Tag Archives: Islam

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Il Fondamentalista Riluttante

The Reluctant Fundamentalist si risolve con un’amara sensazione di sconfitta umana, segnata dalla morte e dalla sofferenza, comune ad entrambi gli schieramenti; con un’empatia finale, non risolutiva, non conciliatoria, figlia dell’esperienza diretta, nel nome di un unico linguaggio universale: quello del dolore.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Reluctant Fundamentalist, presentato fuori concorso in apertura della 69esima edizione della Mostra del Cinema di Venezia, è uscito nelle sale italiane il 13 Giugno 2013. Il film, diretto dalla regista indiana Mira Nair, è l’adattamento cinematografico dell’omonimo romanzo di Mohsin Hamid. Al centro della narrazione vi è la storia di Changez Khan, professore universitario pakistano, in precedenza promettente analista finanziario newyorchese. È proprio il giovane Changez, interpretato da Riz Ahmed, l’io narrante del film, raccontando, mediante il ricorso a lunghi flashback, quella che è stata la sua esperienza negli Stati Uniti prima e dopo il tragico attentato dell’11 Settembre. Il suo interlocutore, il giornalista americano Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), in realtà alle dipendenze dei servizi segreti americani, deve verificare l’eventuale connessione tra Changez e il rapimento di un professore americano in Pakistan.

Il film è composto da due livelli di narrazione separati che si intrecciano tra loro: da una parte vi è una registrazione in presa diretta  dell’incontro/scontro tra Changez e Bobby all’interno di un caffè in Pakistan, con una corrispondenza perfetta tra l’arco temporale diegetico e quello della messa in scena; dall’altra il racconto del pakistano della propria storia e del proprio rapporto con gli Stati Uniti, capace di comprendere un intervallo di tempo molto ampio, e di aggiungere a questo thriller una sottotraccia sentimentale, grazie all’incontro con la fotografa newyorchese Erica (Kate Hudson).

Se la struttura del film si presta perfettamente alla costruzione della suspense tipica del thriller, con la tensione che progressivamente si acuisce con il surriscaldarsi delle proteste all’esterno del caffè e con la minaccia dell’Intelligence americana di intervenire prima che Bobby riesca a verificare la reale estraneità dei fatti di Changez, è piuttosto la costruzione delle identità e delle psicologie dei personaggi a rendere il film interessante e a suo modo politico. La regista sceglie di indugiare volutamente sul ruolo delle maschere, delle identità di facciata, presentando due protagonisti spesso ambigui, insinuando un costante dubbio nello spettatore sulla totale onestà di ognuno dei due.

Proprio le parole di Changez – “mai fidarsi delle apparenze” – pronunciate verso Lincoln prima di iniziare il proprio racconto, sembrano riecheggiare costantemente nel film, quasi fossero un principio enunciativo per la visione/comprensione. Questo permette, nonostante una focalizzazione più vicina al personaggio di Changez, attraverso l’utilizzo della voce fuori campo, di interrogarsi comunque continuamente su chi sia realmente buono.

Astraendo il film dall’intelaiatura narrativa del thriller e dalla componente sentimentale, quello che appare più interessante è il rapporto del giovane pakistano con gli Stati Uniti, paese che agli occhi di Changez è visto come una sorta di genitore adottivo, un luogo di opportunità secondo una prospettiva prettamente meritocratica. Saranno difatti proprio gli Stati Uniti ad offrire a questo giovane studente straniero di Princeton il successo professionale come analista in una delle maggiori società finanziarie di Wall Street, e di seguito l’amore della nipote del suo capo, incontrata per caso a Central Park.

Questa terra promessa seduce e cambia Changez, attratto dal denaro e dall’ambizione di successo, al punto da deliberare quotidianamente il licenziamento di migliaia di persone in nome di una più efficiente riorganizzazione produttiva. Il meccanismo d’incontro e contaminazione tra il giovane ed i meccanismi spietati dell’alta finanza statunitensi finiscono per allontanarlo dal proprio paese, dalla propria cultura e dalla propria famiglia, portandolo a confrontarsi costantemente con una crisi interiore di carattere identitario, declinata nell’incapacità di far convivere al suo interno le due differenti culture territoriali. L’angoscia di Changez resta però irrisolta, almeno fino all’11 Settembre, punto di rottura definitivo, le cui conseguenze segneranno il microcosmo filmico, così come hanno mutato il macrocosmo reale.

Mira Nair è abile nel rappresentare quel patriottismo di reazione, troppo spesso sfociato in episodi di xenofobia, violenza e odio, in molti casi senza giustificazione o distinzione. È la formazione di quella percezione culturale dell’islamico come nemico, dettata da una manipolazione ideologica e dalla paura del terrorismo, a sedimentare una cultura del sospetto, in grado di innescare un perverso ed incontrollabile circolo vizioso che vanifica ogni possibile integrazione razziale.

Questo drastico cambiamento è messo in scena mediante alcuni episodi di sospetto, violenza e persecuzione ingiustificata che coinvolgono Changez, al punto da far sviluppare una sorta di riavvicinamento di reazione al proprio paese natio e alla propria cultura, insinuando un sentimento di rabbia e di violenza repressa verso gli Stati Uniti. L’analista decide infatti di abbandonare il proprio lavoro, tornare in patria e dedicarsi all’insegnamento universitario, tenendo corsi di retorica sulla rivoluzione. Changez serba rancore per gli USA a causa del trattamento ingiustamente riservatogli, non manca di sottolineare l’ipocrisia degli americani che “tolgono la vita a cento musulmani per vendicare uno solo di loro” e “parlano di democrazia” ma poi “appoggiano re e dittatori”, non nasconde il “piacere per l’arroganza messa in ginocchio”, ma riesce a rifuggire alla concreta tentazione di “amicizie pericolose” o di istigazione alla violenza. Nel film e nel suo protagonista vi è anche un lieve ma forse troppo timido afflato verso il bisogno di una costruzione identitaria del Pakistan che possa passare attraverso la cultura e la tassazione, piuttosto che le armi e la violenza.

I rapporti tra l’Islam e l’Occidente appaiono quanto mai controversi, irrisolti e difficilmente mediabili sulla base di una reciproca visione demoniaca che l’uno ha dell’altro. Nel tentativo di ribaltare il manicheismo americano la Nair però inciampa nell’errore di un’operazione contraria di polarizzazione pro islamica, a tratti semplicistica nella sua contestualizzazione filmica o nella dialettica tra i due personaggi archetipici.

Il rischio di affermazione di una consequenzialità diretta tra il “fondamentalismo patriottico” statunitense e l’odio islamico verso l’Occidente, che rischia pericolosamente di scivolare nel giustificazionismo, è messo in discussione da una confessione molto forte di Changez, che rivela con un autocompiacimento agghiacciante, un sentimento di sympathia verso i terroristi dell’11 settembre, non riconducibile a nessuna ripercussione ideologica o razziale, che si sarebbe verificata invece solo successivamente:

Avrei dovuto provare dolore o rabbia, invece ero solo soggiogato… Quale audacia… La ferocia di quell’atto era superata dalla sua genialità. Davide aveva colpito Golia.

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Photo Credit: canburak 

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Religion, Society and the Woolwich Murder

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture.

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Wednesday 22nd May, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich shocked Britain. To state the obvious, the murder was unjustifiable and downright sickening. Nobody would make any attempt to contend that point, and nor would anyone, of sane mind, begin to attempt to justify the actions of the killers. Undoubtedly, the death of anyone is a humbling event and the tragedy in loss of life cannot be questioned. Yet, over the course of just 24 hours I’ve heard a host of opinions on the matter – none of which, in my eyes, come even close to exactly what the worst thing about this whole thing is.

I don’t have any plans to entertain the opinion of racists, or those who stereotype and discriminate in the most uneducated way. For the most part, I think Britain is in agreement that the killers do not represent any faction of Islam – the notable exception being the so-called English Defence League (whose overwhelming membership can be summed up by a delightful video). An opinion that I have found to be extremely common is one that emphasises the harmful role of religion. In this respect, I fully agree; religion has unparalleled power in the lives of ‘believers’. It must be stressed that this is the case in all religions: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and indeed Islam. By virtue of the sheer profundity of their beliefs religious followers have the capacity to be further indoctrinated – and so extremism is born.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, p. 1, 1843)

If you had to make a list of quotes that had been overused, misquoted, and taken well out of context, Karl Marx’s reference to religion would be high up there. Few understand that Marx’s critique of religion is not actually that – it is a critique of society. People are quick, and perhaps with reasonable justification, to criticise the role played by religion for a variety of reasons: a) religious extremism fuels the majority of terrorism, b) religion advocates a number of prejudices and outdated laws, and c) religion highlights the incompatible blend of cultures. Religion does all these things, but what if religion is the symptom rather than the disease?

Why is it that, in a country as educated as Britain, that people choose to ignore scientific evidence and subject themselves to the subordination of a deity or scriptures? In the less economically developed world religion acts as an outlet of hope, born out of intrinsic necessity in such insufferable conditions. Thus, the only discernible conclusion to make is that the fulfilment gained from social bonds and interactions is inadequate; people turn to religion as a result of a broken society. In all respects it is true that the madmen who acted so horrifically in Woolwich were not acting out on the behest of social shortcomings, but their initial turn to religion was probably because of this.

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture. It is a damning indictment of British society and social policy, that religion takes precedence over a British national identity. Never has it been more evident, than from the thick British accent of a terrorist, that certain communities are becoming isolated and alienated from the rest of British society. Obviously, this is not a justification for terrorism – I can only place that as a consequence of immoral, unscrupulous thinking, if not outright insanity. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people believing in what they want to believe, it just shouldn’t come at the expense of national pride – British togetherness. It is a sad fact that, because of our broken society, notions of national belonging and identity play second fiddle to religious beliefs.

Religion did not cause the events of Woolwich. However, if religion had not existed – if the killers had been secular, it would have been hard to imagine the barbaric murder of a soldier taking place, as it happened.

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Photo Credit: Mig_R

Mali Islamist Militants

Mali: Intervention, Invasion, and Invention

Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Mali Islamist Militants

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Ten years since the West’s intervention in Iraq and in the midst of a new French and British presence in Mali, it is right to emphasise that failing to appreciate the complexities of any international conflict is always costly. Deciding whether or not to commit to military intervention requires extensive deliberation and patience. Whatever one decides, there must be no doubt as to the seriousness of the implications, no question as to the responsibilities assumed as a consequence. Interventionists are often urged to keep these warnings in mind before they choose to support a foreign military conflict, but it should be remembered that this counsel must also apply to those opposed to intervention.

Not long after the French intervention in Mali, a number of voices on the left denounced what they saw as a provocative invitation to Islamist violence and a failure to learn from the West’s intervention in Iraq ten years ago. However, it is arguably these voices that appear to be repeating past mistakes. Opposition to the Iraq War, while vociferous, never received the scrutiny and interrogation it truly deserved, and since it so frequently characterised itself solely in terms of what it was against, it is crucial to keep in mind what the anti-war movement was for.

