Sunday, December 20, 2009

Salient Features of Progressive Muslim Thought –Social Justice, Gender Justice and Irreducible Religious pluralism

    Sunday, December 20, 2009   No comments
by Adis Duderija

(Paper presented at the World Parliament of Religions Conference, Melbourne,3-9 December 2009)



In my presentation I use the term Progressive Muslims (PM) as that developed and employed by the contributors to the book titled “Progressive Muslims” edited by O.Safi. The book “Progressive Muslims” was:

a result of almost an entire year of conversation, dialogue, and debate among the fifteen contributors. It had its real genesis in the aftermath of September 11,2001 in what we [the contributors] saw as the urgent need to raise the level of conversation, and to get away from the standard apologetic presentations of Islam.

The progressive Muslims’ cosmovision’, to use the words of F. Esack one of its leading proponents, is best characterised by its commitments and fidelity to certain ideals, values, practices and objectives that are expressed and take form in a number of different themes.
One of the most prominent of these ideals and practices is the commitment and the engagement of its adherents to what Esack terms ‘principled or prophetic solidarity’ with the marginalized and the oppressed communities of the world which are confronted with the actual context of injustice . This principled solidarity ought not be confused with and must be distinguished from what Esack labels the ‘expedient or situational ethics’ that ‘dominate current Muslim public discourses’ which are strategic, utilitarian, and accommodationist in character. In the words of Esack the primary concerns of Progressive Muslims

[r]elate [far more directly] to global structures of oppression whether economic, gender ,sexual etc., and ensuring that the oppressed are once again active agents of history. This fight for us[ Progressive Muslims] involves the centrality of God , the imagining of mankind as al-nas – a carrier of the spirit of God and an appreciation of Islam as a liberatory discourse.

In this context the hegemony of the modern free market–based economics and political and social structures, institutions and powers (“The Empire”)that either support, maintain or are not critical of the (unjust) status quo are strongly resisted and are seen by PM as antithetical to their overall Weltanschauung including their understanding of Islam. This is so because “The Empire” is considered to have brought about the transformation and the reduction of a human (al-insan) ,a carrier of God’s spirit, into a primarily economic consumer ( homo aeconomicus) producing great economic disparities between the majority world of the poor South and the minority world of the rich North. According to Safi this “Empire’ consists of a multitude of forces “among them the oppressive and environmentally destructive forces of multi-national corporations whose interests are now linked to those of neo-imperial, unilateral governments…..that put profit before human rights and ‘strategic interest’ before the dignity of every human being.”
Furthermore, PM wish to bring about the centrality, the uniqueness and inherent worthiness of each and every human being as the recipient and carrier of God’s spirit. This view is perhaps best illustrated with the following statements of Safi

[A]t the heart of a progressive Muslim interpretation is a simple yet radical idea: every human life, female or male, Muslim and non-Muslim, rich or poor, “Northern” or “Southern” has exactly the same intrinsic worth.

A progressive Muslim agenda is concerned with the ramifications of the premise that all members of humanity have this same intrinsic worth because, as the Qur’an reminds us, each of us has the breath of God breathed into our being.

The discourse on democracy and human rights stemming from the geographical regions of the Empire’s centre is viewed with great deal of suspicion bacause it is considered often functioning as a “Trojan Horse of Recolonisation”. It is viewed with suspicion also because it is considered not to be living up to its own ethico-moral standards, especially (but not only) in relation to issues directly affecting Muslims.
In this connection one important aspect and objective of being a PM ,argues Esack, is the “speaking truth to power” by engaging : i.) “in relentless self-critique that enables the adherent of PM thought to be true to the ideals of a just society in a way that also prevents his or her co-optation by those who have their own agendas or the expansion of the Empire as their primary reason for wanting to engage Islam”; ii.) engaging the Empire in the light of i.) without jeopardizing the inherent humanity of those comprising it; and iii.) engaging the ummah by confronting those within it who in the guise of protecting Muslim societies from the Empire violate Muslims’ basic human rights.
This means that PM are engaged in a ‘multiple critique’ that “entails a multi-headed approach based on a simultaneous critique of the many communities and discourses Progressive Muslims are positioned in”. It means to challenge, resist and seek to overthrow the structures of injustice regardless of the ideational origins and phylogeny.

