Islamic Extremism

(Islamists)
   With the perceived failure of modern secular nationalism in the Middle East (Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt during the 1960s is a good example), Muslim nationalists have increasingly fallen back upon their Islamic roots for inspiration and guidance. Islamic extremists (also referred to as Islamic fundamentalists, or sometimes simply Islamists) have encouraged an idealized vision of their Islamic past and manifested a new global assertiveness that is challenging contemporary regimes and calling for a rebirth of ancient Islamic society. In extreme examples, Islamic extremists have called for a jihad, or holy war, against Western imperialism.
   To the initial surprise of modernists, Islamic extremism has achieved some striking successes, Iran being a noteworthy example. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Palestinian Hamas, and Osama bin Laden provide further examples. Even secularists such as Saddam Hussein felt it necessary to acknowledge Islam in appeals for support. In Turkey, the only Muslim state that is officially secular, Islamists also have become stronger, even electing Necmettin Erbakan briefly as Turkey's first and only Islamist prime minister. Since November 2002, the AK Partisi (AKP), or AK Party, with its roots in Islamic politics, has been the governing party in Turkey. Indeed, the AKP had begun to compete successfully with such overtly Kurdish nationalist parties as the Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP), or Democratic Society Party, for the ethnic Kurdish vote until the DTP was closed by the Constitutional Court in December 2009.
   Despite the strength of sufi orders among some Kurds, however, a Kurdish proverb explains that "compared to an infidel, a Kurd is a good Muslim." In other words, Kurds respect Islam but for the most part have not been fanatical in their allegiance. Islamic extremism has usually not been a strong force among Kurdish nationalists in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, or Syria. In northern Iraq, for example, the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan ran a very distant third in the elections for a parliament in May 1992.
   In the early 2000s, Islamists seemed to be growing stronger in northern Iraq, reportedly winning nearly 40 percent of the vote in Dohuk University student elections. Some extreme Islamists even turned to violence. On 18 February 2001, for example, Tawhid, an Islamic extremist group that had split off from the more moderate Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, assassinated Francis Hariri, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) politburo and also a Christian. Several months later Tawhid joined other Islamic extremists to form Jund al-Islam, an extremist Islamic group some claimed had links to elements of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida. Heavy fighting took place around Halabja in September 2001 between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), subsequently called Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) and then Ansar al-Sunna, and again in the fall of 2002. In April 2002, an agent of Ansar al-Islam narrowly missed assassinating Barham Salih, the prime minister of the PUK government in Sulaymaniya. Thus, by early 2003, it was clear that Ansar al-Islam had grown into a serious problem for the PUK.
   On the other hand, the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) in northern Iraq cooperated with the KDP and PUK in the Iraqi national elections of January 2005 but chose to run separately in the December 2005 elections in which it carried only 1.3 percent of the vote and won 5 out of 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament. In the Iraqi national elections of 7 March 2010, the KIU won 4 seats, while Islamic Group in Kurdistan took 2 seats out of the 325 being contested.
   See also Hizbullah (Turkey); Sheikh.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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