The museum attack in Tunisia was yet another dreadful act of the extremist Takfiri mindset - a mindset that is fundamentally similar to ISIS's ideology. Today, this mindset not only smears Islam but also hinders the positive accomplishments of moderate Islamic movements
The attack in the museum at the heart of the Tunisian capital carried out by Takfiri elements who claim to be part of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) provided another opportunity to repeat the narrative that all those who oppose Takfiris are Westernizing liberal-democrats. Such an analysis prevents us from dealing with the problem of violence in a sustained and coordinated manner. If we keep asking the wrong questions we are unlikely to get the right answers. Let me get to that.
There are three aspects to the violence carried out by neo-Kharijite groups. Firstly, the violence is eroding the barrier between the West as a zone of peace and order, and the rest as the zone of violence and chaos. Western statecraft has for centuries operated under the assumption that violence is what happens in the rest of the world and will not affect the West or its societies, as it will be able to insulate itself from the violence by a mixture of superior organization, superior technology and the legitimacy of its privileged status in the world order. Since at least 9/11, this assumption has begun to unravel spectacularly. The "shock and awe" associated with the war on terror can be seen as an attempt to restore the insulation of the prosperous and peaceful West from its misadventures and the consequences of its actions in the rest of the world. The second aspect of the violence is the conviction in many circles of ancient regimes that endemic violence is better than an epidemic of political Islam. Political Islam, at its strongest, offered the possibility of forging an alternative way of life that did not start axiomatically from the necessity of forcing non-Western societies and cultures into Western-shaped models. Countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran and the new Turkey have the potential to become incubators of alternative worlds. These alternatives will not be perfect, but they will open the space for imaginative solutions to problems that confront many countries across the Islamic world. The existence of alternatives is regarded as threatening to the regional order because it undermines the claim that the current organization of peoples, states and economies is the only way to prosperity. Thus, Western policies, aided and abetted by their usual clients in the Islamic world, have conspired to block the Islamist alternative and hope that the emergence of Takfiri groups will serve to damage the legitimacy of such an alternative and undermine the hopes that Muslims may have to live in countries that are sovereign and free. The aim of Western policy is not to eradicate Takfiri violence, but rather to direct it in a way that subverts the aspirations of Muslims around the world.
This was the strategy of the Algerian junta that came to power in 1994 by stopping the elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was about to win. The junta not only sought to destroy it through the physical eradication of its leaders, but also through the use of Takfiri groups - many penetrated by Algerian intelligence operatives - to massacre the supporters of the FIS in the name of Islamic purity. These false-flag operations helped to muddy the picture and turn hope into despair, and succeed in eventually forcing the Algerian population to accept the regimes for the sake of some kind of respite, and for the chance of peace and quiet. These are the same tactics of the Serbian nationalist forces who bombed and raped Muslims but continually argued that such actions were carried out by Muslims. In this task, Western media outlets were crucial, not because of a somehow naive view that journalists are hired hands of Western governments, but because like most Westerners, they have been unable to get past their own cultural assumptions imbued with a widespread antipathy toward Islam and Muslims.
Thus, the logic of what is unfolding before our eyes in events like the killings in the Bardo museum in Tunis, where 23 people were killed, the bombings of two mosques in Yemen with 137 dead, the kidnapping of hundreds of girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the vandalism of historical sites and artefacts by ISIS in Iraq - the destruction of statues in the museum in Mosul or the damage to the ancient sites of Nimrud and Hatra, for example - is the channeling of the Islamist potential into a dead end of randomized acts of violence that is detached from any strategic purpose. The vicious assaults on whole communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, Sunni and Shiite alike, carried out by neo-Kharijites is not an expression of Muslim agency, but rather its denial.
The question that has reverberated across the globalized media after the killings in Tunis focused on the issues of Muslim-on-non-Muslim violence - the violence in the name of Islam by "extreme" Muslims committed on Westerners in a "moderate" and more democratic Muslim country and the Arab Spring's only success story. The event is seen through the West's parameters, within the dynamic that confronts extreme Muslims versus moderate Muslims. Yet, it also touched upon the dangers and fears awaiting representatives of the West - in this case visitors and tourists - in Muslim countries.
The violence of Takfiri groups, however, can be seen through a completely different prism. The places where ISIS and ISIS-related violence has been preponderant are those countries where the state has either disintegrated, is in danger of collapse or has just given up the fight against armed groups in parts of their territory, namely Syria, Libya, Iraq and Nigeria. These places have become areas where groups that have adopted the banner of ISIS have managed to group, arm, fight and establish, to varying degrees, some kind of territorial control. It is the vacuum of legitimate authority where ISIS lives more comfortably.
Takfiri groups are a reflection not of the innate nature of Islam or Islamism, but rather the violent attempts to shore up the old regional order of unrepresentative, unresponsive governments beholden to Western powers. Democracy without national sovereignty is an impossible chimera. The Arab Spring seemed to promise not only democratic governments, but also national sovereignty. The erosion of national sovereignty in the region is threatening to bring down much of the current state system. Only countries able to match popular representation and national sovereignty are likely to survive this great unraveling.
The spread of Takfiri violence is not a sign of the ideological appeal of the former Baathists and thugs that make up much of the ranks of, but a sign of the collapse of the regional order. The battleground has spread from Libya to Tunisia to Yemen and from Syria to Iraq, not because ISIS is expanding, but because the legitimate state is contracting. The museum in Tunis was attacked not because Tunisia is a model of Westernizing democracy, but rather because of the collapsing regional order that appears to be like a black hole sucking the light from all institutional and state bodies that lack the mass to withstand its gravitational pull. In political science, mass is a function of countries in which the people have a voice and their governments are independent. If all the rulers of the Muslimistan were determined to defeat neo-Kharijite forces, they would introduce reforms that give the people a greater stake in the government, make governments less dependent on Western powers, unequivocally and consistently reject Takfiri tendencies. Only then will their denouncement of terrorism have credibility.
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