The state of Egypt today is nothing less than expected, as Islamic radicalism has created outcomes of misconduct and inhumane criminality wherever it has existed. From casting disfiguring acids on to the faces of young girls to prevent them from getting an education to beheading human beings for merely having a different belief system to burning churches, the common denominator is extremism. Dreaming that respecting the ballot in Egypt was miraculously going to solve the problem is simply unrealistic. As exemplified by ballot results in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections are unable to prevent radicals from conducting heinous criminal acts.
In fact, since the Muslim Brotherhood has ruled Egypt, the United States itself has been attacked on several fronts. These include the invasion of the U.S. embassies in Cairo and in Benghazi, Libya, and the attack on the Boston Marathon in April.
Empowering the Islamists is bringing nothing but turmoil and disorder, and traditional Western approaches to end Islamic radicalism have failed. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in the loss of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and the problem remains, as threatening as always. The reason for this failure is essentially related to the inability of Westerners to grasp the ideological, psychological and cultural underpinnings of the problem.
The question remains whether the West should continue fighting this problem, persisting in pursuing current inefficient methods or to “leave the bread to the breadmakers,” meaning letting the people Egypt to battle Islamic radicalism effectively, themselves.
To understand this last phrase, it is vital to understand the pivotal role the Egyptian radical groups have played in creating the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.
According to traditional Shariah law, jihad (or holy war against non-Muslims) was supposed to be a mission executed at a national level. Ordinary Muslims who wanted to pursue jihad could only do so under the banner of traditional war — between an Islamic nation against another nation. This understanding of jihad — while certainly violent — still did not allow individual Muslims to attack non-Muslims at the individual level as we see today in suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism. Dedicated Muslims who wanted to carry out jihad had to wait for an Islamic government to initiate traditional warfare. In the past few decades, Egyptian radical Islamic groups changed the theology of jihad so that it became an individual responsibility rather than a national responsibility. This theological modification has changed the phenomenon of jihad from a violent act committed via traditional warfare into a barbaric act of terrorism that individuals can undertake at any time.
In order to justify this theological modification, radical groups in Egypt used a hadith, or saying, from the Prophet Muhammad, which translates as “Whoever saw an un-Islamic thing, he must change it with hands,” and a Koranic verse that says, “Then fight in Allah’s cause — thou art held responsible only for thyself.” As if these weren’t enough, an Egyptian radical, Sheik Mohamed Abdul-Salam Farag, published a book in 1981, “The Forgotten Obligation,” in which he created the notion of violent jihad as being a sixth pillar (in addition to the five pillars, or religious obligations) that Muslims observe. Accordingly, performing the five pillars — without subsequently conducting jihad — became no longer sufficient enough to make one a pious Muslim.
The third theological modification that only worsened this phenomenon was also the work of Egyptian radical groups, which considered jihad a religious obligation that must be performed by every capable Muslim, instead of its traditional understanding as a religious obligation that is not a requirement for every individual Muslim.
Since the Egyptian people created this problem, they will consequently be more efficient in resolving it than the Western world. In fact, a saying spreading across Egyptian social-media outlets states, “We — Egyptians — created this radicalism, and we will end it here.”
In addition to traditional security measures by the police and army, Egyptians have been using very creative and effective measures to fight the radicals. These include ideological reforms, fatwas, or religious decrees condemning the radicals, and even jokes that ridicule them.
Now the question remains: Will the West be wise, and let the Egyptian people fight radical Islam in their own way, or will the West interfere with ineffective suggestions and useless approaches that will only empower radicalism? Will the Egyptian people listen to the advice from the West and remain spineless in their approach toward radicals, thus turning their country into another Iraq or Afghanistan, or will they ignore counterproductive advice?
The West has been trying unsuccessfully to fight radicalism since Sept. 11, 2001. It is better for the West to “leave the bread to the breadmakers” and let the Egyptians do the job.
Tawfik Hamid, a former Islamic extremist from Egypt, is a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.