How to understand what drives radical ideologies and recognize the best solution to the problem.
As Coach Corey Wayne discusses in his book, “Mastering Yourself,” having a basic understanding of world history and international politics is key in being able to think independently, become self-reliant and not fall for ideologies that promote hate or infringe on personal freedom. This is what gives us the perspective and judgment to be able to make sense of confusing world events and determine the best solution to difficult issues, including vexing problems like the rise of international terrorism and the resurgence of right wing extremism.
In this short video documentary, we look at America’s first venture into foreign diplomacy and conflict in the Middle East shortly after the nation’s founding and consider how the same ideology President Thomas Jefferson confronted in America’s struggle with the Barbary Pirates of North Africa drives terrorists today. We also consider how the problem can only be solved from within, and that it’s crucial to support moderates and reformers who risk their lives to speak out against and counter the ideology of religious extremism to help prevent and diffuse reactionary extremism on the far right that led to the mosque attack in New Zealand.
Spend a few minutes on the news or social media today, and you’d think the entire world’s spinning out of control. A barrage of bad news, vitriol and misinformation comes at us faster than we can make sense of it.
Climate change is going to make the planet unlivable — political and racial hatred is tearing society apart — AI’s are going to outsmart humanity — and terrorists are going to mow us down in the streets due to their totalitarian religious ideology — that is, if some new virus doesn’t wipe us out first.
The cumulative effect of all this noise is to overwhelm and oppress the mind — unless we have the context to understand it.
“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
One of the things I write about in my book, Mastering Yourself, is how critical it is to understand history and politics if you’re going to make sense of the world, take control of your life, and design the lifestyle you want— because it’s by this process that we come to understand the problems in the world and identify the leaders and methods most likely to fix them.
“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” ~ Plato
There’s a great quote attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” He’s essentially right, and when we focus on these rhymes of history, we see past the misinformation and gain valuable insight into the issues of the day.
One subject that leads the news and can be uncomfortable to talk about is terrorism driven by radical ideology. In 2016, when the Pulse nightclub attack killed 49 and wounded 58 in Orlando, it was motivated by the same ideology Bin Laden, Al Shabaab, ISIS and Boko Haram have all used to justify their atrocities — a totalitarian religious ideology from long ago that urges people to commit murder. And ironically, it’s the same ideology that drew America into its first foreign war shortly after the nation’s founding.
In the late 1700’s, the Barbary Pirates of present day Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco were allied with the Ottoman Turkish empire, the last Islamic Caliphate. The Ottomans had been waging religious war against Europe for centuries. In 1453, an Ottoman army conquered the Byzantine Greek capital of Constantinople and converted its greatest church to a mosque. From there, they invaded and occupied most of southeastern Europe, laying siege to Vienna in 1529 and 1683, while also challenging the Europeans for control of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Barbary Pirates were an unofficial wing of the Ottoman navy, seizing European ships in the Mediterranean and holding them for ransom. If ransom wasn’t paid, sailors were enslaved at hard labor. Rather than paying for more Navy ships to fend off the Barbary pirates, the Europeans found it more economical to bribe them to leave their ships alone.
After the U.S. won independence from the British, America found itself without a Navy to protect its ships from pirate attack. U.S. envoys Thomas Jefferson and John Adams sailed to London to negotiate terms with the Barbary Pirates’ ambassador. Jefferson asked him why the Barbary states thought they had the right to seize American ships and crews. The ambassador replied, “it was the duty of all believers to make war on un-believers and that any Muslim slain in battle would go to paradise.” With no navy to speak of, America agreed to pay tribute while the politicians debated the issue.
“It will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
“We ought not fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.” ~ John Adams
By the time Jefferson was elected President in 1801, 20% of the U.S. national budget was being paid out in bribes to the Barbary Pirates. But the US had been building state of the art warships that were now ready for battle. This time, when the pirates demanded tribute from the new President, Jefferson refused.
“The style of the demand admitted but one answer, I sent a small squadron of frigates to the Mediterranean.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
A U.S. Naval mission sailed to the Mediterranean to teach the pirates a lesson. Things quickly went south when one warship — the 18th century equivalent of a U.S. Navy Destroyer — ran aground and was captured by the Pasha of Tripoli along with its entire crew. Now the pirates demanded a hefty ransom for return of the ship and crew. Jefferson’s response was to launch two of the U.S. military’s first special operations. First, he sent a band of Navy commandos to sneak into Tripoli harbor disguised as pirates and burn the ship at anchor. Then, he ordered a group of Marines and foreign mercenaries to invade the “shores of Tripoli” overland from Egypt, threatening to replace the Pasha on the throne with his exiled brother.
The Pasha got the message. He released the sailors, signed a treaty and stopped piracy against U.S. ships to save his skin. Jefferson’s gambit worked and would be forever commemorated in the U.S. Marines Corps anthem.
But the Barbary wars weren’t quite over. The pirates were engaged in “taqiyya.”
