Charlie Hebdo & The Roots of Islamic Fundamentalism

By Hamid Yazdan Panah

The attack that took place this past week against Charlie Hebdo in Paris was nothing short of terrorism in its most horrific form. There is no justification for such crimes, nor is there any room in the modern world for these acts. Much has been said in the way of solidarity Charlie Hebdo, yet little has been offered in terms of policy as it pertains to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism itself. I propose a simple, yet long overdue stance in regards to this issue. Stand with those who have been fighting against fundamentalism and terror, and support an interpretation of Islam that is progressive, tolerant, and peaceful.

I understand that many people have expressed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo as a matter of principle and free speech. I fully support this stance, and agree that free speech is a fundamental principle that should be cherished. However this issue is beyond free speech. Those who took it upon themselves to murder individuals who expressed views that they find offensive to their beliefs are not bound by laws, nor do they recognize the rights of others. Vowing to carry on Charlie Hebdo’s work is admirable, but it does not solve the core issue in relation to these attacks. The problem is one of ideology and policy. Unfortunately the West has long undertaken a policy which supports fundementalism and radical Islam over secular and progressive nationalists that threaten their economic agenda in the region.

For Iranians, and many in the Middle East this form of terrorism is nothing new, nor can it be defeated with messages of solidarity or legislation. In 1989 Khomeini issued a famous fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his writings. At the same time Khomeini was actively suppressing tens of thousands of Iranians at home who dared to defy his rule, the majority of whom were Muslims. Khomeini actively persecuted those whose vision of Islam differed from his reactionary interpretation. Tens of thousands of these individuals were executed, without a word of protest from the West.

The truth is that Islamic fundamentalism is an ideological problem, one which cannot be defeated with bullets, or with satirical work. It is in the hearts and minds of this generation and the next which we can find peace and understanding.

Unfortunately the West has long missed this point, and has repeatedly adopted policies that have only exasperated the problem. Whether it was the support of jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980’s or the undermining of progressive Muslims throughout the region, history is full of examples of these policies.

The military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also heavily contributed to the radicalization of Muslims and an increase in fundamentalism. Western governments, as well as their puppet regimes in the Middle East, have benefited from directly and indirectly supporting extremists, while actively repressing progressive Muslims, many of whom were thought to be too far to the left, or too “independent” for their liking. As a result of the elimination of progressive muslim leaders, fundamentalists were allowed and in many cases encouraged to fill in this vacuum with their own reactionary ideologies.

A simple example of this is the Shah’s assassination of Iranian intellectual Ali Shariati. Shariati blended Islam with ideas related to anti-colonialism and socialism, and as a result was viewed as a radical by the West and their puppet the Shah. Ironically the death of Shariati, and the execution of the leadership of various leftist organizations in Iran led the way for Khomeini and his thugs to seize power, and inflict more than three decades of terror in the country, and the region.

This policy was continued to the present day, as the United States made a political decision to place Iran’s principal opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) on the list of foreign terrorist organizations. The PMOI are a Muslim organization, with a view on Islam that stands in stark contrast to the Mullahs in Iran, including a strong advocacy for the role and leadership of women, as well as the belief in a secular national government.

However the PMOI has also been associated with the views of Ali Shariati, often thought as too far to the left for the liking of the United States. As a result United States labeled the group as terrorist organization, while actively engaging the Mullahs in Tehran. [As a side note, the PMOI challenged their terrorist designation in court, and were removed from the FTO in 2012.]

Female soldiers in the PKK have been on the front lines fighting ISIS

These policies can be extended beyond Muslim groups to include other progressive organizations which have been undermined in the favor of Islamic radicals. Currently, the PKK is on the front lines of fighting against ISIS, despite the fact that it remains listed as a terrorist organization by the United States. The PKK’s ranks include women in leadership positions and in command of military units, a stark contrast to the misogyny of ISIS. Yet the United States will likely never support the PKK and its Marxist ideology.

Today throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world there is a war being fought between these two different interpretations of Islam. Iran is just one poignant example. The only rational policy in regards to Islamic fundamentalism is to support the very real and active progressive movement that has struggled against theocratic and reactionary regimes for decades. Until the West understands this fact these acts of terror will continue, and both Muslims and non-Muslims will continue to pay a heavy price.

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