Broadly speaking, we can infer that many of those opposed to the Iraq war would have preferred the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s rule over Western intervention. There was little and remains little to suggest that his regime could have been toppled from within the country, and in any case, this was not a hope articulated by some within the anti-war movement at the time. In particular, we should note that George Galloway, one of the most prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition, openly praised the dictator and the operations of insurgent forces in Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition’s erroneous unease around efforts to thwart fascism in Iraq and elsewhere have been disappointing, but by failing to offer a credible approach to the tangible dangers of the Islamist influence in Mali, some are perpetuating the notion that to be anti-war is to abdicate responsibility for the consequences of non-intervention. The impact of intervention is important and deserves continuous scrutiny, because this impact is severe and often bloody, but the potentially destructive impact of inaction in the face of the dangers present in Mali are not receiving the attention they deserve.

It would be in error to say that alternatives to intervention do not exist. Here at The Risky Shift, Alex Clackson has identified a number of suggestions, including the provision of development aid and increased support for domestic governments. However, a deeper misunderstanding often characterises opposition to intervention. There is a tendency among many, particularly on the left to locate intervention by the West in general and, in the case of Mali, France and Britain in particular, in a neo-imperialistic/colonialist narrative. Journalist John Pilger has gone so far as to say that ‘A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way,’ which he compares to the Scramble for Africa of the nineteenth century. This is a limited and ultimately ahistorical view of the kind of Western intervention we have seen in the region.

The sovereignty of Mali is not under threat from ‘the West’ but from several Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), both of which demand the imposition of Islamic law throughout the country. It is also worth noting that it was Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore who requested military aid from France in January of this year to counter these groups. Broadly, it may be that intervention is a limited and fundamentally flawed approach, but to say that some invented Western Empire marches on Africa to secure its dominance is to simplify a complex internal crisis, and to ignore the appeals of the Malian government for help.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

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The Rise Of The Israeli Far Right

Several months ago, my two-piece article for this website offering an introduction to the upcoming Israeli elections of January 22nd devoted a scant one sentence to the potential merger of The Jewish Home and the National Union, two parties representing Israel’s radical right.

The Middle-East represents a taxing milieu for the clairvoyant and/or budding political pundit. Though the Jewish Home boasted a paltry three representatives in the previous Knesset, the party’s absorption of the National Union has sent shockwaves throughout the political system.

This is thanks to the elevation to the party’s leadership of Naftali Bennett: a risk-taking multi-millionaire venture capitalist with an indisputably patriotic record, having served with distinction in a Special Forces unit. If there is an Israeli answer to ‘The American Dream’, Bennett’s résumé embodies it.

The party’s platform presents a wish-list of nationalist-religious extremism: an increased role for Jewish law at the expense of Israel’s liberal-democratic moorings, a socially conservative agenda and, the icing on this terrifying cake, annexation of 60% of the West Bank.

A poll published this week predicted Bennett’s party becoming the second-largest in the Knesset, after the ruling Likud-Beitenu Party led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a fellow traveler of the political right.

The rise of Jewish Home has eclipsed an even more worrying development; the takeover of the Likud Party by an entryist, far-right group seeking to inject extremist rhetoric into the mainstream right-wing. This is perhaps embodied best by Moshe Feiglin, who will almost certainly represent the Likud in the next Knesset.

Feiglin stood on the ever-so-pragmatic platform of replacing the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, with a rebuilt Jewish Temple. Whereas previously his voice represented a minute segment of the centre-right big-tent, only a small  majority of Likud’s incoming Knesset Members have expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

By betting on two horses, Israel’s far-right has this one in the bag. Whether The Jewish Home enter the cabinet or not, Netanyahu will have to mollify an unprecedented swing to the right amongst Israel’s already conservative electorate. If the world thought Netanyahu represents the unbridled face of Israeli intransigence, they may yet turn out to be as flabbergasted as those of us who follow Israel’s volatile electoral system.

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Image: The grave of Baruch Goldstein, the Cave of the Patriachs murderer.
Credit: Yoni Lerner

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Revolution Is A Messy Business

So 2012 is over and we are looking ahead to 2013. A lot has happened during the last year as the Middle East plodded on through the late stages of the Arab Spring. Now there is talk of an Arab Fall (or an Islamist Spring) due to the rise of Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates as well as Salafists in Egypt, Tunisia, etc..

Among many there was a vague expectation of a liberal democratic turn in the Middle East when the first regimes fell. However – especially in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood was simply the most organized organization with the most clout. It was obvious that it would gain a strong role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

A swift and easy transformation was equally unlikely. The Arab Spring in its historical dimension can be compared to the end of the evil empire; the Soviet Union and its satellites. Gregory Gause, III makes a good point when he says that after the fall of Communism, Eastern Europeans had no other ideological paradigm than capitalist democracy to turn to. This is very different to the Arab Spring.

In the Middle East Islam is an alternative program, and the result is the aforementioned rise of Islamists. However, recent events in some Eastern European states might suggest a surprising resurgence of nationalism. Furthermore, the conflicts in the Balkans and in Moldova reveal that the fall of the Iron Curtain did not go over as easily and without violence as suggested by Gause. Hence, if we poke around a little it becomes clear that historic shifts often work out similarly.

We need to keep in mind when dealing with such shifts that the results will be diverse and depend a lot on the circumstances in the respective countries. Revolutions are often connected to violence, and continued conflict after the old regime has been removed is a by-product. We know from empirical studies that transformative regimes are more prone to internal conflict. This is obvious for Syria and Libya, but keep an eye on Egypt as the country faces huge obstacles in the immediate future and holds a lot of potential for conflict that might escape the recent events of street violence. What will happen when politics in Egypt become unhinged?

This does not mean that the Arab Spring will be in vain. Simply that transformative periods are almost never short-lived and countries face numerous possible outcomes.

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Photo credit: Denis Bocquet

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Una legge democratica e religiosa. Come quella ugandese contro gli omosessuali.

A prima vista potrebbe sembrare un discorso imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. Si deve agire subito.

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]el 2009 l’Uganda ha avanzato una proposta di legge contro gli omosessuali, il cosiddetto “Kill the Gays bill”. Il testo comprende due disposizioni che, in pratica, equiparano l’omosessualità all’omicidio, punendo con l’ergastolo coppie gay e trasgressori incensurati. È invece prevista la pena di morte per criminali recidivi, ovvero sieropositivi, figure autorevoli (genitori inclusi) e pedofili, ossia tutti coloro che intrattengano rapporti con minori di 18 anni. Si configura anche il reato di omessa denuncia, punito con una multa e fino a tre anni di detenzione.

Il progetto di legge, condannato dall’opinione pubblica internazionale, si è arenato varie volte all’interno del parlamento ugandese. Le pressioni politiche occidentali furono inizialmente inefficaci, ma a fine 2009 il testo venne smussato, eliminando la pena di morte. Per due anni, a partire dal marzo 2010, la bozza non è stata più discussa, nonostante un tentativo fallimentare avvenuto quell’agosto; adesso è tornata alla ribalta.

Perché insistere su questa legge? Perché “sono gli ugandesi a chiederla”.

A questo proposito, i mass media hanno sempre usato le virgolette, come se riportassero un’affermazione fasulla, da prendere con le pinze o a cui non credere affatto: cosa che invece viene smentita dai numeri. In teoria, se democrazia significa ascoltare le maggioranze, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata.

Infatti, il 96% degli ugandesi vorrebbe bandire l’omosessualità. Il massiccio supporto popolare a favore di tale misura rispecchia un trend comune a tutta l’area sub-sahariana (escluso il Sudafrica, relativamente liberale): in questa zona, lo stato meno sfavorevole all’omosessualità è la Costa d’Avorio, che registra una percentuale dell’89% tra i contrari. Non che la situazione cambi molto in un contesto più esteso: in Medio Oriente lo Stato più tollerante è quello di Israele, in cui però solo un terzo della popolazione si dichiara aperta nei confronti dell’omosessualità; questa percentuale cala drasticamente in Egitto, fino a scendere all’1%. Il quadro è decisamente migliore in Europa occidentale, ma peggiora gradualmente procedendo verso est: nel sud-est asiatico l’unica eccezione che prevede una maggioranza “a favore” del riconoscimento degli omosessuali è costituita dal Giappone. Nel continente americano, sebbene via sia un orientamento progressista in materia, gli Stati Uniti dimostrano un’intolleranza che non ha eguali nel mondo occidentale.

Omofobia non è la parola giusta per descrivere comportamenti dettati, più che dalla paura, dall’odio, e l’ostilità statunitense attecchisce notevolmente a livello globale. Con i loro sermoni carichi di intolleranza, certi pastori ultraconservatori americani trovano molto seguito in Africa, dove le popolazioni locali sono indotte a temere un presunto contagio omosessuale tra i bambini, che dissemini sia il virus dell’HIV, sia pericolosi pensieri omosessuali. In aggiunta, numerose organizzazioni statunitensi, supportate da predicatori religiosi e corporations internazionali, sono preposte alla diffusione di programmi anti-abortisti ed anti-omosessuali.

Tuttavia, l’intolleranza statunitense non ha bisogno di essere emulata o esportata: piuttosto, questi predicatori ne capitalizzano la versione autoctona, basandosi sulle severe prescrizioni religiose delle vecchie società coloniali, e sul persistere di superstizioni ancora più antiche – che stigmatizzano, ad esempio, l’omosessualità e l’albinismo.

La mancanza d’istruzione ha fatto il resto: i principi sacri delle popolazioni colonizzate hanno finito per diventare ancora più ferrei di quelli dei colonizzatori. Al grido di “conversione o morte”, la cristianizzazione forzata determinò spesso massacri sanguinosissimi, al confronto dei quali appaiono poca cosa le guerre religiose combattute in Europa.  Queste ultime si originavano da questioni interpretative che volevano risalire a principi, stabiliti da Cristo, che regolamentassero società sorte molti secoli dopo la sua nascita – nonostante fosse scritto nei Vangeli che il mondo non sarebbe durato più di un altro secolo (Matteo  16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Marco  9:1, 13:30, Luca 9:27, 21:32).

Nel corso della storia, i califfati islamici arabi e gli imperi cristiani adottarono e propugnarono una serie di pratiche sessuofobiche. Inoltre, nei libri della tradizione giudaico-cristiana sono annoverate molte norme in materia di rapporti e pensieri sessuali, talmente paranoiche e restrittive da risultare bizzarre. Nelle ex colonie, tali regole hanno continuato ad avere peso anche dopo che i Paesi industrializzati le hanno dismesse. Quando le popolazioni occidentali hanno iniziato a svincolarsi dai dettami della Chiesa, declassata a mero fattore di identità culturale, anche l’odio per l’omosessualità ha iniziato a svanire. Secondo una stima Gallup, gli Stati più aperti nei confronti dell’omosessualità sono anche quelli che, rifiutando una morale dettata dalla religione, mettono istruzione e libertà di pensiero al primo posto della propria scala di valori.

Così non è per l’Uganda, dove un’applicazione letterale del principio di democrazia tutelerebbe le leggi che mettono al bando l’omosessualità, fino a punirla in qualche caso con la morte. Gli ugandesi lo vogliono, così come la loro religione: di conseguenza, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata in quanto ritenuta democratica? La risposta è negativa.

Una tale posizione potrebbe apparire imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. La tutela dei valori di libertà (di espressione, identità, sicurezza) rimane prioritaria rispetto al diritto delle maggioranze all’oppressione legale: un ordinamento democratico, da solo, non basta a rendere civile una società. La difesa dei suddetti valori non riguarda esclusivamente le sinistre, come vorrebbe un’opinione diffusa in Occidente: essi sono i principi fondanti delle stesse società occidentali. Pertanto, una demagogia intollerante, fondata su principi sacri, attecchisce particolarmente laddove l’istituzione della democrazia sia recente, e la morale completamente subordinata alla religione. Ingiustizie come quella ugandese devono essere stroncate sul nascere, per tutelare chi si macchi dell’unica colpa di amare in maniera diversa. Il diritto all’oppressione democratica ha già detto abbastanza: per contrastarlo, si deve agire subito.

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Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Photo credit: Todd Huffman

Corner of church and state street

Monotheism’s Importance To International Relations

Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of many vital political concepts.

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Corner of church and state street

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The relationship between religion and international politics has been often characterized by mutual suspicion and conceptual misunderstandings as a result of unsuccessful and flawed analyses about their interaction. However, accounting for religion as an intervening variable in world politics can not be entirely dismissed: from a sociological and constructivist standpoint, the field of faith can provide us with relevant and helpful insights for explaining the evolution of some political concepts.

As far as the three Abrahamic religions are concerned (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), historical and comparative analyses show us how religion might be a useful explanatory tool for grasping complex structural phenomena. In fact, far from suggesting any pretentious and inconsistent theory of “religion in world politics”, I will be focusing on monotheism as the basis for the exercise and theorization of sovereignty, social mobilization and civil society.

To begin with, according to Daniel Philpott, the so-called ‘Westphalian System’ of modern states, based in the modern conception of state sovereignty, was built on religious grounds in Europe. Before 1648, political Europe was characterized by deeply fragmented forms of sovereignty, although transcontinental institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, ruled this broad geopolitical arena through what John Sidel has called the interwoven area between “non-territorial” and material power (powers over land, taxation, and local officials). As a result, the Christian authority represented the embryonic stage of a complex state system, which was later institutionalized through the thirty-year experience of inter-religious conflicts, ending with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Previously, the 16th century had marked the rise of the Protestant Reformation within the Christian world. Calvinism, in association with the structural consequences unleashed by the interaction between transcontinental institutions and pre-existing and scattered forms of sovereignty, played a meaningful role in determining the rise of the state. As Philip Gorski cleverly points out, the Protestant Reformation laid the foundations of a “disciplinary revolution”, which made available the necessary discipline for political control. More importantly, in addition to this cultural feature, the Calvinist church provided the modern state thanks to its own power relation with local communities and government.

If Christianity, and related institutions, have played a substantial role within the development of sovereignty and the modern state-system, Islam has to be mentioned as mobilizing factors in world politics. Islam laid down its bases during the 18th and 19th century. Indeed, European colonialism stretched its arms over Muslim lands, such as in the Indian Ocean where the Portuguese, Dutch and British powers intensified forms of imperial and colonial control. In these lands, the aforementioned imperial powers applied the same political and organizational tenet: the extension of Christian extra-territorial sovereignty founded on the basis of religion.

In the 20th century two remarkable occurrences took place: the creation of new networks of Islamic intellectuals and activists on one hand; and the instrumental use of Islam in domestic and foreign policy against the colonial encroachment on the other. The interaction between these two political and social consequences strengthened the rally ‘round effect of religion in the international realm, especially since the rise of new media and the improvement of communication among Muslims. As a matter of fact, both the rise of Al Qa’ida in the last thirty years (as a counter-hegemonic force against the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and more recently the United States), and the state sponsorship of Islamic movements by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, confirm the political clout of Islam in international affairs.

Finally, an overlooked case deserves to be taken into account: Judaism. In his latest book, Michael Walzer stresses the constraining role of Judaism in managing political power: drawing from the philosophical work of Nietzsche, even Walzer identifies the Hebrew Bible as a text against the will of power, as turned by humans against one another. Generally speaking, the Hebrew Bible is concerned with the use, abuse and justification of power by governments. Moreover, Walzer enriches the analysis of Judaism by underlying its role in elaborating a successfully theory of society, conceived as a self-help structure: indeed, the Jews have been able to survive as a society, and without formal political institutions, over the course of history. For such a reason, this religious text continues to be compelling and relevant, and further studies should be provided in order to understand evolution and interaction between civilizations.

Far from being thorough and exhaustive, this article aims at suggesting a more serious account of the role of religion in international relations. As these few words have witnessed, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of some important political concepts. All of them, in particular, can serve as “autonomous public spaces and as a countervailing power to state power”, by creating a “particular kind of civil society and associational life.

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Photo Credit: Ian Sane

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Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Action must be taken now.

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In 2009 Uganda proposed the “Kill the Gays” bill, or anti-homosexuality bill. In this bill two provisions are set out which essentially equate homosexual acts to the same level as murder. Single offenders or those in same-sex relationships are faced with a sentence of life imprisonment. Those considered serial offenders – those who are HIV-positive, paedophiles (in Uganda under-18) or authority figures (including parents) – will face the death penalty. Those who knew of any offenders and did not report it would face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The bill, in the face of widespread international condemnation, has bounced back and forth in status in the Ugandan parliament. By the end of 2009 the bill had been softened to drop the death penalty though claims of western pressure were rejected, and by May 2010 it had been shelved. An attempt that August to revive it was defeated, however two years later it is back.

Why? Because ‘Ugandans are demanding it’.

This use of quotation marks seems to have been used in every use of the phrase in media treatment of this story, as if it is not credible, to be taken with a pinch of salt or not to be taken seriously at all. This simply is not the case, and in the purest concept of democracy as rule according to the values and interests of the majority this bill should pass.

96% of Ugandans believe that homosexuality should be rejected from society. Not only is this overwhelming support for the suppression and punishment of homosexuality in Uganda practically beyond question, it is completely in line with the attitudes of the region in general. Outside relatively liberal South Africa the closest a sub-Saharan state comes to supporting homosexuality is the “small” proportion of rejection in the Ivory Coast: 89%.Neither is this a concept restricted to sub-Saharan Africa. Israel is the state most likely to support homosexuality as part of society in the Middle East, yet even here only a third of the population defend it. In Egypt only 1% do. Although Western Europe is overwhelmingly supportive, the further East you go the more this position struggles. In East and South Asia only Japan shows such support. Although the Americas are generally supportive the United States stick out among their neighbours with a rejection unique in what is understood as the “West”.

In fact, the hatred of homosexuality (I refuse to use the term homophobia, “fear” is not the correct term) of the United States is very much part of its influence worldwide. Many publications have chased the influence of ultra-conservative US preachers to Africa, highlighting their influence in hate-filled sermons to fire up local populations against the imagined threat of homosexuals in their drive to infect their children with homosexual thoughts and HIV. Entire US organisations are dedicated to spreading anti-homosexual and anti-abortion agendas worldwide through religious preachers and pressure of, and through, international corporations.

However these preachers are not “exporting” this hatred, no matter what some publications may claim. Instead they are capitalising on an ignorance and hatred which is already present in these regions, one which is created by a combination of a history of superstitious practices vilifying such differences as homosexuality and albinism and colonial rule which enforced strict religious rules.

These rules, enforced by the religious practices of Christian European Empires or the Islamic Arab Caliphates, are obsessed with sex. There is no set of moral rules more obsessed and paranoid about sexual relations and even thoughts than the bizarre declarations of the Judeo-Christian holy books. The effect of the massacres of the American and African populations who would not convert to Christianity dwarfed the religious wars which rocked Europe. Wars fought over different interpretations of how Jesus might have imagined society centuries beyond his birth despite predicting the world wouldn’t last past the first century. (Matthew 16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Mark 9:1, 13:30, Luke 9:27, 21:32)

The influence of these extreme conversions or death was to create local populations even more dedicated to the iron rules of holy books than their conquerors. Magnified by the lack of education they benefited from these rules of ignorance and superstition remained even as developed states began to turn their backs upon them. As the West cast aside these foul rules and its populations began to reject the Church in all things but identity so too did the ignorant hatred of homosexuality fade. According to Gallup polling, those states who accept homosexuality as part of society are overwhelmingly those who also reject religion as the fundamental basis of morality, those which place education and freedom of expression and ideas first and foremost.

Uganda, by democratic remit, should enforce the law which bans homosexuality and sends many homosexuals to their deaths. It is what the Ugandan population wants and it is what is demanded by their religion. Should they be allowed to do so because such a measure is democratic? No.

Some may call it neo-colonialism, some may call it imperialism, but when the stakes are this high democracy based on ignorance and hatred cannot simply be allowed to plow on towards death and suffering. Socially liberal values, however they may be despised as left-wing by much of the West, are the fundamental values of western society. Freedoms of expression, identity and from persecution and death are far more important than the decratic right of majorities to oppress those they dislike as they see fit. The persecution of homosexuals across the world is evidence that democracy alone is not enough to produce a civil society. Corruption of morals and ideas by religion and intolerant demagogues are all too common in those societies where democracy is new and where absolute moral deference to authority demanded by religion is widespread. Everything must be done to prevent these injustices and save those who’s only crime was to be born and feel love in a way their neighbours do not understand. Enough with democratic right to oppress, action is needed now.

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Photo credit: Todd Huffman

Mo Farah Daily Mail Innocence of Muslims

A Muslim’s Reaction To ‘Innocence of Muslims': ‘Well, So Fucking What?’

Islam is constantly attacked. Muslims must learn to ignore productions similar to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and retort with peaceful protests and demonstrations. The attitude should be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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Mo Farah Daily Mail Innocence of Muslims

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This piece is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

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After reading about the film Innocence of Muslims, and as a Muslim myself, my only reaction to the very film itself was ‘well, so fucking what‘. I didn’t even want to give this film any thought and energy. After the protests and the violent reaction of Muslims it may seem strange that you would hear such a comment from a Muslim, but I am increasingly bored of slander and offensive remarks against the Prophet and my religion.

The Danish cartoons and the various films attacking Islam did not impact negatively on my beliefs, so, over time, my reaction to it all became ‘well so fucking what? I’m not going to stop believing and respecting my Prophet’. Yes, many did make me consider certain points raised about my religion and I reacted to this intellectually. And this is how all Muslims should react, offended or not, because this is not the first time – nor will it be the last – that anyone has mocked the Prophet. You can protest, seek an apology and get it, then just leave it at that.

I believe that Gray is wholly right about freedom of speech. I take the position that although I may not agree with what the other person is saying, I would defend each individual’s right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech should be defended, but within appropriate boundaries. Going as far as denying the Holocaust is fine, and having your own interpretation of how one views the Prophet of Islam, but when we feel anti-Semitism kicking in, and racist comments which incite and encourage hatred and violence against Muslims or any other group of people then it is only right to step in and make a stand.

The Danish cartoons, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, and other productions, images and literature that are viewed as ‘attacking’ Islam has ironically only served to incite violent reactions from the Muslims communities; they did not incite violence from non-Muslims towards Muslims in any shape or form. Yes, many laughed, agreed and disagreed and that was it. There was no ‘we should kill all Muslims cos this guy said their Prophet is a paedophile.’ And this is it, anything that might be deemed reactionary to Muslims beliefs, is viewed by Muslims as an attack. Let’s get out of this victim mentality!

However I also take the position that it is wrong to use words that are purely done to offend religions and its followers (and this applies to Muslim as well, especially those who think it is okay to call Jews apes and pigs for example). In my opinion, in the context of ‘Innocence of Muslims’, the ‘offense’ caused is a matter of semantics, intention behind the words, and how the receiving party chooses to interpret and react. Yes, Muslims are offended and they have every right to be, but ultimately Muslims should not feel that their beliefs or the reverence of the Prophet should be impacted negatively by a production mocking and insulting the Prophet.

As Muslims we need to understand first and foremost, that as offensive any remark is, everyone is entitled to hold an opinion and to voice this opinion. It is a vital element of the democracy they choose to live in.

Easier said than done but considering the Muslim community’s history of violent reaction against Rushdie, Danish cartoons, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the like, I know it is difficult to imagine that the Muslim community’s reaction would be anything but one of violence.

The killing of an innocent US Ambassador who had no links to the film has not only perpetuated the cycle of more hatred against Muslims, but has also given this awful film the publicity it does not deserve. Religious figures such as Jesus are mocked all the time, but we don’t necessarily see Christians rise up and take violent action against innocent individuals. Nor am I suggesting that that Muslims should passively endure slander and mockery. I encourage peaceful protests because as much as any person has the right to attack Islam, Muslims have every right to (peacefully) oppose it too.

From experience I have found that once slander and mockery such as the one we see in the film is allowed out in the open and out of peoples’ system it just tends to phase out. So in future, the Muslim reaction to such productions should also be ‘well, so fucking what?’

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More on the subject:

‘Innocence of Muslims’ Rioting Has Nothing To Do With Religion

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

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Photo credit: Bearded Genius via The Samosa

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‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims. ‘Well So Fucking What?’

There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech.

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This week we have seen the killing of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, as well as several of his staff. His embassy building was burned, the US embassy in Cairo was raided, its flag destroyed, and one proclaiming the supremacy of God placed in its place. In Tunisia tear gas was fired into crowds to prevent a repeat of those events. In Afghanistan President Karzai condemned not the attackers but the cause, in Egypt President Morsi did not launch an investigation into the failure of Egyptian forces to protect the US embassy but instead prepared to launch legal action against those who provoked the attackers in the US.

The cause of all this? “Innocence of Muslims“. A film. A really bad film. I’ve seen it, it’s horrendous, one of the worst films I have ever seen. The production quality is dreadful, it looks like it was filmed in my closet using a mobile phone by a homeless man and some of his mates from the next alley.

How could the cause and effect possibly be reconciled? Well, because the film was about Mohammed, and it was not complimentary. He was depicted as a brute, a paedophile, a sadistic, egotistical idiot who understood only violence and how to convince people to support him.

Sadly the protesters in the Islamic world are not attacking embassies over the insult to the entire film industry in its butchering of the art which has become film-making. Instead they were attacking and killing people over the offensive they took at this depiction of their prophet. All because the maker was a US-citizen. Just because the maker was a US citizen, an envoy who had done his best to aid the democratic revolution in Libya is dead and so are three of his aides.

How exactly did the western world react to that? Generally, with widespread condemnation. US forces are on-route to Benghazi to heighten security (a little late) and Barack Obama has declared he will bring the guilty to justice.

But the reactions of the Presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt are out of line, they are beyond wrong, they are dangerous. They are validating violence as an acceptable reaction to the crime of “offence”. They are saying that it was right for the Muslims of Europe to riot and kill in reaction to the cartoons and again against the publication of this film. But it gets much worse, because they are not the only ones to react in this way. This is the statement released by the US embassy in Cairo:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions… Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

I don’t think the embassy knows what a universal right is, else the word “abuse” could not possibly have been used in that phrase. Can you “abuse” the right to freedom from torture or death? Can you lead a life that is an “abuse” of life itself and so would it be perfectly valid for Islamists to lop off your head? Of course not, and why should freedom of speech be any different? How could the Cairo embassy possibly have validated and sympathised with those Islamists who believe the appropriate response to being offended is to kill innocents?

This goes further than simply a violation of the idea of “universal rights”, it is also a pragmatic nightmare. Too many people have suggested the statement was “pragmatic” in that it may improve relations with Muslims and protect the embassy.

Apparently the term “we do not negotiate with terrorists” is a dead phrase in US diplomacy. Apparently it is perfectly reasonable to respond to irrational acts of violence by attacking the very values your own state stands upon and promotes worldwide. Apparently the best course of action to protect yourselves from further attacks is to give a sympathetic hand to those most likely to attack you by simply joining their side of the argument. Apparently we should just bend over and give over our rights one by one in response to every murderous rampage by those who wish to bind the whole world in the dogmatic and intolerant chains of their extremist interpretation of religion.

I think all of this is best responded to by one of the champions of the educated culture of rights and tolerance we are trying to build, Stephen Fry:

It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights; it’s actually nothing more….. It’s simply a whine. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive,’ it has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?

Our reaction to the protests in the Middle East should be exactly that. There should be, there must be, no compromise, no backing off the rhetoric of freedom of speech. There is no such thing as the “abuse” of human rights to the freedom of speech. So what if you are offended? Grow a tougher skin. If your only possible reaction to being offended is violence it is you who has made the act of aggression and should be responded to in kind.

Our reaction to the demands of the Islamists who claim “we are offended” should be a very clear and resounding “Well so fucking what?”

Read a response to this piece: Telling Muslims to ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism.

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Photo credit: jbcurio

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Comments on this piece are strictly monitored. If you do not have anything constructive to say, do not say it.

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Is Multiculturalism Dying?

Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

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This piece forms part of our series on multiculturalism.

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“Multiculturalism is dead”. That was the position of the most powerful person in Europe, Angela Merkel, two years ago. It marked a major shift in policy, one which was swiftly echoed by the UK’s David Cameron, as the Multiculturalism of the centre-left governments of the noughties was being left by the wayside.

But why? What happened? What has been the legacy of multiculturalism’s heyday?

European tolerance is something which has blossomed since the Second World War in a backlash to the brutal colonialism and eugenics programs practiced across the continent. Western European legal systems have increasingly protected the rights of all, with minorities and individuals gaining increasing protection from persecution by the law. Tolerance is the great victory of the modern Europe, and continues to see strides from year to year. Don’t believe the conspiracy theorists pointing accusing theories at the New World Order swiftly taking control of your government, your minds and your freedom, your freedom has never been so secured.

Part of this has happened over the last two decades, the same time as the rise of multiculturalism as the dominant rhetoric in European liberal democracies. Toleration certainly did well for the movement, reaching its zenith in the absolute priority of showing tolerance to all cultures in every nation, the reduction of hatred and offence. Toleration was a victory which gave rights to the oppressed and launched a war on prejudice and discrimination.

But this tolerance should not be all-encompassing, and with good reason. Tolerance lead to the western regime which watched in denial as the Nazis rose in Germany. Tolerance let the Chinese march into Tibet. Tolerance was in the small whimpers of condemnation as the Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Saddam Hussein butchered the Kurds and as homosexuals are hung in Saudi Arabia.

Toleration should only go as far as to tolerate those who tolerate others. Not to those who cannot tolerate others themselves. The extreme left and right of Europe have been marginalised to the point of extinction for half a century, the recent economic crises only partially awakening the old beasts which perverted democracy so thoroughly in the early twentieth century. The BNP and National Front of France have never been allowed to grow out of control before being pushed back by the centre-right. The rise of the extremist parties of Greece was shut down by the all-or-nothing authority wielded by the EU holding bail-out cheques. Intolerance in politics has been put to the sword by western and northern Europe, and memories of the past are not about to let them rise once again.

But politics is not alone in being a realm where extremes are seen with suspicion and even intolerance by the centre and majority of northern and western Europe. Religion too has fallen here, as with all other ideologies. Europe is by far the most secular region in the world, states where religion is rarely promoted and even more rarely oppressed. The majority of European states are constitutionally secular and the rest have limited religion’s influence severely. This secularism is backed by the rise of the non-religious. Well over half of European citizens rate religion as “unimportant” to their lives (Gallup poll, 2007–2008). Indeed the death of religion’s influence, dating far back to the European enlightenment, has progressed so slowly but so absolutely that almost no one has noticed its passing. Christian fundamentalism and politics has been left to the US, so absolutely that many Christian-Right parties of Europe have been forced to re-brand.

It is this intolerance towards extremism in any ideology which has lead to an intolerance of Islam, not the last vestiges of the evils of Europe’s past. Europe is a continent where the thought of law dictated by Leviticus seems ridiculous to the point of insane and the concept of a state doctrine of creationism being taught over evolution is plainly incomprehensible. Despite the continued sway of the pope, Christianity has become the tea-and-biscuits of the Church of England, not the fire-and-brimstone of the Vatican.

Enter Islam and the Muslims who follow its creed. Their women wear head-scarves as their holy men dictate, their homelands hang homosexuals and stone women who are raped. Their members appear in the news not for their donations to the Red Crescent but for riots in Paris and Copenhagen and protests at the burials of soldiers returned from war. They set fire to buildings for the drawing of jovial cartoons and demand courts that can judge based on law by the Koran. Dozens die across Europe in honour killings by Muslim families who feel their honour has been tarnished.

For Muslims, many of these things are seen as a bad representation of their faith, and that is true, it only shows the most extreme fringes. But Muslims must think of the anger they felt at the Danish cartoons, at their outrage when France banned the Burka. How many Muslims believe that Sharia law is a vital part of their society, and has a place even in their communities within western countries? Do Christians of France cry in outrage at the banning of crosses worn by public officials, were there riots in response to “life of Brian”? Does the British “Christian Party” hold enough sway to even face mention in national papers?