“Taqiyya” is an Islamic juridical term whose shifting meaning relates to when a Muslim is allowed, under Sharia law, to lie”. ~ Yarden Mariuma, Sociologist, Columbia University
Muslims argue over its true meaning, but radicals believe it allows you to lie when you’re at a disadvantage until you regain a position of strength. And this is exactly what the pirates had been doing when they resumed attacks a few years later and forced the U.S. to fight a second Barbary war in 1815 to finally end their piracy.
After 14 years of conflict, the Barbary wars had taught America a valuable lesson: the pirates’ ideology was directly at odds with liberty and couldn’t be appeased. As a result, America built the foundation of a long range Navy and Marine force that has taken an ever greater role in policing the seas.
Now, the same ideology of the Barbary Pirates has returned with a vengeance — spread by radical imams fueled by Arab oil dollars. Intent on defending their personal power from encroaching modernity, they exhort Muslims to return to the old ways, when religion was spread by the sword.
News Report: “At Britain’s largest mosque in Maldon, prayers are led by 25-year old Abdul Quddus, born in Pakistan, brought up inside London, Quddus has been an imam for three years. And he believes its fellow imams in other mosques who are to blame for the radicalization of young British Muslims.”
Quddus: “It’s like a cancer. It’s growing and growing.”
Interviewer: “Why is that?”
Quddus: “I think it’s people in the mosque. The imams. They’re responsible. They’re not teaching the correct teaching of Islam. They are misconstruing it. They’re playing with the young and fertile minds of our youth, and that’s the unfortunate reality.”
The evidence is everywhere. In the lawless lands of Somalia, pirates have safe haven, while Al Shabaab terrorists launch attacks on malls and colleges in Kenya.
News Report: “Al Shabaab, the Al Qaeda affiliated Somali jihadist group, has claimed responsiblility. The attacker’s mission as spokesman for Shabaab has said, “It was to kill those who are against us,” adding, “Kenya is at war with Somalia.””
In Nigeria, Boko Haram rampages through the countryside destroying villages and kidnapping school girls.
News Report: “There’s a battle raging as we arrive, and fresh troops are being sent in to fight. Cameroon and Chadian soldiers are trying to hold this bridge. It stands between them and Boko Haram on the other side of Nigeria.”
In Syria and Iraq, ISIS has committed horrific atrocities trying to carve out their own caliphate.
News Report: “Six months after ISIS lost it’s stranglehold on Mosul, the human cost of the fight litters this landscape. On the banks of the River Tigris, which became the final front line, the decomposing bodies of fighters seep into the ground they sought to control.”
And across the world from India to Europe and North America, terrorists motivated by the same ideology are launching attacks to murder innocents. In every situation, some Imam claiming knowledge of God’s will has convinced young men (and women) to kill innocents and die to advance a totalitarian religious directive on how to structure society.
The reality is much of the Muslim world lives in poverty, with no access to education, except from Imams in the mosque and madrassa. The people memorize parts of the Koran, but can’t interpret it using their personal frame of reference. Instead, meaning is interpreted by the Imams, putting the people at the mercy of whatever resides in the Imam’s hearts.
“If suicide was a short cut to paradise, whoever convinced you would have blown himself up before you.” ~ Imam Tawhidi
Fortunately, moderate voices are speaking out and trying to counter the radicals.
“Let’s not leave an educational vacuum to be filled by religious extremists who go to families who have no other option and offer meals, housing and some form of education.” ~ Hillary Clinton
Imam Tawhidi is a moderate Islamic leader in Australia trying to reform Islam from within, and risking his life to do so.
“I am a free human being. I don’t belong to anyone or any system. Religion is here to serve humanity, humanity doesn’t serve religion.” ~ Imam Tawhidi
Shireen Qudosi is an American Muslim reformer who’s not afraid to question everything, including the history of the religion’s founding.
“When Islam was originally birthed, it was all about peace in the first 12 years. After that, the Prophet Mohammed waged his jihad campaigns, which is where you see the justifications for today’s radicals.” ~ Shirheen Qudosi
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali woman who left Islam, was elected to the Dutch parliament and now lives under constant threat of death for speaking her mind.
“By declaring our Prophet infallible and not permitting ourselves to question him, we Muslims had set up a static tyranny. The Prophet Muhammed attempted to legislate every aspect of life. By adhering to his rules of what is permitted and what is forbidden, we Muslims suppressed the freedom to think for ourselves and to act as we chose. We froze the moral outlook of billions of people into the mindset of the Arab desert in the 7th century. We were not just servants of Allah, we were slaves.” ~ Ayyan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “It’s such a big mistake discussing Islam, and the impact of Islam, in Europe as a matter of race or race relations. I think that’s the whole mental mistake that we have been making all the time. It’s just a set of ideas, and if we treated Islam like we’ve treated Christianity and like we’ve treated Communism, and all of these other political philosophies, then I think we will be closer to understanding the problem, defining it and dealing with it.”
And Maajid Nawaz is a British Pakistani former radical who had a change of heart while he was imprisoned in Egypt with older radicals from the Muslim Brotherhood, and now advocates for a “secular Islam.”
