Countering Islamic Extremism in the Muslim World

By Ann Wright

The Sultan described peace as not just the absence of war, but also the absence of want and fear, religious freedom and respect for different cultures, and the acceptance, understanding and celebration of diversity. He emphasized that a "truly peaceful world is characterized by two important Islamic values -- trust and inclusivity and to learn to live together by showing mercy."

In the West we wonder why the Muslim world is not doing more to counter violent extremism done in the name of Islam. But, in fact, Islamic communities around the world are doing just that, though seldom reported in the Western media.

This past week I was one of 10 international speakers at one of those efforts to discuss challenges to local, regional and global peace at the Fourth World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization with the theme of "Global Peace," held in Ipoh, Malaysia, a three-hour drive north of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Sponsored by the Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the State Government of Perak and Sultan Azlan Shah University, the Conference themes were:

-- Social conflict and religious extremism

-- Islamic philosophy and the spiritual tradition

-- Humanitarian issues and universal peace

-- Power, politics and the media

-- Geo-strategies and global peace

-- Education and youth.

Harvard and Oxford educated, The Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, opened the conference with an analysis of the "2017 Global Peace Index Report" written by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, non-profit think tank in Sydney, Australia, in which the top 10 most peaceful countries in 2017 are identified as eight countries in Europe, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, and Germany plus Iceland and New Zealand. The United States was ranked 17. The index ranks 163 states and territories on a variety of indicators including militarization, domestic and international conflict and societal safety and security.

The Sultan emphasized that over half of the least peaceful countries in the world are Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. The other five least peaceful countries are Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, North Korea, Central African Republic and Eritrea. The Sultan emphasized that the "growing inequality between the most and least peaceful countries in unequal distribution of wealth between the richest and the poorest in the world is mirrored in the unequal distribution of peace with the least peaceful countries severely damaged by war, political turmoil and by poverty.

The Sultan described peace as not just the absence of war, but also the absence of want and fear, religious freedom and respect for different cultures, and the acceptance, understanding and celebration of diversity. He emphasized that a "truly peaceful world is characterized by two important Islamic values -- trust and inclusivity and to learn to live together by showing mercy."

The Global Peace Index shows that the world is less peaceful than it was 10 years ago, with terrorism representing an ever increasing threat to international harmony, spreading fear and mistrust and inflicting needless suffering on communities and individuals. There has been a 247% increase in the number of deaths caused by terrorism over the past decade with no sign that the number will diminish.

The Sultan discussed the number of severe refugee crises brought about by domestic conflict, political terror and religious persecution. More than 11 million people have been displaced from their homes by the war in Syria during the past six years. In nearby Myanmar, the horrific massacres of the Rohingya by the Myanmar government has been called "textbook ethnic cleansing" by the United Nations. As many as 58% of those who have found safety in Bangladesh are children with their parents and family members having been killed by the Myanmar military.

The Sultan also cited a recent report by the U.S. Institute for Peace that "inclusive peace processes are key to ending violent conflict," and that peace processes can be undermined by societal fragmentation and perceived or actual exclusion of certain groups from peace negotiations. A seemingly precarious peace agreement may be fundamentally strengthened by attempts to "knit together" the "frayed fabric of a society damaged by internal or external conflict. Peace processes must make every effort to include those individuals whose opinions have been traditionally marginalized or overlooked.

In the Philippines, for example, efforts were made to involve nearly 3,000 women, from a variety of social backgrounds, in the Mindanao peace process which Malaysia helped to facilitate. The insights and concerns shared by these women during consultations proved fundamental to the peace process development.

The Sultan noted that ultimately the task of maintaining peace falls to the young, and therefore the young must be included in the process of establishing peace. Following the civil war in Nepal, the active engagement of young people in peace consultations in the south-eastern district of the country, led to an 80 percent decrease in violent youth demonstrations. The peace agreement which ended the 10-year civil war in 2006 was secured through a program, which brought together the police and local communities, in order to establish trust and to overcome underlying tensions and prejudices between different groups, including the youth.

The World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization continued with two days of discussions among 11 international speakers, four from the United States, two from Indonesia and one each from Australia, Thailand, Singapore and South Africa, and 20 speakers from the Malaysia government, universities and humanitarian organizations and an audience of approximately 500 from all over Malaysia.


First director of the ASEAN Center for Islamic Global Peace and Non-Violence Dr. Surin Pitsuwan with Conference speakers Dr. Fauziah Hassan and Ann Wright
(Image by Ann Wright)
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In a very encouraging regional development for peace and non-violence, at the end of the conference, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the founding the ASEAN Center for Islamic Global Peace and Non-Violence which will be located at the Sultan Azlan Shah University in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

The Deputy Prime Minister named as the first director of the Center, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2008-2012. Dr. Pitsuwan served on the National Reconciliation Commission charged with bringing peace and security back to Thailand prior to the current military government.

In his address to the conference at the closing plenary, the Deputy Prime Minister said that global peace is not just a state of non-violence or absence of wars, but was about food, education, jobs and homes for all. Peace is an ideal state of happiness, freedom and peace within and among all people and nations."

Speaking directly to terrorists using the name of Islam to justify their actions, Dr. Hamidi said, "What terrorist organizations are doing is completely against the concept of jihad in Islam. Jihad doesn't refer to holy wars, as it commonly perceived, but it means to struggle or strive. Intentionally harming an innocent person, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is highly condemned in Islam. It is not part of jihad or anything close to that as it is sometimes made out to be."

The Deputy Prime Minister stated that "Islam seeks to protect the rights of every individual and promote love, tolerance, equality and justice, as well as peace in practice, doctrine and legislation."

The Deputy Prime Minister also announced that the Malaysian Government is setting up the King Salman Centre for International Peace which is aimed at countering the influence of extremism and terrorist activities, propaganda and ideology.

The Saudi Arabian government has funded many institutions around the world with the name of peace while bombing many parts of Yemen and blockading the ports of Yemen to prevent food and medicines arriving to desperate hospitals that have run out of medicines.

The United States government funds the U.S. Institute for Peace as it currently bombs seven countries and has invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq in the past 16 years.


Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand people during the civil war in Sierra Leone. She is most noted for having been one of three State Department officials to publicly resign in direct protest of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Wright was also a passenger on the Challenger 1, which along with the Mavi Marmara, was part of the Gaza flotilla. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience." She has written frequently on rape in the military.

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