To the European, these beliefs of so many Muslims are not moderate, they are shocking. It has been decades since any court ruled based on a biblical passage, a century since women began their march to be seen in every way the same as men. Cartoons are drawn on a daily basis poking fun at Jesus Christ and his father and even the most serious of Christian preachers have learned to chuckle.

Islam is, by nature, not any worse or better than Christianity. However in Europe, Muslims regard their faith with much more passion and seriousness than do their Christian counterparts, what of them are left. The battle for gay marriage may be the last one that the Christians of Europe will ever fight, as churches lay empty. By contrast Islamic Mosques are filled day by day by Muslims who hold every word of their holy books close to their chests. These Mosques, however infrequently, produce extremists and even suicide bombers.

Islam is not hated and rejected because of some forgotten legacy of European colonialism, one which the nations of Europe have long had to release as their slide from superpower status progressed, it is rejected because of a culture of tolerance in Europe which has grown hostile to intolerance. The extremes of ideology, the fundamentalism of the right and left wings of politics, or the literalism of Christianity or Islam, have become completely at odds to this culture.

There exists a disjoin between Muslims and the states they have entered in Europe. Christian moderacy does not exist in Muslim communities, whose own moderacy is seen as extreme to their Christian neighbours. Europe is multicultural, but it is intolerant of extremes, and to the moderate Christian and atheist, Islam seems extreme.

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Ramadan & Eid, Malaysian Style

Malaysia has an interesting time during Ramadan. With the general feeling of festivity, there is another side to it all. Ramadan, a month of charity, abstinence, reflection, and religious deeds, is also a month of overspending, wastage, shortages, and road accidents.

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Hari Raya, literally ‘Day of Celebration’, is in a few days’ time. There is a growing feeling of festivity in the air here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Shopping malls, restaurants and even the local kiosks are playing traditional songs on a loop, ready to usher in the coming Eid-ul-Fitr and the end of the fasting month, Ramadan. Everything is decorated in the ubiquitous green banners and Eid lamps. The television is playing local shows and corporate-sponsored tear-jerking advertisements reminding us of the goodness of Eid. People are starting to travel to their hometowns in other parts of the country, leaving the capital quiet and exhausted from the month of fasting.

Muslim homes are stocking up on drinks, food and biscuits, also known as kuih, for the beginning of the new Islamic month, Syawal. My own kitchen is stacked with plastic boxes of biscuits, sourced from markets, shops and friends. My grandmother has spent the last week cooking dishes for the day (my duty was to stir only when necessary), ensuring that everything is ready for our yearly ‘Open House’, a Malaysian tradition where we literally open our doors to family, friends, and neighbours, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Crisp Ringgit Malaysia notes, issued especially by the Central Bank of Malaysia for this occasion have been put in colourful envelopes ready to be distributed to younger, usually unmarried, family members and friends. The days up to Eid has always been for me, personally, an exciting time.

Malaysia has an interesting time during Ramadan. With the general feeling of festivity, there is another side to it all. Ramadan, a month of charity, abstinence, reflection, and religious deeds, is also a month of overspending, wastage, shortages, and road accidents. A nation that loves to eat, food bazaars, enjoyed by everyone regardless of religious affiliation, pop up throughout the country serving savoury and sweet dishes. It is hard to judge how supply is able to satisfy the demand but unfortunately, with variety comes wastage as not everything cook is bought. In the days leading up to Eid, many return to their respective hometowns in order to celebrate with their families there. Not unlike Thanksgiving in America, on a smaller scale, Malaysia has to deal with similar issues. Traffic jams are caused by the rush to arrive home on time, which leads to the unusually high number of accidents, each year Traffic Police-led campaigns are launched to promote road safety and ensure fewer deaths. Morbidly, newspapers tally the number of those killed on the road.

Being a seemingly religious country, Ramadan and Eid is also used as an opportunity for by-the-way political campaigning. Members of Parliament, from both sides of the house, display posters wishing Malaysians a blessed Eid. Usually accompanied with pictures of local politicians in traditional outfits, posters would be strategically placed at mosques, traffic lights, below overhead bridges and on the side of buildings. Sometimes opposing political parties would have their posters side by side, in an attempt to out-banner each other. Although this is not unique for Ramadan and Eid (each religious celebration will see a display of greetings from your local MP), this is probably indicative of the need for politicians in Malaysia to be seen to be religiously conscious. Being a Sunni country, Ramadan is also a time where the religious authorities are particularly active. Over the last few years, the dominant racial group, the Malays have been going through what can arguably be called an “Islamic identity crisis” and this has led to a strengthening in the religious moral code in Malaysia. Although non-Muslims are allowed to eat and drink in the daytime, Muslims can be prosecuted and fined for eating in public during fasting hours. This year, some were sent for special Islamic courses to ‘correct’ their behaviour.

In spite of the slightly darker side of Ramadan, Malaysians still look forward to Eid and all the sense of renewal it brings. For Muslims, it is the end of a month of fasting and abstinence and the beginning of a month of festivities. A key component is forgiveness and it is very common for Muslims to apologise for any wrongdoings committed. Charity is also encouraged and a special religious tax, the zakat al-fitr is paid during the month of Ramadan. So in a few days’ time, we hope to be at the family table seeking forgiveness, enjoying a cleansed state of mind and body, hoping that the months until the next Ramadan will be filled with good deeds and good intentions.

Wherever you are in the world, Eid Mubarak and Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir dan Batin.

World Muslim Population

Pan-Islamism & The Interwar Period

Islam, international politics & mass mobilization: an analysis over the interwar period.
{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics & Political Science}

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World Muslim Population

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The interwar era, namely the period between 1919 and 1938, showed impressive and large-scale forms of Islamic mass mobilization, along with the strengthening and consolidation of Islamic movements and congresses. These unprecedented kinds of mass mobilization manifestations were prompted “by broader developments in world politics and in the world economy” and, as a result, today they still represent an “enduring infrastructure for Muslim politics”[1] for millions of Muslim scattered across the world.

In this essay, I would like to describe and to analyze rise and decline of the above-mentioned forms of collective action, explaining why some of them declined promptly after a few years, for example the transnational Khilafat movement in India, while other national movements continued to grow up and to play a central role in shaping political and institutional transformations which occurred in the countries where they flourished, as in the case of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia.

First of all, would be useful to underscore the significance of the first political ideas connected with the Pan-Islamism ideology, which has been identified as a relevant driver for Muslim unity calls during the late 19th century. Coined in Europe in the 1870s in order to connote anti-modernism movements and Islamic fanaticism, according to Khalid the term of Pan-Islamism was deeply characterized by a “series of local, territorially defined, Muslim nationalisms with anti-colonial agendas” and, in opposition to the cultural definition provided by Landau, Pan-Islamism is “better located in the realm of nationalism than of religion”[2], by re-affirming the author a strong political connotation to such a phenomenon. Furthermore, Pan-Islamism was defined by an external threat, as for several nationalist movements, and it involved different national groups with their own political instances, as well as a diverse spectrum of participants, from religious leaders to travellers, most of them were modernists, deeply influenced by Western political and social values but seriously motivated in changing the status quo of their societies.[3] In this last category Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838 – 1897) was the most prominent architect of the alliance between religious and radical thinkers. His great commitment in feeding and spreading and conveying the Pan-Islam ideology across the Ottoman Empire and in the Western colonies of the Middle East and Central Asia during the late 19th century, was a powerful and ideal model in the subsequent period of political mass mobilization.[4]

As a matter of fact, as of 1919 the disciples of al-Afghani like Rashid Rida and Ibn Sa’ud recalled for a new Muslim unity having the same political objectives of the Pan-Islam ideology but set in a more complex social backdrop (primarily the First World War, followed by the “secularization” of Islamic authority by the Ottoman Empire, unprecedented forms of Islamic schooling, recent weakening of the most powerful imperial countries like Great Britain and France because of their impressive war efforts) that, according to Sidel, provided the ideal conditions for a revival of the Muslim mobilization in at least five ways[5]:

  • As suggested by the German government in the years that preceded the Great War there was the promotion of an instrumental use of Islam for warfare purposes by the Ottoman leaders in order to mobilize Muslims against British and French colonial rulers;
  • Social disorders and de-mobilization in the colonial territories during the war and in its aftermath created windows of opportunity in terms of political reforms;
  • End of aristocratic hegemony not only in Europe but also in the Ottoman Empire, Persia and China and consequent replacement with republican regimes;
  • Foundation of Muslim organizations in Russia after the Revolutions in 1917 and 1918: Muskom and Narkomnats, headed by Sultangaliev and Stalin respectively, with the former that elaborated a “Muslim national communism” vision;
  • End of the Ottoman Empire, abolition of Sultanate in 1922 and Caliphate in 1924: thrust to reorganize the Islamic identity, community and ideology.

In the next paragraphs will be analyzed the historical and political patterns that led to the foundation of three significant Islamic mass movements, namely Khilafat in India, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia, and how such organizations gained popularity and later lost their own political relevance.

Khilafat between transnational aims and political misunderstandings 

The end of the Ottoman Empire was ratified with the armistice of Mundros on 30 October 1918 in which the Ottoman Sultan gave his total and unconditional surrender and allowed the military occupation of Istanbul by the Allied forces. Later, the Treaty of Sevres that came out from the peace settlements in Paris in 1920 reduced the Empire to Turkey, even if its full implementation was avoided by the growing national resistance led by Mustafa Kemal, who started his campaign for Turkish independence on 19 May 1919 in the city of Samsun in the North of Anatolia.[6]

On the background of these events, Indian Pan-Islamic movements recorded an increase in popularity and interest in the years following the end of the Great War, due to a number of factors: a better off and more educated India’s Muslim middle class; an unprecedented public role of Ulemas who got involved in the Pan-Islamic politics and in recruiting support; a growing awareness among Muslims in India that an international and strong political and religious centre abroad could guarantee their own life as a minority group.[7] Such cultural and political considerations, along with the contemporary historical events in the former Ottoman Empire, were on the basis of the foundation of the Khilafat Movement by December 1918, whose political programme envisaged the salvation of the Ottoman integrity and sovereignty. In fact, as effectively summarized by Alavi, the demand of the Indian Khilafatists for a preserved and protected Caliphate was based on three main claims: comparison of the Ottoman Caliph with the “Universal Caliph” which deserved allegiance from all Muslims; ongoing religious war between Christianity and Islam; expulsion of Great Britain from the Middle East because it was deemed to threat the Caliphate and its colonies.[8]

