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Faith Matters with Muhammad Tom: The Root Causes of Extremism and The Way Out

The greatest mistake some believers from all faiths easily make is to go to the extreme in anything whether good or bad. Extremism or excess in religion is clearly as abhorrent and abominable as in anything. So, why is it so popular to the point that the single biggest industry in the world today is the war against ‘Islamist’ terrorists with a yet to be declared one against ‘Christian,’ ‘Confucian,’ ‘Hindu’ and ‘Jewish’ sponsors of state terrorism?

Extremism is an evil and mental disease of its own standing which is why it is found across all faiths, classes, colours, creeds, ages and all tongues. It is neglected or even nurtured by families, schools and society from small, simple beginnings until it grows into full-blown terrorism that ultimately consumes the carriers and their often random victims. As with all diseases, prevention is better than cure.  In the current case, the violent cures being applied seem crafted to generate more extremism and breed new generations of terrorists.

Some scholars believe extreme poverty, economic backwardness, cultural degeneration in general and western foreign policy and war on terror in particular have prepared the ground for the formation of terrorist organisations in the Muslim world. It is also alleged that some terrorist organisations are supported by various state departments in the countries where they operate; this is done so that such groups can be used against other terrorist groups. And, over time, these organisations, made stronger with state support, have grown out of control.

Unfair policies by powerful states and international institutions also mean that many countries and people are groaning under undeserved yolks. These range from colonialism to occupation to market manipulation in favor of highly industrialized nations. The first suicide bombers in recent history emerged in Palestine following the annexation of their lands by Israel.

Similarly, the world today is rich enough to eliminate extreme poverty everywhere on the globe yet a few dozen individuals own more than 80 per cent of the earth’s 8 billion people put together. The contrast is sharper in Nigeria where in spite of immense resources, nearly 70 per cent of the population are officially below the poverty line. It was not a coincidence that Boko Haram germinated and grew in the northeast geopolitical zone – the region has the highest poverty rate in federation.

Democracy is a reality for many countries – but it is a variant that favours the wealthy. Poor people who constitute the overwhelming majority in Nigeria cannot even afford to purchase nomination forms that sell for millions. Even more prohibiting, campaign funds are counted in the billions. In many climes, including this country, justice is also available but almost exclusively for those with the wherewithal. Thus, while a Senator can summon dozens of senior advocates in a single case, the common man most languish in prison awaiting trial without a single defense attorney by his side.

The harsh reality of socioeconomic and political injustice is a sure trigger for extremist tendencies and even outright lunacy in individuals and groups. Sanity can only be fully restored when justice for all becomes a reality. This means that instead of building and stockpiling of arms and ammunition for assaults and defence against perceived and prospective terrorists, states should strive to minimize the causes of grievances. De-radicalization of those already infected by the bug of extremism must also be enhanced to curtail offshoots.

The international community must work together with relevant agencies in member states with the aim of dealing with the problems from the grassroots. Governments worldwide must closely monitor the activities of manufacturers of arms, ammunition and explosives and keep track of the movement of raw materials and end-products to avoid leakages and diversions to wrong hands.

Finally, followers of all faiths should make it a duty to protect the good image and objectives of their religions. The clergy should educate the people, especially youths, on the need to avoid any association or activities that are capable of tarnishing the good image of religion or any set of believes or ideologies. Sermons from the pulpit and lectures in classes should centre more on the need to ensure that we disabuse the minds of especially the youth who are most susceptible to being radicalised.

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