be just as mystified as any other country why some of its bright young citizens stray so far from the path of Islam to commit murder. But why put the onus only on Muslim countries? Homegrown terrorists, often second-generation French, British and American citizens, have engaged in terrorist acts. So it must be asked whether those countries are doing enough to combat the disease and not just its symptoms. Religious extremism is a global problem, often born and nurtured in non-Muslim countries.
Hammond did not identify those Muslim countries that are not doing enough to combat extremist ideology. But he is right that we as Muslims must engage in some serious self-reflection about why so many of our young people are eager to join Daesh to establish a mythical caliphate and live under Shariah that bears absolutely no resemblance to the true meaning and implementation of Shariah.
The UK’s foreign secretary argues that Muslim countries are ignoring what goes on in our mosques, schools and prisons. I can only speak of Saudi Arabia and Hammond has ignored the fact that the Saudi government has removed at least 3,500 imams from mosques spouting extremist ideology between 2003 and 2013. That seems to be a considerable chunk of the cancerous growth of extremism that has been removed from Saudi society. Then critics bring up the same tired argument that Muslim schools are teaching religious hate in its textbooks although critics are usually vague on details, context and how curriculum is approached by teachers in the classroom. Hammond simple does not have enough facts to make pronouncements that schools are part of the disease that leads to extremism.
But the most profound example of ignoring facts about how Muslim countries deal with extremism in prisons is Saudi Arabia’s own rehabilitation program in which virtually every individual suspected of engaging in religious extremism must participate. The de-radicalization program in Saudi Arabia boasts an amazingly low 12 percent recidivism rate, which is the envy of every prison administration worldwide. Yet few foreign governments have implemented such a program. Here Saudi Arabia treats the disease, not the symptoms and has met with success. No other countries come close.
Yet we have seen extremism flourish in European prisons, particularly in France where Muslim gangs convert ordinary criminals into extremists. French prisons are so chaotic and so poorly controlled by prison authorities that gang leaders can easily prey on the vulnerable. For a young Muslim man to survive in prison, he has few choices but to join a militant gang. By the time he is released from custody, he is a danger to every law-abiding citizen.
The tendency of governments today is to hand down lengthy prison sentences for defendants charged with terrorism. Rehabilitation is rarely a consideration. Long into the future we will realize that we missed the boat. Rehabilitation not punishment is the key to treating the disease because those rehabilitated individuals will go on to work with young people to ensure they will not make the same mistakes.
An internal examination of how and why extremism flourishes is the duty of every nation, not just ones with a Muslim majority.