The Khilafat movement fulfilled a twofold political activity. First of all, its Central Committee fostered a continuous propaganda by the publishing of two periodicals, in English and Urdu, and it was also busy in organizing mass meetings in order to collect funds as much as possible. Secondly, the Movement accomplished to an external activity, creating offices and dispatching delegations abroad to promote its political aims. Actually, this second operation was less successful than the internal one and revealed to Indian Muslims a shocking and meaningless lack of interest by European governments and their public opinions toward their claims.[9]  However, while the secular republicanism emerged as an alternative political way for the national renaissance of Turkey, the Khilafat movement was about to be stricken by a more destabilizing shock, resulted in the separation of the sultanate and caliphate in November 1922, given that this division meant the permanent separation between spiritual and temporal powers, embodied in the Sultan and the Caliph respectively. Suddenly, one of the most important claim of the movement was nullified by the supposed protector of spiritual Islam, Mustafa Kemal. The process of secularization in Turkey was completed with the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, which provoked a sense of confusion and furore in the Khilafatists. According to Ozcan, Kemal, that was previously and publicly urged by the Indian Muslims to restore the Sultanate, approved this measure for five political reasons: refusal to share its authority with a Caliph; the Caliph could become the principal political antagonist of Kemal because of the resistance showed by pro-Caliph people to his secular policies; clear incompatibility between secular reforms and a powerful religious authority; avoiding to be identified as a Pan-Islamist supporter by the Christian Europe; diplomatic measure that hopefully would influence the British about the question of Mosul.[10]

In the wake of secularization, the Khilafat Movement lost its political force and failed in preserving the Caliphate. Reasons for explaining the unsuccessful attempt to revive a more organized and ambitious Pan-Islamism were not solely linked to external factors, such as the rise of Mustafa Kemal but they were also intertwined with internal misperceptions and more crucial misunderstandings that ratified its own death: “In accusing Britain of being hostile to the Caliph, the Khilafatists were fighting an imaginary enemy. The real threat came from the Turkish Republican Nationalism … The Khilafatists proved to be quite incapable of perceiving the nature and significance of that historic conflict between the monarchical rule of the Caliph and the democratic aspirations of the Republican Nationalists. Paradoxically they glorified the arc-adversary of the Caliphate, Mustafa Kemal, while at the same time they also glorified their venerated Caliph.”[11]

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Sarekat in Indonesia

The Indian Khilafat didn’t represent the only example of Islamic mass-movement during the interwar period, although it was certainly the most popular and modern transnational expression of the Pan-Islamic ideology in those years. As a matter of fact, even if it tried to merge a universalist cause with the Indian Muslims’ nationalist interest in preserving their minority identity in the country, the Khilafat was also deeply concerned with Islamic affairs in Iran, Iraq, Libya and Marocco.[12] This sensitiveness toward the whole Islamic world wasn’t shared in the same way by other Islamic organizations. Nonetheless, historically speaking two more Islamic mass-movements emerged soon after the defeat of the Central Powers: Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sarekat in Indonesia.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, has been one of the most influential Islamic movements in the history of modern Egypt, bringing about a radical transformation in that society. The relationship between nationalist instances, the need for a deep social change and Islam was originally re-elaborated by al-Banna. He initially rejected the Western model of political participation and liberal nationalism in order to provide political Islam with a new and independent narration, through the ambitious effort to make it an “all-encompassing religion”.[13] As Lia underlines, “writing [of Hasan al-Banna] marked a watershed in modern Islamic discourse by making the successful transition of Islam into an ideology, thus providing an ideological map of ‘what is’ in society and a ‘report’ of how it is working”.[14] For this reason, Islam was conceived more as an ideological framework than just a parochial religion, as an useful interpretative paradigm for changing Egypt society and a guide in the formulation of reform programmes.[15] However, even the Muslim Brotherhood movement was not an isolated outgrowth  of Islam politics, but another example of the process of gradual secularization of Islam that in this case meant its own politicization. In fact, its ideology was greatly affected by the need for social justice, political, social and economic reforms and, last but not least, it reflected the interests of the lower and well-educated classes. Accordingly, this secular and Western-rooted feature, along with the conceptual shift of Islam  “from the sentimental enthusiasm of purely inert admirers… into an operative force actively [and instrumentally] actively at work on modern problems”[16], assigned to the Muslim Brotherhood a pillar role in democratizing the Egyptian society in the late 1930s. The military coup of 1952 by Nassir confirms such a view: after having overthrown the monarchy and multiparty system, Nassir banned the Muslim Brotherhood that, as an autonomous movement, was identified as a danger for his regime.[17] This Islamic mass-movement, reached an estimated total membership of 500.000 after the Second World War but most importantly the al-Banna’s “political reinterpretation” of Islam remained the most influential in the 20th century, capable to merge the idea of Islam as an all-inclusive societal system with its later politicization in 1938 which became the core of the Society’s ideology.[18]

The Sarekat Islam was founded in Indonesia on 11 November 1911 basically for facing domestic and commercial competition issues involving China.  In its peak period, namely between 1916 and 1921, Sarekat summoned a number of ‘national’ congresses in the attempt to spread the idea of nationalism and the struggle for independence against the Dutch rule. In the mind of its founding fathers, Islam as a religious belief played a pedagogical role as the “preacher of democratic ideas” and the “religion for the spiritual education of the people”. Sarekat had a liberal approach to religious and political matters: promotion of civil rights, separation between state and religious matters, rejection of racial domination, freedoms and equal rights of all citizens, need for social and educational reforms.[19] On the one hand, this political programme, largely influenced by  European socialist ideas, gained popular support even outside the Islam community and it was on the basis of several strikes and boycotts.[20]  On the other hand, penetration of Communist ideas represented a destabilizing element within a party which had adopted Islam as its main basis for unity. This change brought about a split of the Sarekat Islam in 1921 in two smaller groups, the pro-Communist and the anti-Communist.[21]

As a result, the Islamic branch adopted in the same year the so-called ‘Basic Principles of the Sarekat Islam’, which emphasized Islam as the unique source and inspiration for its policies and activities, without losing neither the major objective of national independence nor its original egalitarian vocation: “Complete national independence [was] a condition for the full realization of Islamic ideals, assuming that power is in the hands of the Muslims”. In addition, the party “aimed at the creation of a democratic government … in an Islamic state”, and it recognized and guaranteed “individual initiative in the economic field” and “the equality of (Muslim) men and women and the equality of husband and wife”[22] In comparison with other Islamic political parties working in those years, the above-mentioned principles and the role of the Quran as its main conceptual framework, make the Sarekat party one of the most astounding example of the large diversity of Islamic mass-movements existing in the interwar period, which were all deeply affected by the spread of new ideologies (such as Socialism and Communism) and by the resilience of older and unresolved colonial issues.

Conclusion

The Pan-Islamic mass-movements so far analyzed show a great deal of different features while threads which connect them together are the call to Islam as a universal religion and the need for national independences. Interwar years were undoubtedly characterized by social tensions, turmoil, revolutions and political unrests all over the world but, according to the religious and peculiar political issues, such revolts took different shapes. The recovery of the Pan-Islam ideology by mass-movements’ leaders was a political choice rather than a religious one, promoted in order to claim their instances against colonial rulers more effectively. In addition, calling for an Islamic unity helped these leaders to obtain a massive and unprecedented popular support. Finally, the declining trajectory of such movements could be explained looking at basic misunderstandings, as for the Khilafat movement, or just by political repressions, as in the cases of Muslim Brotherhood and Serakat: all the movements taken into account weren’t able to pursue their original political aims because they lacked real and effective political power to impose their willingness in the contest in which they operated.

Conversely, each of them was able to promote unprecedented political awareness and participation among their supporters and to recognize and using Islam as a powerful driver in international politics: all elements that would be extremely useful to the next generations of Islamic leaders.

[toggle title="Citations & Bibliography"]

[1] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[2] Adeeb Khalid, “Pan-Islamism in Pratice: The Rhetoric of Muslim Unity and its Uses,” in Elizabeth Özdalga (ed.), Late Ottoman Society: The Intellectual Legacy (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005), pp. 202 and 207.

[3] As Moaddel reports, the most affected countries by the expansion of Islamic modernism were under the direct colonial rule of Great Britain (a Western power): namely Egypt and India. Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse (Chicago University Press, 2005), p. 27.

[4] Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past and Present 34 (July 1966), p. 75.

[5] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[6] Azmi Ozcan, Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877 – 1924 (Leiden: Brill, 1997), p. 186.

[7] Jacob Landau, “Turkey Opts Out, while India’s Muslims Get Involved”, in The Politics of Pan-Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 203.

[8] Hamza Alavi, “Ironies of History: Contradictions of the Khilafat Movement”, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 17, Number 1 (1997), p. 1.

[9] Azmi Ozcan, p. 191.

[10] Azmi Ozcan, p. 202.

[11] Hamza Alavi, p. 11.

[12] Jacob Landau, p. 213.

[13] Mansoor Moaddel, p. 197.

[14] Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928 – 1982 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998), p. 72.

[15] Lia describes this new approach in referring to an idea of “Islam applied”, p. 74.

[16] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, (Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 157

[17] Mansoor Moaddel, p. 216.

[18] Brynjar Lia, p. 286.

[19] Deliar Noer, The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia, 1900 – 1942 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 113.

[20] Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

[21] Deliar Noer, p. 126.

[22] Deliar Noer, pp. 140 – 141.

 

Adeeb Khalid, “Pan-Islamism in Pratice: The Rhetoric of Muslim Unity and its Uses,” in Elizabeth Özdalga (ed.), Late Ottoman Society: The Intellectual Legacy (London: Routledge Curzon, 2005)

Azmi Ozcan, Pan-Islamism: Indian Muslims, the Ottomans and Britain, 1877 – 1924 (Leiden: Brill, 1997)

Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928 – 1982 (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1998)

Deliar Noer, The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia, 1900 – 1942 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973)

Hamza Alavi, “Ironies of History: Contradictions of the Khilafat Movement”, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 17, Number 1 (1997)

Jacob Landau, “Turkey Opts Out, while India’s Muslims Get Involved”, in The Politics of Pan-Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)

Mansoor Moaddel, Islamic Modernism, Nationalism and Fundamentalism: Episode and Discourse (Chicago University Press, 2005)

Nikki R. Keddie, “The Origins of the Religious-Radical Alliance in Iran,” Past and Present 34 (July 1966)

Sidel, John. Class Lecture. Pan-Islamism, the Caliphate, and New Islamic Movements, LSE, London, 3 November 2011.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, (Princeton University Press, 1957)
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Mohammed Siddique Khan

Security & Multicultural Integration In The UK: A Conflation Of Agendas

The UK’s approach to multiculturalism has contributed to homegrown Islamist terrorism in the UK. Do you agree?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

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Mohammed Siddique Khan

[dhr]

This essay forms part of our series on multiculturalism.

[hr]

There is a terrorist threat in the United Kingdom (UK) that comes not just from foreign nationals, but also from its own citizens.[1]  In an attempt to understand and counter this threat there has been a conflation of the integration and counterterrorism agendas, this has resulted in multiculturalism being identified as the barrier to both.[2]  The assertion that multiculturalism has contributed to homegrown terrorism in the UK is incomplete and simplifies the complex process of radicalisation and how that might translate into violent action.  Multiculturalism may create an environment that is favorable to the development of risk factors associated with radicalisation, namely a crisis in identity leading to the adoption of extremist ideology; but this does not fully consider relevant social drivers.  Also, it cannot be empirically shown that holding radical views will necessarily lead to committing or supporting acts of terrorism.

