This book explores the non-ideological drivers of violent extremism committed in the name of Islam and how we can all invest in peace as individuals, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and civil society.
Politics Politics, Sustainable Development, Social Entrepreneurship, Spirituality
||12 publishers interested
Sixteen years ago during Ramadan, Leena Al Olaimy was a senior at New York University volunteering at Ground Zero. Ironically, she was assigned to serve food and drinks to the rescue workers who--good-naturedly and relentlessly--tried to persuade her to take a break and eat with them at regular intervals throughout the day. “I will!” she kept promising.
Twelve hours later, her discernibly evasive excuses were categorically rejected. After spending weeks pulling human remains out of rubble, how would they react when she told them she was Muslim and that she was fasting? She felt afraid. Betrayed. Confused. Angered by what her religion had come to represent, and at those brandishing their perverted version of it.
Back in her native Bahrain a few years later in 2005, Leena befriended a group of US Navy SEALs. Three months into their deployment, they lost half of their team, when Taliban insurgents shot down their Chinook during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. Emotionally charged conversations ensued for months thereafter. As she attempted to suture the swelling Islam-West lacerations, she obsessively self-questioned: how do I explain what compels individuals to such violent extremism--even towards their own people--in the name of my religion? And more importantly; how can we prevent them?
At the time, terrorism experts had begun to debunk the ‘poverty causes terrorism’ argument. Yet weak and unstable governments, chaos, and lawlessness are precisely the fertile ground in which mass mobilized terrorism—the Al Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) kind--can thrive, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Syria.
But what surprised her the most were the patterns of unbelievable contradictions she discovered among terrorist martyrs, operatives, and in some cases even leaders. The 9/11 hijackers draped towels over pictures of semi-nude women hanging on the walls of their seedy Florida motel room, but ordered pay-per-view pornographic movies. They scraped the frosting off American muffins in case they contained pork fat, yet enjoyed boozing and nightclubbing.
Forensic psychiatrists—including CIA officers—interviewing people convicted of terrorism since 9/11 concluded that the problem was not Islam, but rather, the ignorance of Islam: Two young men who left Britain to join the Jihad in Syria had ordered Islam for Dummies from Amazon. Even Salman Ramadan Abedi, who carried out the recent suicide bomb attack at Manchester Arena, reportedly drank alcohol and smoked cannabis.
Although the leaders of terrorist organizations may often be ideologically driven, Fundamentalist focuses specifically on the non-ideological drivers of violent extremism, committed by the followers. In some cases these are ‘lone operatives’ who are inspired by, rather than instructed by, terrorist groups.
While terrorism experts are unlikely to reach a consensus on the instigators, nor discover an algorithm for violent extremism; there is one common thread entangled through the narratives of terrorists who vary in degrees of piety, and differ in race, gender, education, and socio-economic background.
In some shape or form, they have all suffered from social, economic, or political exclusion. Most critically, this creates a sort of inner exclusion, and the resulting delusion that martyrdom can bring glory. Rather than going as unnoticed suicide statistic and sinner, it simultaneously offers self-validation and atonement; pacifying shame and self-disgust.
Yet throughout history, many marginalized peoples have not retaliated with such senseless violence, so what inner and outer enabling conditions drive individuals who have radicalized Islam? And more importantly, what solutions lie in our personal power to address them?
This book examines these questions through a spiritual lens, reflecting on absolutism, moral humility, and the potential ‘fundamentalist’ in all of us: The perils of justifying the pursuit of what we believe to be a noble outcome using immoral means; and the parallels between literal interpretations of scripture to justify violence, with literal interpretations of scripture to vilify religion.
Those seeking traditional military, cyber warfare, or finance-related counter-terrorism strategies will not find them in this book. Instead, Leena offers evidence-based multi-disciplinary solutions to remedy the consequences of counter-terrorism policies that exacerbate exclusion, and the conditions conducive to violent extremism.
Looking to social entrepreneurship, public sector innovation, and community building that embeds inclusion and self-validation, Leena draws on examples of how we can re-purpose the willingness to die for a cause and the desire for a heroic life of meaning into constructive action.
Case studies demonstrate the power of inclusion in countering fundamentalism--mindful of balancing global citizenship without letting those at home fall through the cracks (as we’ve seen with recent populist movements in the US and Europe).
Displacing the common rhetoric of Islam as the fountainhead of fundamentalism, this book also reframes Islam as a spiritual solution. At worst, these recommendations will create more socially cohesive and peaceful societies, and at best they will contribute to deterring terrorists.
According to the 2017 Global Peace Index Report, the total economic impact of violence on the global economy was $14.3 or 12.6 per cent of world GDP. Paradoxically, our spending on peace-building is less than one per cent of global economic losses from conflict. If we are not willing to invest in preventative solutions, rather than curative policies, we need to question whether we really want peace.
The intellectually curious reader and concerned global citizen will find that Fundamentalist curates a rich collection of scholarly material, peppered with interesting anecdotes, personal reflections, and unconventional development approaches. This book is, in a way, like Leena's own multi-disciplinary background; traversing politics, sociology, business, development, and spirituality. As such, its appeal embraces a mainstream non-academic audience, as well as development agencies, entrepreneurs, multilaterals, and policy-makers.
Chapter 1: Who’s the Terrorist?
Reflects on the varied and contentious definitions of terrorism, the historical origins of terrorism and its modern day evolution, facts and statistics concerning global terrorism, and people's implicit biases of terrorism—even as Muslims.
Chapter 2: Double-edged Sword
Overview of the three founding fathers of Islamic fundamentalism, who also--counterintuitively--sought to limit violence and even berated the ulama for their literal, rather than contextual interpretation of the Quran, warning them of the dangers of taking too literal an approach to Quranic verses such as “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them!” This chapter also covers the tenets of peace and, yes, even democracy in Islam and gives a general, comparative overview of religious fundamentalism and violence.
Chapter 3: Make the Umma Great Again
A depressing, yet necessary overview of the rise and fall of Islamic civilization and its immense contributions to the sciences, philosophy, mathematics and arts; the significance of humiliation; and Al Qaeda’s rhetoric in calling for a return to a golden era. Concluding with the even more dispiriting twist, that, in their quest for Islamic ascendancy, radicals have regressed Muslims into a state of jahiliya; the pre-Islamic, scientific and intellectual state of ignorance, barbarism and immorality that Islam sought to remedy.
Chapter 4: Post-Colonial Hangover
While the majority of Muslims do not live in the Arab world, it is the birthplace of Islam and its more sinister mutation. This chapter covers the Arab world’s political memory, baggage and enduring post colonial hangover and how Islam became increasingly politicized.
Chapter 5: The Why
Beginning with the birth of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s moral decline, this chapter focuses on ‘the why.' What magnetizes people varying in degrees of piety (often non-observant Muslims), race, gender, education and socio-economic backgrounds; women; “white jihadis;” and teenagers to terrorism and Daesh (ISIS) in particular? The running theme and lens through which the factors are explored is some form of exclusion--be it social, economic or political.
This chapter examines factors such as poverty as a mindset rather than merely economic; the rhetoric of humiliation characterizing speeches of leaders and martyrs, and the link with self-marginalization, validation and atonement; external social marginalization; the lack of recourse to legitimately express moral outrage in corrupt or repressive societies; and foreign intervention within the context of an existential threat to identity.
Chapter 6: Mirror, Mirror
Many often pursue what they believe to be noble outcomes using immoral means, losing sight of the fact that the means do not justify the ends; the means are the ends. This is a spiritual reflection on ego, moral absolutism and embodying what it is people are fighting, while simultaneously drifting further away from what they are fighting for. This is an uncomfortable introspection into the unconscious fundamentalist in everyone--whether they are Muslim, non Muslim, liberal or conservative.
Chapter 7: Curative Counter-Terrorism
What policy makers need to consider in their current curative (as opposed to preventative) approaches to counter-terrorism, including divisive language and policies, economic sanctions, and citizenship revocation, and how such policies can produce a proliferation of devastating effects on global security. For example, through denationalizing a citizen, a state is effectively forcing an individual to remain engaged with his terrorist group, making him a global problem.
Chapter 8: Spiritual Counter-Terrorism
In Islam, the best way to preach and invite others to Islam is through being a good Muslim. What can Islamic wisdom and spirituality teach us about how to overcome violent extremism?
Chapter 9: Radicalizing Inclusion
This chapter offers evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approaches to social, economic and political inclusion in social entrepreneurship, public innovation and community-level action. Case studies demonstrate the power of inclusion in countering fundamentalism; remaining mindful of balancing global citizenship, without letting the local fall through the cracks (as we’ve seen with recent populist movements in the US and Europe).
Chapter 10: Call to Muslims
Like so many Muslims, Leena is outraged every time someone asks her to condemn the actions of the less than one percent who don’t represent her. Nevertheless, Muslims need to re-assert control and proactively change the global Muslim narrative, amplifying messages of compassion, stories of hope, and re-orienting themselves towards the future they want to create. This chapter is a call to action, illustrated with inspiring examples of Muslims who are already modeling the way forward.
Chapter 11: Our Biggest Global Threat
One of the first lessons Leena learned as a social entrepreneur is to spend time addressing the ‘root causes’ of social issues rather than curing symptoms. Yet isn’t the root cause of most global threats we face— whether it’s terrorism or climate change—the values and conditions that allowed these problems to exist in the first place? Policies can be signed in a second. Wars ended overnight. But if activism doesn’t plant the societal values, issues will keep manifesting themselves in different ways, from Al Qaeda to Daesh; Daesh to….
The book ends on a plea for a greater emphasis on 21st century values—not just 21st century skills—and a necessary consciousness evolution that parallels technological evolution, to ensure the survival of the human race.
 Community of legal scholars in Islam
Fundamentalist is for:
1. Social entrepreneurs, policy makers, businesses and individuals who want to understand how they can contribute to counter-terrorism and enhanced peace and security through inclusion.
2. The majority of 1.6 billion Muslims who are nauseated by both the hijacking of their religion and the growing anti-Muslim sentiment.
3. A Western audience trying to make sense of terrorism and understand how their actions can make an impact on a societal level.
Global Concern about Terrorism
- Terrorism is in the Top 10 Global Risks according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Report.
- After the deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, a Gallup study showed that 1 in 6 Americans named terrorism the top issue facing the U.S. While a 2016 NBC Poll stated one in four Americans rank terrorism as top issue.
- Since 75% of fatalities from attacks are in Muslim majority countries, the issue is also of concern to the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and majority Muslim nations.
Unsatisfied with Efforts to Counter Terrorism
- Just under six in ten Americans said the U.S. government is not doing well in reducing the threat of terrorism.
- In 2016, the French Institute for Public Opinion survey : 67% do not trust the authorities to face and fight terrorism effectively.
Appetite for a Different Approach From Multi-laterals, Think-tanks & Individuals
- According to the European Parliament barometer for 2016, with specific regard to the fight against radicalization and recruitment of EU citizens by terrorist organizations, the fight against social exclusion and poverty (39%) is the most urgent measure for Europeans.
- Similarly, a World Economic Forum article, referencing a 2015 World Bank study concluded that, efforts to prevent violent extremism in the Arab World should include policies and programs that aim at improving economic and social inclusion.
- 78% of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified. Therefore, alternative approaches to counter-terrorism that don’t result in ‘collateral damage' are favored.
- As a Brookings' article asserts, the biggest post-9/11 counterterrorism challenge emanates from a small number of young Muslims who have radicalized with little direct guidance from the Islamic State—so called “Lone Wolves.” They might consume terrorist propaganda, but the Islamic State does not control or direct them. There is an interest in solutions addressing these lone wolves rather than just organizations.
Terrorist Attacks Increase Public Interest to Understand Islam and Terrorism
- After the 2015 Charlie Hebdo Paris attacks, sales of books on Islam were three times higher in the first quarter of 2015 than this time last year, according to the French National Union of Bookshops.
- Out of Amazon’s 100 bestselling books on terrorism, around 15% are New York Times bestsellers,National Bestsellers or Pulitzer Prize Winners, including: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, How They Fight, What They Believe, and Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War.
- In the one-year period between August 2015-2016, The New York Times covered terrorism more than 330 times.
- Social media keyword analytics of the word ‘terrorism’ for the one week period from 27 May showed 1 million mentions and almost 6 million engagements--more than 78% of which were from the US and UK.
- Searches conducted in February 2017 on the Dow Jones Factiva service yielded the following results: the general term “terrorist attacks” yielded 1,280,835 articles, while “terrorist attack” – more likely to refer to a specific terrorist event – produced 581,839. In 2016, More than 23,548 articles related to deadly acts of terrorism were published, a 155% rise over 2001.
Leena is a Fulbright scholar who researched terrorism at Dartmouth College. She is cofounder of 3BL Associates, an award-winning social enterprise advancing progress on nine of the seventeen interconnected sustainable development goals (SDGs) like peace, climate change, and economic growth. Her work has included transforming youth adversarial activism from non-violent resistance to ‘non-violent resilience.’
She previously worked at the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs on key regional security forums convening Middle Eastern Heads of State, G8 Foreign Secretaries and other dignitaries. Post-Arab Awakening, she was invited to meet with instrumental leaders from both sides of "The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and Apartheid South Africa to learn from their experiences with reconciliation and social inclusion.
Leena has written on politics, entrepreneurship and sustainability for the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Blog, Open Democracy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Huffington Post and Wamda. She has been quoted in Forbes and Arabic Knowledge@Wharton, and her multi-disciplinary insights have been sought by Chatham House, the Tri-Lateral Commission, and several United Nations organizations. She has given 150+ talks globally, including TEDxCarthage—the largest in Africa—and recently chaired a roundtable on 'Empowering Communities for Positive Change' during HRH the Prince of Wales' visit to Bahrain.
Leena is a Dalai Lama Fellow, a Salzburg Global Fellow, a Soliya Fellow and a Wall Street Journal ‘Woman of Note' and is listed among Bahrain's Most Influential Women by Business in Gulf. She previously served on the advisory board of HRH Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan’s West Asia-North Africa Forum and the Board of Trustees for the Bahrain Foundation for Dialogue.
Leena holds a B.Sc. in Culture and Communications from New York University, a MA in Globalization Studies from Dartmouth College, and has studied at Harvard Business and Government Schools, and at the THNK School for Creative Leadership in Amsterdam.
Since cofounding my social enterprise, I have given more than 150 talks on various cross-cutting sustainable development issues include peace, economic development, climate change etc. for audiences including think-tanks, multilaterals and foreign governments. Already, such international think tanks and multilateral (United Nations) events, and social media influencers, have offered me a platform to speak about the book, once completed. I am also in contact with the Manama Dialogue, which is a key regional security summit held in my hometown under the patronage of HRH Crown Prince of Bahrain.
Once the book has been completed, the greatest marketing support I can offer is leveraging my global multidisciplinary network of organizations, and events and fora like the UN General Assembly and World Economic Forum to promote the book.
With limited time and resources over an inevitably slow summer period, I was interviewed by local newspapers and magazines in Bahrain, interviewed by Islam Channel One in London, and published an op-ed on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Blog in support of my Publishizer campaign.
With the right publisher, we will work together to leverage my social capital and your marketing resources to ensure the book reaches the widest and most relevant audience.
To summarize: many authors have focused on the inner workings of terrorist organizations like Daesh (ISIS) and Al Qaeda as opposed to the inner workings and commonalities between the individuals who join. Consequently, solutions proposed by scholars, military and security experts are largely centered on defeating organizations, rather than addressing the inner and outer forces driving individuals to join. Holistic perspectives through the lens of sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, public sector innovation and community building are markedly absent. Moreover, when religion is drawn into the discourse, it hinges on the vilification of Islam as the cause of radicalism, without consideration for how Islam could in fact provide a counter-terrorism solution. Religious discourse is also devoid of spirituality (think Rumi meets Buddhism) and a values-based approach...much like a radical’s approach to religion.
- Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization. Reza Aslan. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2010.
This book contains similarities to Fundamentalist in that it offers an informed critique of good-and-evil dualisms on both sides of the war on terror. Terrorists and their opponents share an "us against them" conception of reality that vilifies the enemy as irredeemable and suited only for destruction. Aslan argues that political estrangement and isolation nurture the cosmic dualism inherent in violent jihadist ideologies. But a similar dualism lies behind ill-founded American responses to terrorism. Unlike Fundamentalist, which provides an intellectual and spiritual discourse on dualism, Aslan’s focus is purely intellectual. His solution centers on the premise that radical groups moderate their ideologies when they are drawn into the political process. Aslan’s focus is on terrorist organizations rather than individuals and political exclusion, over broader social, self and economic marginalization.
*****2. Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. Ali Soufan. W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
In Anatomy of Terror, former FBI special agent Ali Soufan dissects bin Laden’s brand of jihadi terrorism and its major offshoots, revealing how these organizations were formed, how they operate, their strengths, and—crucially—their weaknesses. By revealing the psychology and inner workings of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their spawn, the book shows how the spread of terror can be stopped.
3. Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS. Joby Warrick. Anchor, 2015.
This Pulitzer Prize winner provides a narrative account of the evolution of the Islamic State (in its various incarnations), the role that American missteps played in fueling its rise, and a sharply drawn portrait of the group’s godfather.
4. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Lawrence Wright. Vintage, 2007.
This book explains in detail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the intelligence failures that culminated in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Lawrence Wright re-creates firsthand the transformation of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri from incompetent and idealistic soldiers in Afghanistan to leaders of the most successful terrorist group in history. He follows FBI counterterrorism chief John O’Neill as he uncovers the emerging danger from al-Qaeda in the 1990s and struggles to track this new threat.
With regards to the three aforementioned books, a leader is only a leader with followers. We should consider that our biggest threat may not be that organizations like Daesh (ISIS) exist, but the personal drivers and external conditions compelling others to join. Fundamentalist focuses less on the organizational growth and inner workings of a particular group and penetrates the personal, inner workings of the ‘followers’ on a more human, rather than institutional, level. It’s less about defeating an organization per se, as it is addressing the roots of what compels individuals who are very often not ideologically driven, to escalate their actions to fatal levels of violence.
5. ISIS: The State of Terror. Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger. Ecco, 2016.
The authors examine the rise of ISIS leader, Baghdadi, the group’s rivalry with Al Qaeda, its modus operandi and its cunning use of social media. They offer a comparative analysis of Al Qaeda as a more intellectually elite movement and ISIS as a more populist start-up operation amassing and empowering supporters through digital means. The authors also offer some recommendations on how they think the West should deal with the Daesh: focus on “containment and constriction” rather than overwhelming military force, and exert more effective control of the digital battleground.
6. Defeating ISIS: Who They Are, How They Fight, What They Believe. Malcolm Nance. Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.
Defeating ISIS provides an insider’s view to explain the origins of the group, its violent propaganda, and how it spreads its ideology throughout the Middle East and to disaffected youth deep in the heart of the Western world. It gives a step-by-step analysis of the street-level tactics the group has employed in assaults against fortified targets, in urban combat, and during terrorist operations such as those in Paris during the November 13 attacks. The book outlines a strategy entailing deep cover operations, disrupting enemy supply lines and the implementation of general mayhem designed to send ISIS reeling off balance.
Again, the aforementioned two books deal with defeating Daesh (ISIS) as an organization and still defer to military tactics, or containment and constriction, focusing on the organization. Offered solution come from either a scholarly perspective or a military mindset, rather than from a more holistic, sustainable, development approach by a practitioner who has worked with various forms of exclusion and adversarial activism.
While the book is around 50 % complete, none of the chapters are ‘polished’ enough yet to send as a final draft. Here are three samples from Chapters 1, 3 and 4.
Also, this is a link to an op-ed I wrote relating to the book, which was recently published in the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Blog: https://www.weforum.org/agenda...
Since the op-ed was edited to fit WEF’s style, kindly contact me directly if you’d like me to share the original unedited version as it is a more accurate reflection of my writing style.
SAMPLE FROM CHAPTER 1
In parallel with hippies and the counterculture of the 1960s, the latter part of the decade saw Arab nationalist uprisings against Western imperialism. Foreign influences were displaced by an Islamist movement. The primary ideologues of which, were: Mawdudi in Pakistan, Khomeini in Iran, and Sayyid Qutb, a leading author and intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Since Qutb operated within a Sunni Arab framework—unlike the non-Arab Mawdudi, and the Shiite Khomenini—he was a revered source of inspiration to many contemporary Islamists. Osama Bin Laden, who studied under the tutelage of Qutb’s brother, at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, was one such figure.
Having pursued his higher education at a teachers college in Colorado, Qutb was also an educator. He was vehemently disapproving of US culture, which he viewed as morally loose, materialistic, and salacious. His moral indictment extended to the “animalistic” mixing of the sexes in supposed places of purity and worship. The jazz standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which Qutb first heard in a Colorado church, exemplified his disgust with American licentiousness.
To be fair, the song has been subject to recent debate for its predatory and sexually coercive innuendo. Although, it is unlikely that the “date-rapey” undertone of the song is what vexed Qutb, and more likely the feminist “women owning their sexuality” counter-interpretation. Personally, as a jazz aficionado, his distaste for jazz is also symbolic of his deep discomfort for a lack of structure, seemingly frenetic improvisation, and shared leadership between the different musicians.
Upon returning to Egypt, Qutb He surrounded himself with a circle of influential and intellectual elite, thinkers, literary figures and politicians. Consequently, many of his writings were integrated into official educational curricula at schools, colleges and universities. He also joined the Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded by Imam Hassan al-Banna in opposition to British rule. Although Islamists and nationalists would divorce in later years, during Qutb’s time they were united in their opposition to the nefarious British presence in Egypt—representing a tour de force against the British troops attempting to suppress rising nationalism.
Qutb’s embittered distaste for America intensified when President Truman backed an initiative to admit 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe, into Palestine—blatantly disregarding the rights of Arab sovereign control over their own territory. Which is not to debate the moral responsibility of world nations to absorb those fleeing war, genocide or natural disasters. But to put this in context, the U.S. is more than 365 times the size of what was Palestine in the 1940s, and the highest number of refugees it has willingly accepted in more recent years was 84,995 in 2016. Imagine another country imposing the intake of 100,000 Syrian refugees into America, Israel or any other nation today.
Besides his hatred for America, the Manichean Qutb also loathed those he believed to be false Muslims. In his view, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser—a poster-child for Arab nationalism—had made no serious attempt to implement Shariah law in matters of government. Qutb was convinced that the West had corrupted Middle Eastern governments in general, veering them off a morally austere path. In his eyes, the modern world had become akin to the era of jahiliya: a time of paganism and pre-Islamic ignorance during which the Prophet waged war in the name of righteousness. Unsurprisingly, Qutb was disillusioned with the popular Arab nationalism ideology—particularly given his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Nasser regime.
During his time in prison, Qutb produced two seminal works: a multi-volume commentary on the Qur’an entitled Fi zalal al-Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an), and Ma’alim fi’l-tareeq (Signposts on the Road). The impact of the latter has been compared to Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? , which—along with Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto—fomented Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. Qutb’s works have had a profound influence on Islamic militants, although, like his predecessors, he did not advocate indiscriminate violence. Solidifying his status as a martyr, Qutb was eventually executed by hanging after being convicted of plotting the assassination of Nasser.
SAMPLE A FROM CHAPTER 3
Age of Enlightenment
Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks Carly Fiorina, who was CEO of Hewlett Packard at the time, and more recently a 2016 GOP Presidential hopeful, gave a daring speech at the corporation’s worldwide manager meeting:
There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world. It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins…its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known…And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive…I’m talking about…the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600…The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.
For centuries, Islamic civilization represented the greatest military power on earth; it was at the forefront of trade, and the world’s most superior economic power. The only other contemporary civilization comparable in terms of achievement and quality was China. The enraged humiliation stoking Islamic fundamentalism today cannot be understood without an appreciation for the Islamic Empire’s former greatness, which—even 100 years after the Prophet’s death—surpassed that of Rome at the zenith of its power. 
As Western Europe experienced the ‘Dark Ages’ of cultural and economic decline, the establishment of the Islamic Empire in the 7th century marked an age of Arab enlightenment. (The term ‘Islamic’ here is used as a civilizational adjective rather than a religious one; Islamic sciences did not contain a religious component.) Arab texts on science, mathematics, and medicine were translated into Latin. Antecedent Greek scientific and methodological thought was furthered and enriched. The arts and sciences flourished.
Germaphobes, the “selfie” obsessed, Rumi devotees, and anyone who sees a therapist, all have the Islamic Empire’s contributions to thank for good hygiene, cameras, mystical poetry and psychotherapy—among a myriad of other indispensables.
Unlike the silo-ed specialist roles many of us adopt in modern day, the great Muslim thinkers were commonly polymaths. Their expertise crisscrossed through disciplines, enabling complex insights and solutions. Al-Kindi, who is generally acknowledged to be the first true Muslim philosopher, wrote on an eclectic range of topics including philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, mathematics, religion, medicine, and astrology, in addition to commenting on Aristotle, Euclid and Ptolemy.
Born in late 10th century Uzbekistan, Ibn Sina, who is commonly known by his Latinized name Avicenna, was yet another brilliant physician, philosopher, astronomer, chemist, geologist, paleontologist, mathematician, logician, physicist, psychologist, scientist, teacher, musician and a poet. Please pause to re-read that sentence again and take it in. Imagine how Ibn Sina’s CV would look like today. Better yet, imagine a job description in today’s world that would accommodate such ingenuity!
SAMPLE B FROM CHAPTER 3
The Knowledge Gap
In the sixth century, Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb wrote, "If God were to humiliate a human being, he would deny him knowledge." Although Arabs today spend a higher percentage of GDP on education than the world average, there is still a significant knowledge gap causing the region to lag behind.
Consider this question: "On school trips, there must be one teacher for every 12 students. If there are 108 students, how many teachers should be present?” According to the World Bank, more than half of all grade 8 (13-year-old) students in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region did not know the answer. Apart from Algeria, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, all Arab countries are either at or below the predicted mean in years of schooling. All six Arab Gulf countries scored well below the global average for math on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment.
