Three minority extremist groups - the militant fundamentalist Islamists exemplified at the far edge by Al Qaeda, certain activist elements among America's reborn Christians and neoconservatives, and the most inflexible hard-line Zionists from Israel - have emerged as dangerously destabilizing actors in world politics. Working perversely to reinforce each other's ideological excesses, they have managed to drown out mainstream voices from all sides. Each has the aim of changing the world according to its own individual vision.
If these extremists are not marginalized, they could succeed in creating a world order with devastating consequences for generations to come. Al Qaeda and its radical Islamist supporters, believing in Islam as an assertive ideology of political and social transformation, want a re-Islamization of the Muslim world according to their vision and their social and political preferences. The alternative that they offer is widely regarded as regressive and repressive even by most Muslims, let alone the West. Violence against innocent civilians can neither be justified in Islam nor find approval among a majority of Muslims. Yet many Muslims have come to identify with the anti-American and anti-Israeli stance of the radicals because they have grown intolerant of America's globalist policies
Muslims have been angered by U.S. support for dictatorial regimes in Muslim countries, including at one point Saddam Hussein's, and by its backing of Israel as a force occupying Palestinian lands and Islam's third holiest place, East Jerusalem. The U.S.-$ led occupation of Iraq, seen by many in the Middle East as imperial behavior harmful to the Iraqi people, has certainly not eased these feelings. On another side are groups of internationalist activists among American fundamentalist Christians and neoconservatives who have found it opportune since Sept. 11, 2001, to pursue their agendas more aggressively. They wish to reshape the Middle East and defiant political Islam according to their ideological and geopolitical preferences.
The extremists of these groups seek to "civilize" or "democratize" the Arab world in particular, and the Muslim world in general, in their own images, and they have particular influence through key appointees in the Bush administration. The fact that democracy can neither be imposed nor be expected to mushroom overnight does not appear to resonate with them. (The agenda of some fundamentalist Christians, who promote Jewish dominance of the Palestinian lands as leading the world closer to the prophesied Judgment Day, is a variant that might be dismissed as a hysterical fringe element if it were not connected to a powerful voting bloc supporting President George W. Bush.)
The efforts of the neoconservatives dovetail all too effectively with the aims of the radical Zionists who push for more and more Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. Because of Israel's proportional voting system, these radicals exercise disproportionate power within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government. Although a majority of the Israelis still support the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on the principle of land for peace, the electoral system leaves them hostage to the minority of extremists in their midst. The activities of these three extremist minorities feed on one another: actions by each are seized on by others to justify their own extremism. With considerable help, intended or not, from one another, these three groups have now positioned themselves to determine the future of world order and, for that matter, humanity. Prime Minister Tony Blair recently declared that Iraq would define the future of relations between the West and the Muslim world. This is also precisely what Osama Bin Laden and his leadership associates have said from the Islamic side. It is important that these minorities not be allowed to have such an influence. It is necessary for the mainstream from all sides to return to the center stage to chart the direction of world politics before it is too late.
It takes a few to make war but many to make peace. In pursuit of peace, not only should Al Qaeda and its associates be marginalized, but the radical international agendas of some reborn Christians, neoconservatives and hard-line Zionists should be completely discredited. Doing away with one and not the others is not an option for our future.
Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune