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From Political Islam to Salafi Jihadism Essay

Today, the majority of sessions of international political institutions like the United Nations are associated with the instability of the Middle East, and much of Western society blames extremist organizations for waging wars on these territories, forcing thousands of people to flee to other countries. Islam as a form of state politics is often criticized by supporters of democracy in such countries as the United States. However, it seems that in reality, American expansion might be the primary cause for the rise of terrorist organizations in the Middle East that are now threatening the whole world.

The Idea of Political Islam

Westerners place importance on setting the church and state apart. According to most constitutional laws in Europe and the United States, all citizens are guaranteed the freedom of religious belief, and no way of life should be persecuted. It is difficult for Americans and many other Westerners to understand how a nation would choose religion as the power for formulating state politics. The United States was one of the first countries to officially divide the church and the state, and Europe followed this initiative, even though its history of Christian priests determining the way of life for people has certainly had its moments of violence and discrimination.

However, Islam stands apart from most other religions regarding the matter of state interference. As scholars note, the Muslim faith was shaped as a political instrument from the beginning (March 105). Prophet Muhammad was not only a philosopher but also a politician and an army leader who encouraged all Muslims to wage war against those who are unfaithful. Islam determines many social norms that are regulated by the state in the modern world. Thus, it is not surprising that this religion was originally formed as a set of guidelines that should be followed without alteration.

Defending Nation’s Interests

Returning to the concept of war against the unfaithful, all Muslims understand it differently. Some follow the idea that Islam is a religion of peace and that no radical steps can be taken to enforce it on the rest of the world. Others believe that violence and terror are the means of making Allah satisfied with their faith. The latter has been the approach taken by various terrorist organizations throughout history, including the modern-day ISIS. Despite numerous Arabic representatives in the West trying to convince the democratic world that true Islam is not associated with hatred, these violent organizations often find support among local communities.

Before the series of attacks against the United States, researchers perceived imperialism as the cause of the hostile attitude of Middle Eastern people towards foreigners. For instance, Bernard Lewis, one of the most prominent scholars of the Arab world, formulated the idea that Americans were viewed as imperialists that, unlike other countries practicing expansion, also had a tendency toward missionary actions (53).

Muslim nations did not favor the colonial politics of the West. However, while Lewis believed that the Arab world strived to become democratic, some researchers later argued that violence and autocratic rule are the most likely scenario for the region (Hirsh 15). Several revolutions that took place in the twentieth century showed that there was a need to protect national interests and traditions from the expansion of Western countries. Any external influence is still perceived as a threat to the local culture by a range of Middle Eastern rulers who have chosen Islam as a tool for supporting their actions.

A Fight for Power

The Middle Eastern region is not commonly perceived as a place for democratic transfers of power. Moreover, many African countries with Islam as their primary religion also experience occasional conflicts associated with the transfer of power, although this is a feature that is common to the majority of the continent’s states. Indeed, it is quite common for elections to be followed by violent clashes between opposing sides, which often use military force.

For example, a series of events known as the Arab Spring led to the overthrow of several governments in some Muslim states. While there exists a perception that these events have led other governments to learn their lesson and act accordingly, some researchers do not agree and claim that opposing forces are still exercising their former approach (Marks para.3). Nevertheless, power and influence in the region are not the only driving forces for this fight.

After Americans invaded the Middle East with the help of UN approval, it became evident that they wanted to establish their power in the region. Newly formed governments, perceived to be democratic, did not find support among the local population. These structures appeared to be artificial, with real commands being dictated from the United States. Locals did not support this approach, and many wished to restore their own power in the region. The neo-colonial politics of the West made it possible to return to the idea of Islam as a political instrument.


As mentioned above, Western countries believed that democracy would be appealing to people in Islamic states since this form of government offers a wider range of civil liberties and makes it possible to control the government better.

However, the aftermath of the Arab Spring showed few positive outcomes for citizens. Economies were ruined and survived only with financial help from Europe and the United States, who only provided the assistance in return for loyalty. It is true as well that Americans provided the new regimes with guns, tanks, and other arms to keep their military advantage against the opposition. While opposing states like Russia accused the United States of overthrowing legitimate governments, such outcry did not raise many concerns. However, it is currently evident that terrorists have taken advantage of the American arms supply.

The primary cause of new extremist groups appearing in the Middle East is rooted in the fact that the West offered Arab people a model of government that contradicted their traditions of an Islamic state and did not bring any positive dynamics to the economies of devastated cities. Researchers agree that terrorists usually come from marginalized societies that cannot satisfy their fundamental life needs (Salloukh 517).

They are often frustrated with socioeconomic conditions and search for ways to regain control over their situations. Thus, terrorist organizations not only take Islam as a motivation for their actions but also have it as a symbol of their culture and their response to Western imperialism.

ISIS is currently the most well-known terrorist group in the world. It has thousands of followers, most of which are attracted by the economic benefits offered by its leaders. The group’s command team addresses the organization’s message to Muslims who suffer from poverty at home or face discrimination as immigrant workers in wealthier states. They are promised a decent income along with the ability to restore justice by helping Islam prevail in the world.

Of course, terrorist groups are subject to conflicts and fracturing (Celso 9). However, disadvantaged communities tend to seek the easiest answer, which, in this case, is Islam. It does not matter greatly which branch they take as long as it helps cast away the foreign invaders.

Works Cited

Celso, Anthony L. “Zarqawi’s Legacy: Al Qaeda’s ISIS ‘Renegade’.” Mediterranean Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 21-41.

Hirsh, Michael. “Bernard Lewis Revisited.” The Washington Monthly, 2004, pp.13-19.

Lewis, Bernard. “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” The Atlantic Monthly, 1990, pp. 47-60.

March, Andrew F. “Political Islam: Theory.” Annual Review of Political Science, 18, 2015, pp. 103-123.

Marks, Monica. “Did Egypt’s Coup Teach Ennahda to Cede Power?” Project on Middle East Political Sciences, 2016. Web.

Salloukh, Bassel F., and Shoghig Mikaelian. “Hizbullah in Lebanon.” The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics, edited by John L. Esposito and Emad El-Din Shahin, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 516-531.

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