Monday, March 27

City Circle: Combating Islamist Extremism, Professor Tariq Ramadan Click for more info

The third in a series of lectures by Professor Tariq Ramadan was about Islamic Extremism - its definitions, causes and implications as well as what the non-extremist response to it should consist of.

For me it was more of a history lesson than anything else. We were told how that during the beginning half of the 20th century a few leading figures in the Islamic World came to the conclusion that as Muslims their duty was to refuse colonisation, actively revert to Islamic teachings and politicise themselves.

However the general Muslim consensus had other ideas, either through natural resistance to change or genuine disagreement. This led to a more formal division of society between the Muslims (since a lack of political activity wasn't enough to strip someone of their religion altogether) and the Islamiyun, or political Muslims. Islamiyun more or less meant then what Islamist means now; the point being that this was a term used by Muslims to describe Muslims.

Eventually however this attitude evolved. As time went on and the stakes increased (and possibly even as an intentional strategy to swell numbers) a "them and us" mentality was adopted by some on either side of this division. This became the first ingredient for an individual which Ramadan terms as being an Islamist Extremist.

We have to be clear that one who is radical, traditional or conservative to be classed as an extremist (and if you think about it I'm sure you know plenty of people who are these things but as far from extreme as one can be). For this reason Ramadan listed three obligatory ingredients that an Islamist Extremist must have:

  1. They must have a "them and us" mentality. This is a rigid, non-negotiable and binary view of society. Personally, I'm not sure of the strength of this requirement.
  2. They must be politically active, or Islamist. This doesn't mean they have to be an MP, but merely just have political goals.
  3. They must believe that violent means are permissible.
We can see manifestations of the above too - as literal interpretations of scriptural sources, political understanding that Muslims are under domination by others and the argument for legitimate resistance. Ramadan went on to say that amongst other things unjustified killing was both non and anti-Islamic and is an example of unacceptable diversity in the religion (citing sufism, traditionalism and reformationism as examples of the converse).

Ramadan ended by advising us to:
  1. Admit that we may have problems in our societies.
  2. Strive for a better understanding of how these problems arise.
  3. Be proactively vocal about those you feel are not representing your religion correctly.
  4. Open critical dialogue with those you feel are responsible for nurturing this behaviour - both directly and indirectly (ie governments).
  5. Be critical of the parts of western attitude as necessary.
Apart from the talk itself (which wasn't, in my opinion, as deep or challenging as the previous two), today's session was also interesting for the speaker-audience interaction. It was possibly due to the topic title, or perhaps it was just personal, but there was some jeering and shouting coming from those supposed to be listening.

Unfortunately although Ramadan did well to ignore these at first even he became reactive eventually, although I must admit that I chuckled at a few of his underhand and intentionally directed comments to his detractors! It was interesting to see this side of Ramadan but ultimately a shame that it had to happen at all, especially when even the audience as a whole became rowdy. If a bunch of "professional, young Muslims" can't even behave at a talk such as this, what hope do we have at anything remotely more ambitious?