While literacy rates have improved—particularly youth literacy—Arab schooling methods largely employ rote learning, which instruct students not to defy tradition or authority since truth is to be found only in the Quran and not in experience. Having never set foot in a public school until I volunteered as a Business Ethics teacher for InJAz (an organization dedicated to educating students about workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy) I was at once shocked and saddened by the didactic approach to learning. As the ‘teacher’ I was expected to instruct and inform, rather than to facilitate and stimulate. The students were equally disoriented as I prodded them to voice their dissent of views that had been expressed—including my own.
A deeply engrained fear of fawda (chaos) and fitna (schism) dominates much of the Arab and Islamic teaching paradigms. In many cases this is both religiously and politically motivated so that citizens do not question authority of state-power in non-democratic countries. Creative pursuits are also neglected with generations of Arabs who have neither learned to play a musical instrument nor read literary works. Faint traces of the great Muslim thinkers are found--not in classrooms--but occasionally as namesake hospitals and other buildings.
Depressing as this may be, consolingly, this has not produced an army of extremists in the making. On the contrary, according to the 2016 Arab Human Development Report, youth perceived Daesh as the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, followed by the general threat of terrorism, and thirdly, unemployment. The latter typifies the blatant mismatch between education and the skills needed by the labor market. A study by the multinational professional services firm, EY, found that only 29 per cent of employers in the Arab Gulf states feel that the education system provides students with the “requisite skills, training and attitudes for the workplace”.
Consequently, the MENA region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, at around 27 per cent in the Middle East and 29 per cent in North Africa. This is exacerbated by the region’s demographic ‘youth bulge’ where half the region’s citizens are under 25. By some estimates, more than 100 million jobs will need to be created for youth entering the workforce by 2020. However, there is also a less daunting and more optimistic outlook with many Arab countries embracing the youth dividend as an opportunity to drive the mushrooming entrepreneurship and innovation in the region.
Nonetheless, innovation in the once enterprising Islamic civilization largely lags behind. In Bloomberg’s 50 Most Innovative Economies, only 4 Muslim countries—Malaysia, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey—are among the rankings. Only one of the world’s top 100 highly cited scientists comes from the Arab world (Professor Boudjema Samraoui, an Algerian biologist). The average production of research per million citizens in Arab countries was 41, compared to a world average of 147, and published research only constitutes 0.8% of the global average. 
Bin Laden pointed to the 2002 Arab Human Development Report. Among other sobering statistics, Arab countries had collectively produced a meagre 171 international patents between 1980 and 1999, whereas South Korea alone had produced 16,328 patents in that same period. Furthermore, the total GDP of the Arab world at the time (US$ 531 billion) was less than Spain's. Summing up the feelings of humiliation and longing for a golden era, Bin Laden sent a taped message to Al Jazeera in 2004, saying:
It is enough to know that the economy of all the Arab countries is weaker than the economy of one country that had been part of our [Islamic] world when we used to truly adhere to Islam. That country is the lost Andalusia. Spain is an infidel country, but its economy is stronger than our economy because the ruler there is accountable. In our countries there is no accountability or punishment, but there is only obedience to the rulers and prayers of long life for them.
In a sad twist, it is the fanatical adherence to Islam that appears to have been a greater agent in the Islamic world’s regression to a state of jahiliya; marking the pre-Islamic state of scientific and intellectual ignorance, barbarism and brutality. Nonetheless, appreciating how a former star has been sidelined for the greater part of modern history, one begins to understand one of the forces behind the detrimental and imprudent ‘Make the Umma Great Again’ approach.
SAMPLE FROM CHAPTER 4
Of all the regions in the world the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) needs to transform and reimagine itself the fastest. Once, we cradled civilization. Today, our challenges confront our potential to prosper over thousands—even hundreds of years. We spend billions of dollars on arms yet have the biggest security deficit. We live in one of the most water-stressed regions with the highest per capita CO2 emissions—threatening both our biodiversity and food security. Rising obesity and diabetes rates are juxtaposed with hunger and malnutrition. Our region is one of the unhappiest on earth. Our education systems teach children what to think rather than how to learn. We have the world’s highest youth unemployment rates. And in an age of globalization, the gulf between our relations with the rest of the world is increasingly widening.