Multiculturalism means that ethnic minority groups require unique treatment and support from the state in order to fully exercise their citizenship.[3]  In the case of the UK, the policies which shaped multiculturalism came out of the 1960s when there was a realisation that many immigrants who had initially come to Britain for work did not plan on returning to their countries of origin.[4]  These policies were further developed in the wake of the 1981 riots, focusing on the needs of specific ethnic groups and moving towards a more racially equitable society.[5]  In recent years there has been significant criticism of multiculturalism in the UK, some have argued that it has decreased cross cultural dialogue and that it has driven communities to live separate lives from one another.[6]  These recent criticisms have also taken the form of security concerns, as articulated by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has argued that a lack of national identity in the UK has opened the door to extremism for young Muslims.[7]

The revised Prevent Strategy, the UK’s community based approach to stopping extremism, is critical of multiculturalism, placing an emphasis on integration, democratic participation, and greater dialogue between communities as essential in fighting extremism.[8]  This assessment makes a significant assumption that the key to fighting terrorism is a strong, common identity.  There is evidence to suggest that an identity crisis can serve as a cognitive opening for individuals to embrace extremist ideology. Many young Muslims in Europe, who are second or third generation, may feel alienated from their parents traditional values but also do not feel welcome in Western societies because of perceived discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage. [9]  The move towards extremism by young British Muslims is a rejection not only of perceived British or Western culture and values, but a rejection of previously held community values represented by their parents and traditional religious institutions.[10]  The concept of the ummah, or global Muslim community, promoted by Islamists, offers an alternative identity to both the world of their parents and Western society.[11]  The key point, missed by critics of multiculturalism, is that the global ummah is a foreign concept and external force to the communities comprised of ethnic minorities, which multiculturalism supports.  While there are mosques in the UK that have been connected with terrorism,[12] there are also examples of minority ethnic communities showing resilience against extremist views and violence, showing the capacity for self-policing.  The 7/7 bombers were expelled from mosques,[13] and reformed Islamist, Ed Husain, reflects on similar experiences when he was trying to propagate extremist views as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the ethnically Bangladeshi, East London Mosque.[14]  Extreme elements that may exist within a mosque often times have little to do with the officially hierarchy, they are outside elements who are operating under the radar of mosque administration.[15]  It would seem then that the problem is not with the existence of distinct ethnic communities under multiculturalism, but with the capacity of leadership within those communities to confront extremist elements.

Linking multiculturalism to terrorism also looks to ideology as being an important factor contributing to moves towards violent extremism.  Critics of multiculturalism argue that even non-violent extremism can create an atmosphere that supports terrorism and can popularise ideas that terrorists use.[16]  However, to be radical is to reject the status quo of society; this does not always mean violence.[17]  It would be incorrect to think of the radicalisation process as a neat, linear progression from an identity crisis, leading to the adoption of extremist ideology, leading directly to participation in acts of terrorism. In fact, a major debate is whether groups that promote non-violent radical ideas are one stop on a conveyor belt towards terrorism or whether they serve as a firewall or safety-valve, preventing moves towards violence.[18]  Associating homegrown terrorism with multiculturalism misses this critical link, the connection between radicalisation and terrorism.  In comparing these two distinct groups, non-violent radicals and terrorist, there is evidence that both aspire to some of the same ideological points, the concept of kuffar (non-believers), the goals of a Caliphate and Sharia law, exposure to and promotion of similar texts and thinkers, and a belief that violent jihad can be justified.[19]  Ideological differences in these groups are related to context in which religious points are understood.[20]  Perceived discrimination, which could create a cognitive opening for extremist views to take hold,[21] could be a factor in a divided, multicultural society.  However, non-violent radicals and terrorists also experience the same levels of perceived discrimination.[22]  Even if multiculturalism creates an environment which supports the adoption of extremist ideology it still cannot be shown that ideology will necessarily translate into action.

A focus simply on identity and ideology also ignores the social factors that have been shown to play a role in for individuals pursuing terrorism.  The 7/7 bombers were all seemingly well integrated members of British society.  Mohammed Sidique Kahn, the group’s leader, grew up in a religiously lenient household and married a non-Muslim woman.[23]  All of the group’s members experienced alienation and an identity crisis; however their move towards violence did not occur until after they came together.[24]  Groups are helpful in ensuring prospective terrorists that their choice is the correct one.[25]  Supporting acts of terrorism carries significant risk; before someone takes part in such action social relationships are very important.[26]  Social networks present the opportunity for ideas to be translated into action.[27]  Many radicalised individuals watch extremist videos depicting graphic and violent content, but the difference between terrorists is that they often watch those videos in groups ‘creating a culture of violence.’[28]  Other social factors such as personal experiences, friendship, and group dynamics also play a role in influencing an individual to pursue acts of terrorism.[29]  Older men, who speak Arabic and may claim to have links to the global jihad, may be influential over younger, second or third generation Muslims, who have limited knowledge of Islam.[30]  Factors, including an emotional pull, thrill seeking, status and an internal code of honour, and peer pressure might be responsible for the non-violent to violent link.[31]  Furthermore, even if an individual is socialised to commit acts of violence, there is no guarantee that violence means terrorism.[32]

Multiculturalism is a controversial policy in the center of public debate.  Policy makers should have rigorous discussions about what is best for the UK moving forward concerning issues of integration and social cohesion.  There may be many valuable reasons for the pursuit of a stronger British national identity and the reform or elimination of multiculturalism as policy; however what must be avoided is a conflation of the two distinct agendas of integration and counterterrorism.  It cannot be empirically shown that there is a link between multiculturalism and homegrown terrorism.  There are many factors that may contribute to radicalisation, some influenced by multiculturalism; identity and ideology, and some not: social factors.  Even if some factors can be shown to influence radicalisation, radicalisation does not mean violence, and violence does not mean terrorism.

[toggle title="Citations & Bibliography"]

[1]            HM Government (2011), p. 1

[2]            Meer & Modood (2009), p. 481

[3]            Ibid., p. 479

[4]            Brighton (2007), pp. 5-6

[5]            Thomas (2009), p. 285

[6]            Cantel (2001), p. 9

[7]            ‘State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12371994, 9 March 2012

[8]            HM Government (2011), p. 27

[9]            Helmus (2009), p. 81

[10]            Neumann & Rogers (2007), p. 16

[11]            Daalgard-Nielsen (2010), p. 800

[12]            ‘Profile: Abu Hamza’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11701269, 16 March 2012

[13]            Kirby (2007), p. 418

[14]            Husain (2007), p. 115

[15]            HM Government (2006), p. 31

[16]            ‘New Prevent strategy launched’, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/prevent-strategy, 16 March 2012

[17]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 2

[18]            Vidino (2010), p. 7

[19]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), pp. 10-12

[20]            Ibid., p. 10.

[21]            Wiktorowicz (no date), pp. 7-8

[22]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 8

[23]            Kirby (2007), p. 417

[24]            Ibid., p. 423

[25]            Helmus (2009), p. 96

[26]            Wiktorowicz (no date), p. 5

[27]            della Porta & Diani (2006), p. 119

[28]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 14.

[29]            European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), p. 9

[30]            Sageman (2008), p. 79

[31]            Bartlett & Miller (2012), p. 13

[32]            European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), p. 5

 

Bibliography

Bartlett, Jamie & Miller, Carl (2012), ‘The Edge of Violence: Towards Telling the Difference Between Violent and Non-Violent Radicalization’, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 1-21

Brighton, Shane (2007), ‘British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: “integration” and “cohesion” in and beyond the state’, International Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 1-17

Cantel, Ted (2001), Community Cohesion: A Report of the Independent Review Team, (London: Home Office), http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/communities/pdf/independentreviewteam.pdf, 9 March 2012

Daalgard-Nielsen, Anja (2010), ‘Violent Radicalisation in Europe: What We Know and What We Do Not Know’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 33, No. 9, pp. 797-814

della Porta, Donatella & Diani, Mario (2006), Social Movements: An Introduction, 2nd ed., (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)

European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (2008), Radicalisation Processes Leading to Acts of Terrorism, (Brussels & Luxembourg: European Commission), http://www.ec-ener.eu/views/local/uploads/documents/expert_group_report_violent_radicalisation_final_july_2008.pdf, 19 March 2012

Helmus, Todd (2009), ‘Why and How Some People Become Terrorists’, in Paul K. Davis and Kim Cragin, eds., Social Science for Counterterrorism: Putting the Pieces Together, (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation), pp. 71-111, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG849/, 19 March 2012

HM Government (2011), Prevent Strategy, (London: Home Office), http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/counter-terrorism/prevent/prevent-strategy/prevent-strategy-review?view=Binary, 9 March 2012

HM Government (2006), Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005, (London: Home Office), http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc0506/hc10/1087/1087.pdf, 17 March 2012

Husain, Ed (2007), The Islamist, (London: Penguin Books)

Kirby, Aidan (2007), ‘The London Bombers as “Self Starters”: A Case Study in Indigenous Radicalization and the Emergence of Autonomous Cliques’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 415-428.

Meer, Nasar & Modood, Tariq (2009), ‘The Multicultural State We’re In: Muslims, “Multiculture” and the “Civic Re-balancing” of British Multiculturalism’, Political Studies, Vol. 57, pp. 473-497

Neumann, Peter & Rogers, Brooke (2007), Recruitment and Mobilisation for the Islamist Militant Movement in Europe, (London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation), http://icsr.info/publications/papers/1234516791ICSREUResearchReport_Proof1.pdf, 19 March 2012

Sageman, Marc (2008), Leaderless JihadTerror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press)

Thomas, Paul (2009), ‘Between Two Stools? The Governments “Preventing Violent Extremism” Agenda’, Political Quarterly, Vol. 80, No. 2, pp. 282-291

Vidino, Lorenzo (2010), Countering Radicalization in America: Lessons from Europe, (Washington: United States Institute of Peace), http://www.usip.org/files/resources/SR262%20-%20Countering_Radicalization_in_America.pdf, 18 March 2012

Wiktorowicz, Quintan (no date), Joining the Cause: al-Muhajiroun and Radical Islam (Rhodes College research paper), http://insct.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/insct/uploadedfiles/PDFs/Wiktorowicz.Joining%20the%20Cause.pdf, 19 March 2012

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Anjem Choudary, Growing Muslim Religiousity

Growing British Muslim Religiosity & The Radicalisation Link

There is an undeniable growing level of religiosity amongst younger Muslims in the UK. Does this have implications for violent radicalisation?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}

[dhr]

Anjem Choudary, Growing Muslim Religiousity

[dhr]

This essay forms part of our series on multiculturalism.