“If Liberalism is to mean anything at all, it is duty bound to support, without hesitation, the dissenting individual over the group, the heretic over the orthodox, innovation over stagnation, and free speech over offense.” ~ Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz: “We’ve got to stand up and say, all of us need to be… and I think it’s honest and forthright to say, yes Quilliam can do more. Yes, civil society must do more. And yes, extremism does exist on campuses, but it’s not restricted to university campuses. It’s also in mosques, it’s also in people’s homes, but it’s in our country. And it’s not just Muslims. It’s far right fascists as well. All of us have to challenge both sides of the extremism.”
Maajid Nawaz is right. The world has to support dissenting individuals over the group and free speech over offense. We truly are in the midst of an ideological war, much like the struggle with Nazism or Communism, and we need to support these people on the front lines who are confronting the extremists and trying to reform their religion.
Reform needs to come from within the Muslim community, but we can collectively work to make the world safe enough for their voices to be heard and make a difference. Some people are offended if you remind them of the history of the problem, but if we don’t understand that history, we’ll never solve the problem.
“There will come a day when you will see far more radical extremists and terrorists coming out of Europe because of the lack of decision-making, tying to be politically correct or assuming that they know the Middle East, and they know Islam, and they know the others far better than we do, and I’m sorry, but that’s pure ignorance.” ~ Abdullah bin Zayed, Foreign Minister, United Arab Emirates
Barack Obama: “We are here today because of a very specific challenge, and that’s countering violent extremism… And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
What moderates and reformers like bin Zayed and others like him have to say is critical in filling out an understanding of the problem. If their voices of reason are silenced or marginalized and the underlying problem is not addressed, there’s a real danger the world will see more and more cases where fanaticism from the radicals ignites retaliation, like the horrific mosque attacks in New Zealand, where a white supremacist massacred innocent Muslims, or the Finsbury mosque attack in London, where a man ran down Muslims, leaving a service in retaliation for similar attacks by Islamists in Europe.
News Report: “Worshipers leaving a mosque after Ramadan prayers, the target for yet another terrorist attack. Witnesses told me a van deliberately steered towards a large crowd.”
It truly is a vicious cycle where extremism breeds extremism, and much like Communism spawned Fascism and Nazism, the Islamist radical ideology seems to be spawning a new fascism worldwide.
What happened in New Zealand is particularly atrocious, because it fans the flames of such a conflict. The truth is that there have been dozens of attacks by radical Islamists on Christians. Just in the last month, over 100 Nigerian Christians were killed by Islamist militants in Nigeria. It’s estimated some 85,000 people – most of whom are Muslims – have been killed by Islamists around the world in the last year alone. In 2017, ISIS slaughtered over three hundred Sufi Muslims worshiping at a mosque in the Egyptian Sinai, simply because they viewed them as apostates.
News Report: “The attack happened in the North of Egypt’s vastly populated Sinai peninsula in the town of Bir al-Abd. It was during Friday prayers that witnesses say dozens of gunmen arrived at the Al-Rawda mosque used by worshipers from the Sufi branch of Islam. This is a mystical form of the religion regarded as heretical by many extremists. Terrorists have killed a number of Sufi Muslims in Bir al-Abd in recent months, but this is the first time a place of worship here has been targeted.
So what do we know about the likely attackers? The Egyptian military has been battling a local affiliate of so-called Islamic State called Sinai Provence for several years. There was a spike in violence in 2013 when Egypt’s President Sisi came to power. The group is believed to be behind the Russian jetliner crash in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015, which killed all 224 people on board, and there have been recent concerns about battle-hardened IS terrorists returning to the region from Iraq and Syria.”
One thing is clear, if we are going to chart a path towards peace and not spiral into a broader civilizational war – not only do we need to support the people within Islam who risk their lives to confront the extremists, but we also have to reject extremists who try to demonize all Muslims or would resort to violence against Muslims in retaliation.
With all the bad news out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We need to learn from the past, and pay attention to both the constructive and destructive lessons in history. We need to collectively take part in building a society that upholds the best values, and instills those values in our hearts and minds and those of our children.
The solution starts with each of us individually. If we master our own minds, become self-reliant, cultivate inner peace and learn to think independently, we’re less likely to fall for misinformation and tolerate radical ideologies that are opposed to self determination, liberty and personal responsibility. And we need to encourage our fellow human beings to have honest and open lines of communication to discuss the root cause of problems, including things that are uncomfortable to talk about. The bottom line is, you can’t solve problems unless you can talk openly and honestly about them.
The truth is this radical ideology does the opposite of putting people first and respecting their individuality — it seeks to enslave mind, body and soul by imposing a strict set of rules to control people’s lives with serious penalties for disobeying.
If you want to be a free thinker who achieves their highest potential and lives their happiest and most meaningful life, you have to turn your back on anyone advocating ideologies of tyrannical religious or governmental control, hatred, death, misery or destruction. It’s called having freedom of conscience, and it’s one of the most important foundations of liberty.
You can only reach your full potential if you have the time, space and freedom to explore, and become who you really are.
“Hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; The mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy.” ~ Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Laureate
This insight should encourage us to do our own research and seek our own answers. They’re out there if you make understanding history and politics — if not a part time profession — at least a hobby. You can get a head start by reading my book, “Mastering Yourself” for FREE on my website UnderstandingRelationships.com by subscribing to the newsletter.