After President Morsi took office in Egypt and the recent events in Libya with the death of Ambassador Stevens, it will be interesting to see what unfolds in the Middle East. The Islamists have a golden opportunity to use an amateurish video and enlarge its significance beyond all recognition to their own ends.
Some have argued that the United States and its allies should be very careful how it acts in the region at this cirtical juncture. He notes that “Just a few hours after an angry mob of ultraconservative Muslims stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed during a protest in the city of Benghazi. Both riots were provoked by the news that an anti-Muslimgroup in the United States has released a film that insults the Prophet Mohammed. In Egypt, the protestors hauled down the U.S. flag and replaced it with the same black banner sometimes used by Al Qaeda. Shades of Iran, 1979″. Some however have questioned this anolgy.
Worryingly he goes on to note that “The rioters in both cases come from the region’s burgeoning Salafi movement, and the Salafis have been in the headlines a lot lately. In Libya, over the past few months, they’ve been challenging the recently elected government by demolishing ancient Sufi shrines, which they deem to be insufficiently Islamic. In Tunisia, they’ve been attacking businesses that sell alcohol and instigating nasty social media campaigns about the country’s female competitors in the Olympics. In Syria’s civil war, there are increasing reports that the opposition’s wealthy Gulf financiers have been channeling cash to Salafi groups, whose strict interpretation of Islam is considered close to the puritanical Wahhabism of the Saudis and others. Lately Salafi groups have been gaining fresh prominence in parts of the Islamic world — from Mali to Lebanon, from Kashmir to Russia’sNorth Caucasus“.
He goes on to mention “Robin Wright, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed on the subject — say that this means we should be really, really worried. Painting a picture of a new “Salafi crescent” ranging from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, she worries that this bodes ill for newly won freedoms after the revolutions of 2011″. Caryl gives an alternative view noting that “Others, like Egyptian journalist Mustafa Salama, dismiss this as hysteria. ‘The reality of the movement is that it is fragmented, not uniform, within Salafis there are various ideologies and discourses,’ Salama writes. ‘Furthermore being a Salafi does not boil down to a set of specific political preferences.’ The only thing that unites them, he argues, is their interest in returning to the beliefs and practices of the original Islamic community founded by the Prophet Mohammed”. However, even these beliefs are worrying. Salafis see a perfect, almost mythical version of Islam that there seems to be little historical evidence for. Even if such a perfect Islam did exist to attempt to remake it is both naive and dangerous at the same time.
Caryl goes on to write “This doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily opposed to freedom and democracy. During the revolution in Egypt, he says, some Salafis were ‘protecting Churches in Sinai and elsewhere from vandalism and theft’ at considerable risk to themselves, though the fact wasn’t reported in the Western media”. Yet just because some Salafis protected churches does not mean that this is representative of the movement. He adds that “Though solid numbers are hard to come by, they’re routinely described as the fastest-growing movement in modern-day Islam. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Salafis barely figured in the political landscape during the Mubarak years — then stormed onto the scene to capture a quarter of the vote in the country’s first democratic election last year”. He goes on to write that “The Salafi notion of returning to the purity of 7th-century Islam can have the same kind of draw for some Muslims exasperated by everyday corruption and abusive rule”, yet such simplistic notions should be challenged for what they are, nothing more than wishful thinking that will ultimately lead nowhere.
He concludes, sagely arging that “Not all Salafis should be treated as beyond the pale. Salafis who are willing to stand by the rules of democracy and acknowledge the rights of religious and cultural minorities should be encouraged to participate in the system”, and secondly “Second, don’t allow radicals to dictate the rules for everyone else. This is why the outcome of the current political conflicts in Tunisia and Libya are extremely important for the region as a whole”.
Others have noted the dangers in Libya and posts have noted “Even before this attack there was evidence to suggest that al Qaeda was involved in Libya. Although there is no proof of al Qaeda participation in the original uprising against Qaddafi, high-ranking al Qaeda leaders did make their way to Libya at the end of 2011″. Lastly, other writers have mentioned that this is not the first time that this paticular brand of Islam has been active in Libya.