French President Emmanuel Macron met with the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and called for all French imams to be trained at the Al-Azhar religious institution. The President of France probably has asked for this form of training without determining if Al-Azhar itself was a radical organization or a moderate one. Pictured: Macron (left) pays a visit to Tayeb at Al-Azhar University in Cairo on January 29, 2019. (Photo by Amr Nabil/AFP via Getty Images)
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks by 19 radical Islamists, the main response by many governments – as well as the United States – has been conducting direct, kinetic warfare to fight the threat of Islamic terrorism. No doubt there is a need to use kinetic force to fight militant jihadists; however, failing to fight the ideology that drives them ensures an endless supply of such individuals who will fight eternally against what they believe are infidels.
Things get more complicated when we realize that what we call radical Islam is not clearly defined – there are no standard metrics by which to measure it. In other words, we are fighting an undefined enemy. It is like fighting or trying to treat diabetes without applying metrics to the disease to determine who is diabetic and who is not, and who has improved with treatment.
The lack of metrics to measure Islamic radicalism is further confounded by the fact that the word "radicalism" can be such a relative term. We could argue about it forever as long as we do not have clear metrics for it. In other words, people can disagree whether an Islamic organization is moderate or radical if they lack the means to determine what is radicalism.
Take the recent, shall we say, war of words between French President Emmanuel Macron and Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, Egypt's highest Muslim authority, over a controversy involving free speech and the re-publication of cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims. President Macron condemned the beheading of an innocent professor by the hand of an Islamic radical in an incident related to the cartoon controversy. Tayeb responded by threatening to sue France in international court. For outsiders, at least, the situation clearly illustrates the need for the metrics of radicalism. Al-Azhar, the most respected Islamic university and organization in the Sunni world, is not – by their own definition – a terrorist organization.
Yet the question remains. Is Al-Azhar truly moderate, or could it be radical? If we fail to establish clear definitions, we can create chaotic situations that result in our asking radical institutions to help us counter radicalism. It is notable in this context to mention that Macron met with Tayeb and called for all French imams to be trained at the Al-Azhar religious institution. The President of France probably has asked for this form of training without determining if Al-Azhar itself was a radical organization or a moderate one.
How can we make such a determination?
First, we must establish which Islamic organizations are truly moderate and which are 'radical'. This can greatly help direct our resources to support the former instead of the latter.
Second, the existence of metrics for radicalism can help create new categories for organizations that do not fully fit with or meet our criteria for terrorist groups. Designating a group as radical allows us to design new laws and rules to deal with it more effectively to protect our national security.
Third, the presence of such metrics can significantly help to measure the level and extent of radicalism in societies and organizations, and thus allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-radicalization measures.
Fourth, metrics can help us detect radicalization in vulnerable areas such as virus laboratories or nuclear and military facilities. A single mistake in such places due to our failure to detect signs of Islamic radicalism can cost us and the world a lot – it already has. We need to remember the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre by Nidal Hasan that resulted in the murder of 13 people. If another radical Muslim exists in a virology lab, the outcome could be much worse than Fort at Hood.
Based on my own experience as former Islamic radical who joined the group Jammaa Islameia in Egypt in the late 1970s, I have developed practical metrics to define Islamic radicalism. I call my approach the Radical Islam Support Test (RIST):
- Apostates: Do you support killing them? Should leaving the faith of Islam be punishable by death?
- Barbaric treatment of women: Is beating women ever acceptable and, if not, do you reject the decrees of Islamic law that sanction the beating of women? Do you also accept stoning women to death for committing adultery?
- Calling Jews pigs and monkeys: Do you believe that Jews are in anyway subhuman and, if not, do you reject the Quranic interpretations that claim (Qur'an 5:60) they are?
- Declaring holy war: Do you support declaring war against non-Muslims to subjugate them to Islam? Do you believe it is fair and reasonable to offer non-Muslims the three options -- of conversion, paying the jizya tax or death?
- Enslavement: Do you support the enslavement of non-Muslim female prisoners and having sex with them as concubines? If not, do you reject those interpretations in Islamic law governing ma malakat aymanukum ("whom you own"), which justifies such actions?
- Fighting Jews: Do you support perpetual war against Jews to exterminate them and, if not, should those Muslims who incite such war be punished?
- Killing gays: Do you believe it is acceptable to kill homosexuals and, if not, do you reject those edicts in Sharia law which claim it is permitted?
Other metrics of Islamic radicalism such as accepting child marriage, considering the lives of Muslims to be more precious than the lives of non-Muslims, and accepting force or violence to impose Islamic religious values upon others can be also included.
Based on these metrics, if any person or Islamic organization fails to reject such abhorrent ideological values, they should not be called moderates. Instead, they should be called what they are: Islamic radicals. We urgently need to detect and expose ideological radicalism before it turns – as it inevitably will – into acts of terrorism.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a medical doctor, is the author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It.