Another rising form of religious militancy [Archives:2005/831/Opinion]

April 7 2005

The recent reports about armed followers of some of the Salafi extremist groups entering mosques brandishing their guns and demanding that even the government appointed Friday Sermon preachers step down from the speaker's platform so that their speaker takes over is a serious new development. One is inclined to pray that our extremist brothers have not decided to take on a more militant posture at this time, especially with the war on terror still at its zenith. This is exactly what Common Sense was pointing out in the last column in noting that the Government is indeed giving the extremists what they need in terms of a signal to proceed with taking over all the religious activities in our society and imposing their own uncompromising dogma on the good Moslem citizens of this country. Because they are unable to develop a majority following amongst the mostly moderate Moslems of Yemen, they are now insisting that any new mosques built should be controlled by extremist preachers and caretakers. With most traditional Moslem institutions being either marginalized by the state and not enjoying the privileges that these extremists have been allowed to enjoy over the last couple of decades, including the right to roam around in bands of armed men, even in the middle of the major towns, these extremists have become a frightening sight to most common citizens. Now with their open assaults on mosques, the moderate peace loving worshippers will not even be able to enter mosques to pray until they swear allegiance to the extreme renditions of Islam that these militants insist on imposing upon the society. These increasing attacks on the Houses of God are furthering the difficulties of the mostly good citizens of Yemen, who wish to go about their lives in peaceful atmospheres, where they can worship Allah as they see fit – a liberty they have enjoyed for 15 centuries – no matter what Islamic sect they adhere to. One is not sure if the political wing of the Islah (Yemeni Congregation for Reform) Party sees this as a positive reflection of the political ideals of the Islah, as the observer knows many Islah members who have not to his knowledge shown any signs of militancy of this nature. However, the majority opinion of the people “in the street” is that these militants do share many dogmatic views with the Islah and the party has not voiced any objections to such aggressive propagation of the religious persuasions. In fact, many suggest that the Islah Political Wing tends to play a less obvious effort to represent a religious persuasion of sorts, but in reality they emanate from the same ideological roots and origins and enjoy the financial backing from the same external and internal supporters that the extremists have access to. Whatever the case, it is imperative that the ruling party, the General People's Congress understands that these extremists are now taking on more daring displays of their muscle, even in mosques of neighborhoods that are either GPC or open areas where neither has yet established full control. This means that the GPC will either have to assert its hold in these areas, before the extremists find that there is really nothing to stop these aggressive advances they are building up, or else allow the rest of the citizens the right to defend themselves against these forceful intrusions into the neighborhood mosques.

If they have not yet shown a direct military threat to the GPC, these extremists are no doubt testing to what extent the GPC is ready to present a challenge to this rising degree of militancy displayed by the militant extremists. With the government now embroiled in a head on collision with a religious group of a different caliber (which is closer to the traditional renditions of Islam that Yemenis have adhered to for the last fifteen centuries), the extremists are taking full advantage of the situation, without regard to the sensible religious persuasions of the communities in question. All of this gives rise to a scary feeling among the general population of Yemen, that our country is being directed towards a greater degree of chaos, that these militants thrive on to impose their religious (and eventually political) dogma.

In such a venue, it is impossible to believe that Yemen can move forward in its democratization process nor can it ever hope of seeing its economic development proceed in keeping with the visions and plans laid out by the Government or the hopes and aspirations of the Yemeni people for enhanced livelihoods. For one thing, these extremists have no “democratic culture” in their nurturing or even political philosophy. On the other hand, they are not concerned with economic issues, because those who are affiliated with these extremists of the Salafi persuasion already enjoy ample ways to derive income that are not causing them to worry about their wellbeing. They, in fact, do not even have to be productive, for their extremist religious persuasions is a gateway to the means for sustenance without having to really work for a living. With job opportunities limited and rising poverty, it is easy to see how these extremists can find the recruits they need to impose their extremist views on the rest of the population, who are still inclined to earn their own means of livelihood and feel very strongly that these extremists do not share the same religious and political views with them.

Yemen's future is now at stake. Shall Yemen be turned into a senseless religious battleground that extremists have been longing to see happening after the Government has found itself now alone after it has over the last two decades marginalized all other political or religious persuasions that do not see eye to eye with these exported extremist renditions of Islam. The extremists now probably sense that the way is paved for them to impose their will in a more apparent militant manner, even in the cities, where they have up to now kept a low profile.