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A Comparative Analysis of the Islamic Salvation Front and the Taliban

A rising tide of Islamic radicalism has swept over the Middle East, North Africa and Asia since the previous decades (Bordewich, 74). In these regions, impoversihed and disaffected Mulims have embraced the fiery appeal of fundamentalism (Bordewich, 74). Blaming “heretics” and the “corrupting” influence of Western culture for all of society’s ills, their leaders demanded that secular government be replaced with an Islamic state that is based on their own rigid interpretation of the Sharia (Islamic law) (Bordewich, 74).

They wage a jihad (holy war) on everyone who opposed them – intellectuals, artists, Muslim moderates and members of other minority religions (Bordewich, 74). Although majority of the world’s 1. 3 billion Muslims reject such fanaticism, Islamic fundamentalist movements have scored disturbing victories in the past 30 years (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew Iranian dictator Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979 (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

In Egypt, the regimes of Anwar al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak in the 1970s and the 1980s, respectively, supported the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) waged a violent campaign in the beginning of the 1990s to turn Algeria into an Islamic fundamentalist state (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). After 9/11, radical Islamic groups such as the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah started to conduct terrorist activities in various countries across the world (MSN Encarta, n. pag.

). Islam first became involved in politics through Muhammad’s establishment of a community-state in Medina in the 7th century (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). This community-state eventually expanded into Islamic empires and cultures throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Although ruled by Muhammad and his successors (known as caliphs), these were not theocracies (clergy-ruled governments) (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The 20th century saw “the resurgence of political Islam” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

During this period, most Middle Eastern and North African countries were liberated from colonial rule (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). However, their independence was marred with disillusion brought about by failed political systems and economies and the negative effects of modernization (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Majority of newly-independent Muslim nations were beset with social problems such as autocratic leaders, repressive governments, overcrowded cities with insufficient social support systems, high unemployment rates, government corruption and the wide economic gap between the rich and the poor (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). Many Muslims who once hailed Western models of political and economic development as symbols of modernity suddenly criticized these as the causes of social unrest in their respective countries (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). They believed that Westernization resulted in the breakdown of Muslim society through excessive dependence on the West, as well as the weakening of traditional family, religious and social values (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The United States’ uncritical support of Pahlavi and Israel further increased anti-Western sentiments (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). Consequently, Islamic symbols, slogans, ideology and organizations became prominent in Middle Eastern and North African political life in the 1970s and 1980s (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Leaders such as Al-Sadat, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan won popular support by presenting themselves as radical Muslims (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Anti-government movements in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia rose to distinction using the same approach (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

The above-mentioned groups and personalities all regard the return of Islam in personal and public life as the cure to social decay (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). This philosophy stemmed from the Koran, the Sharia and the first Muslim community-state at Medina, all of which emphasized that “Islam is a total or comprehensive way of life” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Hence, for a government to be able to produce a just society, the former must be a reimplementation of Islamic law (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Below is a summary of the effects of the renascence of political Islam:

“The Islamic revival has affected both the private and public lives of Muslims. Many Muslims have become more religiously observant, attending mosque, fasting, wearing Islamic dress, emphasizing family values, and abstaining from alcohol and gambling. Publicly, the revival has manifested itself in the form of Islamic banks, religious programming in the media, a proliferation of religious literature, and the emergence of new Islamic associations dedicated to political and social reform” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

Political Islam is against the Westernization and the secularization of Muslim society, but not against its modernization (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Science and technology are tolerated, provided that their use and development are in accordance to Islamic belief and values (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). In doing so, Muslim societies can experience advancement without Western interference (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). However, it is political Islam’s radical minority that ended up being associated with Islamic fundamentalism (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

The members of this faction were inspired by the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979), which resulted in the origination of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Iran went on to assist in staging antigovernment protests in Kuwait and Bahrain in the 1980s (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). In the same decade, it also helped form Islamic militias, such as the Hezbollah (Party of God) in Lebanon (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Radical Islamic movements believe that there is an ongoing battle between Islam and the West, akin to the Crusades (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

This hostility was a result of the conspiracy between the Western countries and Israel (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Radical Muslims held these two parties responsible for the emergence of unjust or “un-Islamic” governments and the displacement of the Palestinians (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Hence, violence against them can be justified as “legitimate self-defense” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Furthermore, radical Muslims assert that Islam is a religious and political mandate (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Thus, all “true Muslims” must enforce it immediately (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

Individuals and governments who resist or hesitate are to be considered atheists – “enemies” of God that must be fought through jihad (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). As a result, radical Muslims equated jihad with extremism and violence, usually in the form of suicide bombings, hijackings and hostage-takings (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was an Islamic fundamentalist organization that was spawned by abject poverty and corruption in Algeria (Goytisolo & Bush, 68). The National Liberation Front (FLN) freed Algeria from French colonial rule in 1962 (Everything2, n.

pag. ). But Algeria’s postcolonial government under the FLN was mired in praetorianism and inefficiency for decades (Everything2, n. pag. ). Most Algerians did not have access to education, health care, housing and employment (Goytisolo & Bush, 68). Islamic fundamentalists took advatage of the aforementioned situation by setting up informal Koranic schools in mosques (Goytisolo & Bush, 69). In these establishments, Islamists lambasted “corrupt leaders” and “Frenchified intellectuals” (the Algerian oligarchy) and called for a jihad against them (Goytisolo & Bush, 69).