In conjunction with the emphasis on the inherent dignity of every human being the values of social and gender justice , and irreducible religious pluralism are the main driving forces behind the PM ethico-religious outlook. As such PM are characterized by their

striv[ing] to realize a just and pluralistic society through critically engaging Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on gender equality as a foundation of human rights, a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism, and a methodology of nonviolent resistance.

Gender justice and equality in particular, play a very important part in the overall PM thought because they are seen as “ a measuring stick for the broader concerns of social justice and pluralism.” Gender justice and equality are ,therefore, regarded as an essential and fundamental feature of progressive Muslim thought. In the words of Safi
…the Muslim community as a whole cannot achieve justice unless justice is guaranteed for Muslim women. In short there can be no progressive interpretation of Islam without gender justice. Gender justice is crucial, indispensable and essential. In the long run any progressive Muslim interpretation will be judged based on the amount of change in gender justice it is able to produce in small and large communities.

As such PM strive for a legitimately recognized Islamic feminism.

At the core of this CPM ‘cosmovision’ is also a very strong emphasis on spirituality and interpersonal relationships based on the teachings of some of the “romantic or idealistic” Sufi ethics of dealing with fellow human beings in a way that “always recall[s] and remember[s] the reflection of Divine Presence and qualities in one another. PM thought can indeed be seen as an intellectualized form of Sufism.
Another important facet of PM thought is its emphasis on grass-roots activism that reflect its ideals and values. In the words of Safi,
A progressive commitment implies by necessity the willingness to remain engaged with the issues of social justice as they unfold at the ground level in the realities of Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Vision and activism are both necessary. Action without vision is doomed from the start/vision without activism quickly becomes irrelevant.

The proponents of PM thought are to be found spread throughout the Muslim and non –Muslim world. Many of the leading PM intellectuals live in the West and teach at western universities. Some of them obtained their graduate and post-graduate qualifications from these institutions and, in some cases, have also received traditional training in the Islamic sciences. In the words of Safi:
unlike their liberal Muslim forefathers, progressive Muslims represent a broad coalition of female and male Muslim activists and intellectuals. One of the distinguishing features of the progressive Muslim movement as the vanguard of Islamic (post)modernism has been the high level of female participation as well as the move to highlight women’s rights as part of a broader engagement with human rights.

Another prominent aspect of PM thought is that besides awarding a vital role to the concept of the socio-cultural embeddedness of certain aspects of the Islamic tradition and its primary sources, ethico-religious considerations are the highest hermeneutical tool in the PM approach to interpretation of the fountainheads of the Islamic teachings, the Qur’an and Sunnah.. As such PM thought is characterized by a “search for moral and humane aspects of Islamic intellectual heritage and is a force against moral lethargy that has crept into it.” Indeed one of its central guiding principles argues El Fadl, another one of the most important proponents of PM thought is “ to reclaim the beautiful in the vast and rich moral tradition of Islam and to discover its moral imperatives.” As part of this approach PM call for a “careful analysis of some of the more complex and foundational presumptions in Muslim legal and ethical philosophy” and the necessary epistemological and paradigm shift in, what Moosa terms, the post-Empire Islam context. In this respect PM thought strongly opposes , accounts for and challenges the “great impoverishment of thought and spirit brought forward by all Muslim literalist-exclusivist groups such as (but not only) Wahhabism.”
Lastly, PM thought places a strong emphasis on irreducible religious and ethnic pluralism where plurality of interpretations of religious texts and religious experiences is considered a norm and the Will of the Creator of all humanity. Each religion is therefore considered to be sui generis and a self-sufficient complete whole operating within its own broader weltanschauung.

