The origin of the present Islamic fundamentalism can be traced back to the late 19th century, to the Wahhabi movement that began in the 18th century, gaining traction in the 19th and 20th centuries. It gained more importance during the Cold War era when the United States was looking for allies amongst the Arab nations and NATO funded the fundamentalists throughout the Middle East and South Asia to establish them as a hedge against the rising influence of the USSR in that region. By the 1970s, many Arab countries were ruled by the Islamist political parties with many of them being friendly to the western nations. It is in that context that we observe a breakaway in the relations between the Islamists and the Western nations, which is first highlighted through the Islamic revolution in Iran, which led Ayatollah Khomeini to assume power and preach anti-west, especially anti-USA rhetoric. Today, the movement of Islamic fundamentalism has grown exponentially large due to the various organizations that promote jihad against the ‘oppressive states.’
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The main doctrines of Islamic fundamentalism today are derived from the same Holy Quran, the Hadiths, and the various Sunnah. The fundamentalist wants a ‘return to tradition’ by following the scriptures to the letter. This train of thought is also referred to as Salafism, and a major practitioner was Muhammad Abd-al- Wahhab of the Arabian Peninsula, from whose name the term Wahhabism is derived today.
The fundamentalists are often observed to be contrary to their own messages, and not traditionalist according to a noted Islamic scholar, Bassam Tibi, who in the general point out that most of the fatwas that the radical Islamist preachers issue are mostly un-Islamic in nature as they do not confer with the core beliefs of Islamic practices.
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In a secular, democratic state, it has often been observed that the fundamentalists have often wanted to impose the strict conditions of the Sharia upon the citizens, which any secular state would reject immediately. They also have a penchant for disregard for the human rights of their citizens, and always like to implement a moral/ religious police like Saudi Arabian Islamic Religious Police. Their values and morals are always at odds with that of a more progressive liberal society.
Today Saudi Arabia and Iran are at the two polar ends of Islamic fundamentalism with one being the hub of the Sunni stronghold while the other is a Shia fortress. And the threat that this radicalism poses to global security is as dangerous today as it was during the heydays of Al-Quaeda. Modern groups like Al Shabab and ISIS are amongst the top threats today, not only because of their military strength but also because of their influential nature of the propaganda that they disseminate. It is a very real threat to the world today both from hard and soft power perspectives. With their sketchy nature of politics, their importance as a major player in any Arab conflict, and their ability to sudden strikes with devastating psychological impact, they do pose a clear and present danger in the global security spectrum.
By Pranjal Ray