Their chance came when the Algerian Constitution was revised on November 2, 1988 to allow multiparty elections in the country – the FIS was founded in February 1989 (Everything2, n. pag. ). The FIS defeated the FLN in Algeria’s local elections in 1990, having won 54% of the total vote (93% of which were from the towns and cities) (Everything2, n. pag. ). When the government tried to maneuver the election results in favor of the FLN, riots broke out into the streets of Algiers, the nation’s capital (Goytisolo & Bush, 71).

At the same time, young Islamic militants took over the FIS leadership, further radicalizing the party (Everything2, n. pag. ). Their objective was to establish an Islamic fundamentalist government in Algeria (Goytisolo & Bush, 71). In Algeria’s parliementary elections in 1992, the FIS garnered 48% of the votes (Everything2, n. pag. ). The country’s military government then annulled the results (Bordewich, 76) and declared a national emergency (Everything2, n. pag. ). An Islamic rebellion followed, resulting in the deaths of 10,000 Algerians from 1993-1995 (Bordewich, 76).

At the height of the rebellion, militants destroyed establishments that served alcohol, beauty parlors and satellite dishes that brought in foreign television channels (Bordewich, 76). Women and teenage girls have been attacked and killed for wearing Western clothing, as well as for not wearing a veil (Bordewich, 76). Viewing education as a hindrance to the jihad, militants also warned students and teachers to stay away from schools (Bordewich, 76). University professors were killed to reinforce that warning (Bordewich, 76).

Although the FIS was ordered dissovled by the administrative tribunal of the Court of Algiers on March on March 4, 1992, other Islamic fundamentalist groups continue to cause instability and bloodshed in Algeria (FAS, n. pag. ). The Taliban, meanwhile, is an Islamic fundamentalist organization from Afghanistan (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Just like the FIS, it was also composed of young students from madrasas or Islamic religious schools (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). “Taliban” is the Afghan term for “student” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Afghanistan experienced a civil war after it was liberated from the USSR in 1989 (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). The newly-established central government was a coalition that included minority groups such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). This did not sit well with the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, who had long dominated the Afghan government (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). As a result, the Taliban (whose members were mostly Pashtuns) aimed to regain control of the country’s central government (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). They increased their membership by recruiting thousands of refugees, students and war orphans both from Afghanistan and Pakistan (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). They obtained widespread popular support by “(promoting themselves) as a new force for peace and unity” (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The Taliban started its offensive by seizing towns and cities in the south and west of Afghanistan in late 1994 and early 1995 (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). By September 1996, it had finally captured Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with their allies, escaped to the northern part of the country (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ).

Meanwhile, the Taliban captured and publicly executed security chief Shahpur Ahmadzai and his brother Mohammad Najibullah (Afghanistan’s last Soviet-backed president) (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). As soon as they took over Kabul, the Taliban immediately formed a government that was based on the Sharia (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). It established the Ministry for Ordering What Is Right and Forbidding What Is Wrong to monitor the citizens’ conduct and to punish them severely for the slightest infraction (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Clapping, kite flying and squeaky shoes were banned, as well as music, dancing and alcohol consumption (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). Movie theaters and television stations were closed, while public artworks featuring living beings were destroyed (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Men were required to grow full, untrimmed beards, while women were ordered to wear burkas (long, tentlike veils) and to keep themselves secluded from the former (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Women were also prohibited from going to school and or working outside the home (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). This resulted in extreme poverty, as majority of Afghan women were war widows who had to work to provide for themselves and their families (MSN Encarta, n. pag.

). Punishment for offenders included stoning, amputation of the hand and death – often without any form of judicial hearing beforehand (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). The Taliban turned Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorists, akin to what the FIS did to Algeria (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Taliban officials hid and protected Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after 9/11 (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). This resulted in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 (MSN Encarta, n. pag. ). Kandahar, the Taliban’s traditional stronghold, fell to the Americans in early December 2001 (MSN Encarta, n.

pag. ). Islamic radicalism flourishes where democracy does not exist. Authoritarian governments breed corruption and economic stagnation, increasing the attractiveness of the simplistic logic of Islamic fundamentalist movements. When people have a government that protects their rights and liberties, then they would have no need of organizations that simply give them an illusion of empowerment.

Works Cited

Bordewich, Fergus M. “A Holy War Heads West. ” Reader’s Digest January 1995: 73-78. Goytisolo, Juan, and Peter Bush. Landscapes of War: From Sarajevo to Chechnya.San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2000. “Islamic Fundamentalism. ” 2007. MSN Encarta. 29 April 2008 <http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_701505583/Islamic_Fundamentalism. html>. “Islamic Salvation Front. ” 15 April 2005. Everything2. 29 April 2008 <http://everything2. com/e2node/Islamic%2520Salvation%2520Front>. “Islamic Salvation Movement (FIS) Islamic Liberation Army (AIS). ” 3 October 1998. FAS. 29 April 2008 <http://www. fas. org/irp/world/para/fis. htm>. “Taliban. ” 2007. MSN Encarta. 29 April 2008 <http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761588418/taliban. html>.

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