[hr]

This essay argues that a religiosity-violent radicalisation[1] link is demonstrable when contextualised within the growing ‘Islamisation[2]’ of identity; for young British Muslims, ‘religiosity’ increasingly entails a public, politicised pan-Islamic expression of collective distinctiveness. Though no more privately religious than foreign-born parents, the increasingly Islamo-centric identity of British-born Muslims feeds separation from wider society and sometimes perpetuates Jihadist[3] frame-alignment, legitimising violence against non-Muslims. This Islamisation-violent radicalisation-religious distinctiveness relationship was also fuelled by state-sanctioned multiculturalism[4], leading the British government to recently reject the policy[5]. Resultantly, I contextualise a religiosity-violence link within identity politics and multicultural marginalisation, justifying the government’s paradigm shift.

There is ample reason to examine the religiosity-violence link amongst young Muslims; political violence is disproportionately committed by young adults[6]. Indeed, 13% of 16-24 year old British Muslims ‘admire’ Al Qaeda, compared to 7% of Muslims overall[7]; whilst most are British-born, only 44% of 16-24 year old Muslims feel Britain is ‘my country’[8]. Hence, I argue that lack of belonging correlates with violence-radicalisation potential and ‘Islamisation’ of identity amongst young British Muslims. Firstly, I analyse the ‘religious engagement’ strategy, which aims to defuse Jihadism by empowering non-violent (but often radical) Islamic groups. Subsequently, I argue that this stance obfuscates the Islamisation-violence link, utilising social movement theory to demonstrate the Islamisation-Jihadist correlation through frame alignment and socialisation and its links to state-promoted communal compartmentalisation.

Religious Engagement: Thwarting Jihadism through Islam

‘The more a Muslim understands their faith, the more peaceful they will be. An empty tin makes the most noise[9]’.

This quote suggests that inculcating greater knowledge of a ‘true’, non-violent Islam amongst religious-seeking young British Muslims will decrease violent radicalisation. Though overall more supportive of Jihadist violence, young British Muslims prayed less regularly than their parents[10], whilst 38% of young British Muslims who supported Al Qaeda prayed ‘never’ or ‘occasionally’[11]. Many members of violent organisations were religious neophytes, making them susceptible to extremist, inaccurate perversions of Islam[12]. Resultantly, this interpretation delineates any religiosity-violence link, stressing religious education and Islamic-communal framing.

This approach underlies the government’s ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ taskforce, which sought to defuse violent Jihadism by co-opting Islamic ‘community’ organisations[13]. Resultantly, the Metropolitan Police engaged extremist Salafist groups[14]. Similarly, Spalek advocates a reductionist strategy of treating counter-terrorism as distinct from integration or de-radicalisation policy[15], citing the success of the Islamist[16]-radical Muslim Association of Britain in expelling Jihadist cleric Abu Hamza from Finsbury Park Mosque in 2005[17]. Islamism can supposedly provide a non-violent outlet for ‘angry young men who feel moved to violence[18]’; radicals can relate to Jihadists, turning them to non-violent extremism[19]. This exemplifies the ‘disengagement[20]’ strategy; turning individuals toward non-violence, though they may retain radical views.

Hence, ‘religious engagement’ rejects a radicalism-violence link; non-violent Islamic-communal associations of any stripe are encouraged to root out Jihadists. Young Muslims are engaged through an Islamic prism to counter violence[21]. This approach is mired in ‘multiculturalism’, a social-policy which compartmentalises citizens into ethno-religious ‘boxes’ towards whom policy is tailored[22] through engagement with ‘community leaders’[23]. However, I utilise social movement theory to argue that multiculturalism and religious engagement facilitated the emergence of an isolationist, politicised, identity-based religiosity amongst young British Muslims, bearing implications for violent radicalisation.

Contextualising Islamisation, Violence and Religiosity

Social movement theory postulates that individuals become prone to new worldviews after experiencing ‘cognitive opening’, a process often facilitated by perceived grievances[24]. This can lead to ‘religious seeking’; embittered Muslims rationalise grievances through Islam[25]. Crucially, this sometimes promotes ‘frame alignment’; radical outlooks of extremist-Islamist groups merge with the individual’s perspectives, sharing religious-based narratives[26]. This culminates with ‘socialisation’ into Jihadist collective rationale[27]. Contrary to the ‘religious engagement’ doctrine, religiosity, radicalisation and violence are dialectic, not delineated; radical religious beliefs, fused with extremist, Islamic-framed political outlooks, serve as pre-requisites for Jihadist violence[28].

Grievances and cognitive-opening opportunities are widespread amongst young British-born Muslims: compartmentalised by multiculturalism as the ‘Muslim community’, they are distinct from mainstream, secular society yet cannot relate to traditionally-founded perspectives of foreign-born parents[29]. Lacking a rooted identity and often impoverished[30], they represent the archetypal ‘marginal man’[31], resulting in religious-seeking and increased identification with pan-global Islamic consciousness[32]. Resultantly, British-born Muslims feel threatened by distant foreign policy[33]: 70% of British Muslims believe the ‘War on Terror’ is an anti-Islamic campaign[34]. Young British Muslims increasingly express their identity through religion, publically stressing differences from non-Muslim Britons by adopting Islamic attire[35]. Thus, ‘growing religiosity’ amongst British Muslims can be termed ‘identity Islam[36]’; an increasingly salient collective, politicised, religious outlook, with dangerous ramifications for violent radicalisation due to its self-isolating nature.

Rationalising grievances through an isolationist, Islamo-centric prism facilitates frame alignment between young Muslims and Jihadists; both groups contextualise grievances through Islam[37]. Similarly, the emphasis that ‘identity Islam’ places on a ‘need to be different[38]’ fuels Jihadism; violent radicalisation feeds off this ‘us and them’ climate[39]. Political violence is exacerbated when a commonly-held social identity feels threatened by another group[40]. Resultantly, multiculturalism, with its emphasis on difference, promotes isolation and Islamisation.  Delineating Muslims into a homogenous, besieged ‘community’ creates group cohesion between religious-seeking Muslims and Jihadists, aiding socialisation[41]. Countering Jihadism with a communal-Islamic tailored narrative perpetuates Jihadist frame alignment and a grievance-enhancing Islamised message of distinctiveness.

Government counter-terrorism guidelines rightly note that those most vulnerable to violent radicalisation are those who feel a conflict between ‘being British’ and their own cultural identity[42]. Perversely, the state co-operated with Islamist movements, aiding Jihadist socialisation-inducing radical groups. Non-violent Islamist groups, or ‘gateway organisations’, embrace values incompatible with democracy[43], straddling ‘frame alignment’ and ‘socialisation’. Substantial ideological and frame overlap exists between Jihadists and Islamists, legitimising violent approaches to religious-seekers[44]. Islamist movements and violent radicals are part of the same ‘scene’, with violent groups often poaching recruits from non-violent Islamist organisations[45]. Hence, utilising radicals as a counter-weight to Jihadists is deeply flawed.  In funding both moderate and radical Islamist groups, religious engagement feeds the religiosity-violence link. Far from constituting the solutions to Jihadism, religious engagement and multiculturalism facilitate its growth, as they both fail to recognise the identity Islam-violent radicalisation link.

Conclusions

Social movement theory demonstrates worrying trends regarding the Islamisation-violence link. Most second-generation British Muslims do not become Jihadists or Islamists[46]. However, growing collective Islamisation and religious-framing of social-political grievances facilitates frame alignment, rationalisation of violence and socialisation into Jihadism. Whilst a religiosity-violence link exists, ‘growing religiosity’ amongst younger Muslims is not ‘religious’ in a pious, private sense. Similarly, counter-terrorism cannot be separated from counter-radicalisation or pro-integrationist policy; violent radicalisation of young British Muslims represents radical extremes of quasi-linear processes of religious-framed grievance-rationalisation and identity politics grounded in communal isolation, which is exacerbated by multiculturalism. Thus, engaging second-generation Muslims through Islamic prisms exacerbates feelings of separateness, breeding Islamisation and sometimes Jihadism.

Future studies should refrain from referring to a ‘religiosity-violence link’; this misleadingly implicates individual religious piety. Instead, research should refer to the ‘Islamisation’ of young British Muslim identity. Engaging young Muslims through Islamo-centric groups must end; government policy should enable de-radicalisation, facilitating the rejection of anti-establishment, confrontational views[47], not purely disengagement. Resultantly, counter-terror policy must extend beyond policing; addressing questions of identity, belonging and social cohesion. De-radicalisation strategy should enable Muslims to ‘feel’ more British and attached to state-society institutions as citizens, not a distinct community. Prime Minister David Cameron rightly linked de-radicalisation, counter-terrorism and the need to promote a cohesive, united, British identity[48]. Because the state is heavily implicated in fostering Islamisation, this paradigm shift is necessary and its effects should be scrutinised in future research.

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Citations

[1] I define ‘radicalisation’ as ‘the process by which individuals (adopt)…extreme views’ antithetical towards social-political norms. ‘Violent radicalisation’ entails violent implementation of radicalism; see Parent (2011).

[2] Bronitsky (2010), p29.

[3] I use ‘violent radicalisation’ and ‘Jihadism’ interchangeably.

[4] ‘Multiculturalism’ is a contested term; I utilise the holistic definition of ‘the process whereby the distinctive identities of cultural groups within society are maintained’, see BBC News (2011).

[5] Parent (2011), p24.

[6] Brigs (2006), p46.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Growth for Knowledge (2006), p6.

[9] Brigs (2006), p61.

[10] Field (2010).

[11] Mirza (2007),  p62.

[12] Nawaz (2008), p6.

[13] Brigs (2006), p25.

[14] Salafism is ‘an ideological orientation that seeks to purge Islam of all outside influences’; see Neumann (2006).

[15] Spalek (2008), p258.

[16] Islamism is defined as a political ideology seeking a societal-governmental shift towards strict Islamic doctrines; see Growth for Knowledge (2006).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Brigs (2006) p51.

[19] Choudhury (2007).

[20] Parent (2011), p11.

[21] Mirza (2007),  p20.

[22] Malik (2010).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Wiktorowicz (2004), p1.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Parent (2011), p13.

[29] Neumann (2007), p16.

[30] Wiktorowicz (2004), p18.

[31] Ahmed (2005), p35.

[32] Bronitsky (2010), p28.

[33] Woodward (2006).

[34] BBC News (2002).

[35] Mirza (2007), p5.

[36] Ahmed (2005), p36.

[37] Ceric (2006), p27.

[38] Mirza (2007), p6.

[39] Rogers (2007), p255.

[40] Neumann (2007), p42.

[41] Mirza (2007), p6.

[42] Home Affairs Committee (2012).

[43] Neumann (2007), p31.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Neumann (2007), p32.

[46] There is no constant trigger for violent radicalisation, see Neumann (2008), p3. Instead, this essay has sought to denote macro trends.

[47] Parent (2011), p11.

[48] BBC News (2011).

 

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