By Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC
The terrorist attacks in Denmark this month and in Paris earlier in January, dreadful as they were, provided just the latest example of Islamic fundamentalism at its worst. There is now the desperate need for a coherent strategy not only by Western political leaders, but also by the leaders of peace-loving Muslims around the world.
As the anti‐ISIS Coalition intensifies it campaign to defeat these extremists, their strategy must also deal with the ominous threat of religious extremism everywhere including Iran, without compromising democratic values and principles and without giving birth to more home-grown jihadists. This means that human rights must be part of every agenda, never de-coupled even in the context of ongoing nuclear weapons negotiations with Iran, which is fast approaching another deadline.
In examining the recent terror attacks in Copenhagen and Paris, we should remember other tragic events: September 11, 2001 in New York; March 2004 in Madrid; July 2005 in London; January 2015 in Paris; the Murder of the British Army soldier Lee Rigby in 22 May 2013; plus those in Africa, Iraq, and elsewhere.
It is important to remember where and when it all began.
Violent Islamic fundamentalism — which is a far cry from what the Koran preaches — was elevated to a new level when the Ayatollahs usurped power in Iran in 1979 and established the first theocracy of modern times. Recognising no borders and resorting to vicious and ruthless tactics, including terrorism, suicide attacks, and hostage taking (remember the US Embassy takeover for 444 days), the Ayatollahs introduced their heretical version of Islam to the world.
That was matched by savagery against the Iranian citizenry, one of the most enlightened in the Middle East. Moderate Muslims were the prime victims and the concept of an “Islamic Caliphate”, currently advocated by ISIS, was originally phrased by Khomeini and is stipulated in the Iranian constitution. In reality, Tehran is responsible for many of the troubles in the region because Iran is the main state sponsor of terrorism and supporter of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Assad regime in Syria.
Another assault on the fundamental values of the West was in 1989 when Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, issued a fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie under the guise of Islam and in protest at alleged blasphemy. This was an overt attack against freedom of Expression and Speech, pillars of Western civilisation. On January 17, the New York Times reported that one document found on the computer of Chérif Kouachi, one of the perpetrators of the Paris terror attack, in 2010 by French police, “described the fatwa against Salman Rushdie calling it fully justified”. Sadly, the response by Western governments was supine, pragmatically motivated by short-term economic interests and lucrative oil contracts.
For too long, Islamic fundamentalism has been perceived as a challenge to the West’s economic interests in the Middle East, rather than a global threat to peace. Today, the world has learned the hard way that it is a challenge to the very fabric of Western countries — and to moderate Muslims.
The issue is not a struggle between the West and Islam, as the extremists would have us believe and as some hard-liners in the West contend. It also is not Sunnis versus Shiites or believers versus non-believers. There is an ongoing struggle in the Muslim world between those who want democracy, pluralism, tolerance, and progress and those who seek retrogression, bigotry, intolerance, and suppression — and power.
It is no coincidence that all varieties of Muslim extremists — Sunnis and Shiites, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram, etc. — have many things in common rather than differences. In reality, they complement each other. That is why it would be a huge blunder to seek the support of one group of extremists, like those ruling Iran, to neutralise the threat of another group, such as ISIS. It also would be a great strategic blunder to confine the confrontation to military or policing solutions. The solution requires a comprehensive political, cultural, and ideological strategy.
In this battle, moderate Muslims with a clear anti-fundamentalist, tolerant agenda and appeal are inevitable and inseparable allies of the West. That’s why Western countries should embrace democratic Muslims and not play into the hands of the extremists by marginalising them. They are the vast majority of Muslims, who are being quelled by the vicious barbarism of the extremists and theocratic rulers in the Middle East and ignored in the ongoing debate in the West; remember, one of the policemen killed by the Charlie Hebdo attackers was a Muslim.
In the search for allies, the principal Iranian opposition, the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI), stands out. It held firm against Khomeini and his mediaeval beliefs, rejecting them as being totally anti-Islamic. It is also led by a Muslim woman, Maryam Rajavi, and promotes women's right to assume political leadership, unique for a Middle Eastern opposition movement. As a consequence, tens of thousands of its members and supporters were persecuted and slaughtered by the Ayatollahs in Iran. Their “crime”: they wouldn’t relinquish their profound belief in the true preaching of Islam, a popular rule where the ballot box is the only criterion for legitimacy.
NCRI's view of giving voice to Iranian women - one of the prime victims of the Ayatollahs and their religious fundamentalism - further troubles the misogynistic fundamentalists ruling Iran today. Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance advocates a moderate, tolerant Islam that is the antithesis of extremism. She advocates coexistence and a pluralistic governance that is articulated in a ten-point plan for a future Iran; she has called the Ayatollahs the worst enemies of Muslims and Christians alike.
The terror by Islamic fundamentalists will sadly be repeated and repeated unless there is a comprehensive policy to combat the mind-set of these terrorists. The Islamic extremists can be put on the defensive. But first the free world must define friends and foes correctly and focus on the epicentre where the threat all began, namely the Ayatollahs ruling Iran.
This article first appeared in The Hill Congress Blog.