c. Islamic Charities in the Middle of Geo-Politics in the Arab and Muslim World and Beyond
Historically, the Christian West and the Muslim world have been at ideological conflict both politically and culturally. Taking different manifestations, this conflict constitutes one of the most important features of contemporary geopolitics in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond (Ibrahim 2014, p. 37). In most cases, the clash has led to catastrophic consequences such as terrorism activities (for example 9/11 attacks) and invasion of Muslim and Arab countries by foreign armies. In all these cases, Muslims have maintained the determination to transform their religious zeal through charity and acting in conformity with Islamic teachings. With Islamic charity’s persistent growth, it has been perceived by the West (specifically the US) as a threat to the United States and her allies’ interests in the Muslim world. Subsequently, geostrategic calculations regarding the Islamic world have been greatly influenced by the geopolitical perception of Islamic charity as a tool for perpetrating anti-Western ideologies.
Contemporary geopolitics in the Arab and Muslim world
According to Gerges (2003, p. 46-54) political Islamism groups are at the center of the geopolitics of Islamic charity in the Muslim world. Over the years, Islamic charity has manifested itself as an unparalleled political force, featuring as a prominent catalyst for change, and hence posing a threat to the geopolitical status quo. Despite the unrelenting series of political exclusions and oppression of Islamist groups, the latter have steadily grown in strength due to strong backing received from Islamic charities. To the dismay of incumbent regimes in the Muslim world and their foreign allies, Islamist groups have successfully exploited the magnanimity associated with Islamic charity to extend their geopolitical spheres of influence. The groups have also used charity to reinforce their socio-cultural outreach, which further advances their geopolitical appeal (Amber 2016, p. 21-24).
On the other hand, any legitimate democratic transformation in the Muslim world is likely to tilt the balance in favor of Islamism groups’ geopolitical interests. This is because Islamist groups view democracy as a Western value political value and an antithesis to the Islamic deals. The groups are therefore strongly opposed to the introduction of the western version of democracy in the Muslim world. Therefore, if any genuine efforts were to be made to strengthen democracy in the Muslim world (especially in the Arab countries that are ruled by authoritarian regimes), the Islamism groups would escalate their anti-Western rhetoric, most likely through increased terrorist activities. This can significantly jeopardize regional national interest and the aspirations of foreign players in the geopolitics of the Muslim world.
Islamist groups vitality
Essentially, the geopolitical vitality of violent Islamist groups lies in their ability to solicit funds from charitable groups and individuals in the form of zakat. Most of these groups such as Al Qaeda have characterized their geopolitical aspirations as a vehicle for restoring Muslims’ longing for the return to the unadulterated Islamic past. With more and more funds being received from charitable organizations, the groups have accordingly heightened their political activities, and asserted their relevance to global and regional affairs. Evidently, the delicate geopolitical situation of the Muslim world coupled with the Islamism group’s aspiration for fundamental political change have greatly reinforced the geopolitical significance of political Islamism groups (especially those perpetrating terrorism). Ironically, the perceived oppressive measures meted on Muslim societies in the global war on terror led by the US have further inspired the resurgence of charitable aid to Islamist groups. Using this aid, the Islamist groups are able to define their geopolitical interests across national borders, giving credence to the assertion that the approaches used in the counterterrorism war is responsible for the growing strength of terrorism.
According to Paul (2014, p. 23) the United States’ self-assigned leadership role in the global war on terrorist groups and the latter’s consistent posture against America’s growing influence in the Muslim world have had a considerable influence in the region’s geopolitical landscape. A notable trajectory of such a situation of geopolitical antagonism has been the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, heightened Arab-Israel tension and increased clamor for democratic reforms. Additionally, the geopolitical outcomes of pivotal events – the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and the Arab revolts of 2011 dramatically magnified the geo-political capabilities of Islamism groups and hence brought into fore their centrality in world politics. After the 9/11 attacks, a number of charitable organizations such as Al-Haramain Foundation (Saudi Arabia), Al Kifah Refugee Center (United States) and Benevolence International Foundation (United States) were accused of supporting terrorism. Although it cannot be said that Islamic charities were directly supportive of the Arab revolts of 2011, there is a very high likelihood that various charitable organizations gave material and emotional support to the activists, both during and after the revolts. The West also supported the revolts in some cases but did not work directly with Islamist groups to Western ideologies of democracy (Vincent 2007, p. 52-53).
It can be noted that the terrorist group’s candidature for distinguished geopolitical status in the Muslim world and beyond has been shaped by several factors. First, the occupation of Arab territories by Israel, especially Palestine has motivated Islamist groups to seek assistance from Islamic charities to fight the common enemy. Secondly, the geography of the Islamic world in terms of resource endowment has significantly shaped the terrorist group’s views of the Islam world’s involvement in regional and global affairs. Inevitably, geographic characteristics have always shaped foreign policies with states’ strategic preferences being strongly influenced by the prevailing geographic aspects. Among the Arab countries, the foremost geographic advantage is the presence of oil (Amber 2016, p. 21-24). Thus, Islamism groups are motivated by the desire to protect this natural resource from falling into the hands of Western powers. The groups can use charity to get funds to ostensibly protect this resource. Indeed, some Islamist groups are opposed to any deals that allow American or other Western companies to partake in their countries oil resources. Through charities, they get funds to fight off the American involvement, and this is usually through terrorism (Ehsan 2005, p. 25).
Third, the diversity of natural resources in the Muslim world has generated a feeling of self-sufficiency and potentials for unrivalled economic prosperity. This vision of self-sufficiency and economic prosperity has not been achieved, chiefly due to retrogressive policies of successive regimes in the Muslim world. This has strengthened the isolationist inclination of terrorist groups in the hope that they can offset existing political arrangements and assert their geopolitical aspirations. Fourth, from the outset of their emergence, the Islamist group’s conceptualization of their self-image revolved around shaping Muslims’ views of the world and the role it plays in it. Conspicuously, the Arab world’s constitutional inferiority as evidenced by presence of dictatorial regimes has injected a sense of political and economic backwardness, which have emboldened terrorist groups to fight for regime change.
On the whole, the mutual interaction of the above geopolitical factors coupled with transformational international events the counterterrorism war (after 9/11 attacks) have precipitated the resurgence of unparalleled campaigns for charity to support protection of the Islamic world’s interests. Precisely, as Lorenzo (2006, p. 11) and Marie (2011, 145) observe, terrorist groups endeavor to use funds from charity to gain supremacy militarily, culturally and economically. Through these three domains of power, the terrorist groups seek to gain geopolitical status in the Islam world.
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