With the Arab Spring having devolved to a winter, Islam too is hitting a cold spell.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful movement within political Islam, has suffered its biggest setback. In Egypt when tens of millions of Egyptians revolted, its slogan, “Islam is the solution,” lost its luster.
Salafist groups have also suffered significantly as a result of the Brotherhood’s failed Islamic experiment in Egypt. Mainstream Egyptian media exposed their teachings, their moral corruption, their hypocrisy, and their lack of nationalism. Now the more that Salafists promote or practice violence, the more people turn against their ideology.
Jihadist groups’ dying convulsions have led many of them to pursue a path of destruction as a last ditch effort to “save Islam.” While these efforts can do significant harm, they can be defeated if authorities handle them correctly.
Another outcome of the Islamists’ failure has been the rise of two major anti-Islamist movements. Reformation seeks to reinterpret the religion. Atheism rejects the religion altogether. Both are gaining momentum.
Modern interpretations of the Koran are spreading rapidly, particularly over the Internet, along with an unprecedented explosion of criticism of Islamist ideology in the social media, on YouTube, and even in the mainstream Arab media. Atheists, who have previously been virtually unknown (or at least extremely rare) in the Arab world and in Egypt, now are speculated to number in the millions.
The future of Islam now will be determined by which forces will dominate in the Arab street. Several factors can contribute to the outcome of this struggle.
First is the suppression of the Islamists by the authorities. While it is perhaps somewhat unfortunate in principle, history clearly shows that suppressing Islamists is a far more effective strategy for protecting a society than appeasement.
Consider, for example, Nasser’s Egypt, Ataturk’s Turkey, or even Hussein’s Iraq as distinct from, for example, Anwar Sadat — who released the Islamist radicals from prison and was assassinated at their hands for his efforts. Similarly, in Afghanistan and Iraq radical Islam has flourished since the adoption of democracy.
The availability of the Internet is another factor. The “e-Reformation” that led to the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood has allowed anti-Islamist Muslim groups to flourish. The availability of fast and affordable Internet for young Muslims will be pivotal in shaping the future of Islam.
Another factor is the position that the international community takes with regard to the so-called “military coup” in Egypt. Using the threat of diminishing aid to pressure the military to release Islamists from prison and include them in the political process is not only irresponsible and counterproductive; it is downright dangerous, and can only make things worse.
The defeat of radical Islamic ideology in Egypt can be a role model to be followed by other Muslim nations given the historical leadership role Egypt has played in the region.
Another factor that can influence the balance of power within Islam is the economics.
Failure of the current government in Egypt to improve its economy could allow Islamist voices to rise again claiming that not implementing strict Shariah in the country is the reason for the economic failure.
Moreover, the combination of economic failure and violent Islamist ideology facilitates the recruitment of more suicide bombers and jihadists.
Violence begets economic instability, which leads to poverty, which leads to more violence, and so on. Radicalism begins a vicious cycle of violence and poverty, which ends in the death of entire societies.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.
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