Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The origins of Islamic extremism.

Here I shall trace a general overview ,without going into too much detail, of the impact and changes on the Islamic civilization caused by invasions,contact and  politics.Rather than the religion itself,I shall cover the social and political changes in the Islamic world.

When we think of the Arab conquests that took place soon after the death of Muhammad,we imagine Arab armies as a horse borne system.This is in fact quite wrong. Roman and Persian documents tell us that the Arabs at that time actually had heavy infantry based armies. The horse riding,curved sword culture that occupies our minds is actually of a latter age. You see after the Arab conquests and before the crusades,there were another people of great and lasting importance -the Turks [and other central Asian people].The Turks would bring with them a large amount of their own culture and traditions that remain a part of Islamic culture.

Possibly starting as far away as central china,a large number of tribes and people began to move west and they would settle in the middle east[ever wonder why turkey and Turkmenistan share such startling similarities despite such a huge geographical distance from one another?] through peaceful means and by conquest. It was this cultural migration that created the world of horse borne warriors with curved swords.When the crusaders arrived the Seljuk Turks had already conquered most of the middle east[save Arabia itself]  and what the crusaders faced was a weakened Seljuk state and the unruly and now newly independent vassals.

The crusades can show us that the Islamic world could be quite secular when it came to politics. When the Arabs first left Arabia,not all of them were Muslim,Muhammad never forced the conquered tribes to convert so long as they kept their loyalty.When they reached Syria and other areas held by the christian Byzantine emperor,they were on occasions welcomed by the conquered people[composed of Jew and Christians of various sects] as their policies did not interfere heavily with their own religion as the Emperor in Byzantine was prone to do. In Iran and Africa, there were strong and independent cultural identities and Islam was adapted to their own socio-cultural conditions. Spain under the Arabs was a center of learning and the arts  and a refuge for Jews and other who wished to escape religious persecution in Christian Europe. The later Ottoman,Mughal and Muslim Tartar states often had large amounts of non-Muslims under them so being tolerant was the most prudent course of action.

The mongol invasion that ruined the Middle east while leaving Europe mostly untouched also saw cultural upheavals,like the previous invaders they brought in their own culture. The Mongols were rather brutal,and mongol converts like Timur the lame did enforce Islam in very forceful and violent ways,however these systems did not last long.And many tradition that would have horrified Europe due to their liberal nature continued.

Islamic extremism as we know it can be traced to Arabia and Egypt.The radical view of these early extremists horrified and frightened the people,who the western world once mocked for their open and free practices, yet it was soon the norm. The Muslims in china and the USSR soon saw a fall in their number and importance as the Muslims in the Balkans also did.Without a caliph,proper borders or well made political systems left the African and middle eastern people ripe for a radical uprising.Countries like Libya,Egypt,Syria and Iraq often found that being a more secular in their dealing was better for their rule[Egypt] or went with their ideological interests[the Baathist movement,that opposed Islamic extremism].Countries like Yemen,Somalia had communist interests so that left  little room for radicalism. However after the extremists found a place in Afghanistan,they soon turned their interests to Africa,where they succeeded to a great extent in countries like Sudan,Somalia. With Iraq's fall and without a cigar smoking,whisky loving,Baathist dictator around extremists found a new haven. As they did after the western interference with Iran,that caused the Ayatollah and his version of extremism to come into power.

Now with the fall of the secular governments of Algeria,Libya,Egypt,Syria and the attacks on countries like Mali Islamic extremism has found itself several new roosts,courtesy of the west.  

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