As an Arab, it’s hard not to lament the irony of our fate. God gave us everything... geo-strategically positioned at the intersection of three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe)…three major world religions and minority faiths and the most sacred spiritual and holy sites…architectural marvels like Petra and the Pyramids…the world’s most Ancient and spellbinding civilizations…a foundation of scientific, literary, artistic and philosophical brilliance catalyzing a once prolific innovation output… black gold riches to leapfrog our economic development through the era of modern industrialization…more sunlight hours than most world regions so we can seamlessly transition to a post-oil economy through solar energy…the sea’s most coveted treasures, with an abundance of natural pearls in the waters of the Arabian Gulf…My own country Bahrain had the highest GDP per capita in the world during the 1940s through its pearl trade and the discovery of oil.
There are other books detailing Orientalist and non-Orientalist perspectives on where we went wrong. For the purposes of this one, my objective is to provide you with enough of an overview of the Middle East’s most significant socio-political baggage and its enduring post-colonial hangover. With no intention to justify terrorism, it is simply for you to appreciate the sources of moral outrage that radical Islam exploits.
Even the term ‘Middle East’ is somewhat charged because of its imperialistic connotation. It was supposedly popularized in the 1850s by the British India Office—from which the British government held dominion over several Asian territories. The controversy also springs from the typically imperial practice of flinging together culturally heterogeneous Arab and non-Arab states (Israel, Iran and Turkey). And although out of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, less than 20 per cent are from the Middle East (almost one billion are in the Asia-Pacific region), the radical Islamist identity was birthed in the region, so it is on this part of the world map that our history begins.
Arabs had transitioned from isolated scattered tribes, to a unified umma, then to become part of an Islamic empire in the 16th century. Therefore, the concept of a nation-state was somewhat obscure. Consequently, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 left much of the population disoriented. Ottoman rulers had ruled over the majority of Arabs for four centuries (as well as Greece and other parts of Europe). In an unprecedented window of opportunity, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire gave the Allies (Britain and France) the entitled sense to act as they pleased. Since the Arabs had been ruled for so long, they were considered ‘subject races’ rather than ‘governing races’. Further characterizing their arrogance was the fact that they felt the Arabs should be grateful for their liberation from the Turks!
The Allies’ decisions on how they carved up the Middle East were made according to their respective strategic objectives, creating artificial state boundaries that bore no consideration for the desires of the indigenous peoples of the region. As Benjamin Barber notes in Jihad vs. McWorld, the colonizers drew “…arbitrary lines across maps they could not read with consequences still being endured throughout the ex-colonial world, above all in Africa and the Middle East. Jihad is then a rabid response to colonialism and imperialism and their economic children, capitalism and modernity…” While this oversimplifies the reasons for waging (un)holy war, many of the ethnic tensions and conflicts that taint Middle Eastern politics today have more than little to do with these decisions. Daesh’s jurisdiction over parts of Syria and Iraq as one ‘Islamic State’ was a symbolic erasure of the Western fingerprints that had artificially divided the Muslim umma.
 Kepel, Gilles. Jihad The Trail of Political Islam. New York: Belknap P, 2002. 314
 Ruthven Chapter 3
 Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Jynnah Radford. "Key Facts about Refugees to the U.S." Pew Research Center. N.p., 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 Feb. 2017. .
 Irwin, Robert. "Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?" The Guardian UK 1 Nov. 2001.
 Ruthven 86
 Ibid 84-5
 Al-Hassani, Salim T S, ed. 1001 Inventions. Muslim Heritage in Our World. 2nd ed. Manchester: Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, 2006.
 Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 6
 Arnold 2
 Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. "Avicenna." Encyclopaedia Iranica. 2006. 1 May 2009 .
 "Self-Doomed to Failure." The Economist 06 July 2002: 24-26. .
 Hoel, Arne. "Education in the Middle East and North Africa." World Bank, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.
 "Meeting the Needs of a Growing Youth Population in the Middle East." Oxford Business Group, 18 May 2016. Web. 23 Dec. 2016.
 Alghanim, Omar Kutayba. "Solving the Problem of Youth Unemployment in the MENA Region." World Economic Forum, 27 May 2015. Web. 24 Dec. 2016. .
 Arab Knowledge Report 2014 Youth and Localisation of Knowledge. Rep. UNDP, 2014. Web.
 Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.561
 Friedman 564
 Mansfield, Peter. A History of the Middle East. 2nd ed. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1991. Ch. 9-10
 R., Barber, Benjamin. Jihad vs. McWorld. New York: Times Books, 1995. 11