Abizaid: Religious Extremists Try to Impose 'Dark Vision'
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 14, 2005 The Middle East is currently going through a revolutionary period in which small groups of religious extremists are attempting to impose their "dark vision" upon the vast majority of the region's people, the U.S. general responsible for the region said.
On several occasions during a Feb. 11-13 visit to Iraq, Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, compared the extremists to other violent revolutionary groups that managed to assume power and ultimately oppressed entire regions.
Abizaid said the world in the past was not able to identify and eliminate the threat posed by the extremists in time to stop them from amassing and consolidating their power. This time, however, he said the coalition has an opportunity to stop the extremists before they can create other regimes like the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
"When ruthless people start to take power, a very small group of them can be very effective very quickly and move the world in a direction that's unexpected," Abizaid said. "If you look at Bolshevism in the early 1900s or if you look at fascism in the early 1920s, we didn't have guts enough to get out in front of them. Well, this time we've actually gotten out in front of them."
There is an opportunity during this time of revolution, according to Abizaid, to take advantage of revolutionary times and help the region's people to make a better way of life for themselves, channeling energies for change into a positive force.
"We actually have a chance to move the revolutionary process of a better way of life for people in the Middle East to come forward because we have guts enough to take on the threat," Abizaid said, whose command includes 27 nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the horn of Africa.
The extremists do not enjoy popular support in Iraq, Afghanistan or other places in the region, according to Abizaid, but they have to be stopped before they can gain power.
"The vast majority of the people don't want to have anything to do with (terrorists Osama) bin Laden or (Abu Musab al-)Zarqawi or any of these guys. What they want to do is just to live a better life," Abizaid said. "What we can't allow to happen is to let guys like Zarqawi to get started. It's the same way that we turned our back when Hitler was getting going or Lenin was getting going. You just can't turn your back on these types of movements. You've got to stand up and fight them."
The people who are attracted to extremism are feeding off anger and resentment at their condition, Abizaid said, and extremist leaders encourage their negativity and turn their hatred into terror.
"They attract people in much the same way that the Bolsheviks or the fascists attract people. Bin Laden's type of theological argument is almost Islamic fascism. I hate to even use the term Islamic because there's very little 'Islamic' about it. It's just extremist in a way that is very hateful, very violent and very dangerous."
The extremists are trying to obscure and distort the true conflict, which is not between competing religions or cultures, according to Abizaid.
"It's not like they would have their followers believe -- the Crusaders versus the Islamic heroes. It is not in my mind Islam versus the West. It really is moderation versus extremism," he said.
The culture of the people, and the religion of Islam itself, are actually forces against the extremists who have twisted the religion and seek to oppress the people, the general noted.
"The good news is -- and this is a point that is hard for people who don't really understand the region -- most people in this region are moderate," Abizaid said. "Islam is, in and of itself, a very moderate religion, a very tolerant religion. The moderates need to be supported against the extremists during this period so that this ideology does not take off on us."