O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit.
Safi, Progressive Muslims, p.18.
See F. Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy and Human Rights Project for Muslim Societies’, in ed. Abdul Aziz Said, M. Abu Nimer and M. Sharify-Fumk, Contemporary Islam-Dynamic not Static, Routledge, London and New York, 2006, pp. 117-129.
Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’, op.cit, pp. 125-126
Ibid, p. 127
O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit., p. 3.
Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’, op.cit, pp. 120-121.
S.Mahmood, ‘Secularism, Hermeneutics, Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation’, Public Culture,Vol.18, No.2, pp.323-347.
F.Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’,op.cit., pp.125-126.
O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit., p.2.
O.Safi,’Challenges and Opportunities for the Progressive Muslim in North America’,op.cit.
O.Safi, ‘What is Progressive Islam?, International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, December 2003, pp. 48-49, p.49.
Safi, Progressive Muslims,op.cit.p.7
Safi,’Challenges and Opportunities for the Progressive Muslim in North America’.
See A.Duderija, The Interpretational Implications of Progressive Muslims’ Qur’an and Sunnah Manhaj in relation to Construction of a Normative Muslimah Representation, Journal of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 19,4,2008,409-427.
El-Fadl,’The Ugly’, pp.33-78.
Moosa, ‘The Poetics’, p.3.
Safi, Progressive Muslims,p.8.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Debates Among Muslims About the Nature of Prophetic Authority –Implications for the Role Of Islam in the World Today

    Friday, December 18, 2009   No comments
By : Adis Duderija

The contemporary inter-muslim disputes on the nature, character and scope of Prophetic authority centre around the central notion in Islamic thought that of nature of Sunnah and by extension the nature of the Revelation revealed to Prophet Muhammad, namely the Qur'an. These questions in turn are so fundamental that an enormous body of literature has been/ and is still being written in the fields of "Islamic" law, theology, mysticism, politics, philosophy and ethics. It is outside the scope of this written discourse to offer even a brief account of any of these. As such the essay will be selective in nature and try to address issues that are more "pragmatically oriented" or in other words which are more directly relevant to the global political dynamics and the role Muslim societies play in them.

Concept of Sunnah ,or what has been commonly coined as Prophet's example , existed in pre-Qur'anic Arabia . Over time the concept itself underwent several semantical changes during the development of Muslim creed, as Ansari pointed out lucidly. Sunnah's initial vagueness and generality in terms of its semantics was increasingly linked to its usage in Islamic Jurisprudence. However it always contained and carried , according to Ansari, a meaning of normativeness in itself. This inherent normativeness of Sunnah as applied to the Prophet confirmed by the Qur'an was to give rise to, inter alia, a multitude of views as to what the actual function of Prophetic figure was along with debates on the sphere of influence prophet was to exert on the believer . Was Prophet a lawgiver,a politician and a statesman or a mere spiritual reformer and an ethico-moral guide ( by the way the same questions can be asked with regards to the nature and aims of Qur'anic revelation) ? In other words to what extent did the concrete socio-historical situation on ground faced by the Prophet dictate /influence his universalist message and vice-versa? The mainstream view of the Muslim creed downplayed the importance of socially contingent elements of Prophetic activity/authority in the development of subsequent "catholic" version of the dogma and elaborated an extensive , largely literalist doctrine of Prophetic authority not restricted to ethico-moral guidance only. The epistemological sources and methodological tools applied to the process of derivation of normative values based on this concept of Sunnah (and thus to the nature of Prophetic authority) saw the Prophetic authority as being all comprehensive, thus not just exerting influence over the fields of ethics and morality ( which one might add has been largely neglected in terms of its systematic elaboration and definition as Prof. F. Rahman argued) but also in the socio-political sense , especially in the area of law.
What are the implications of such a view on nature and scope of Prophetic authority for the role of Islam in the arena of contemporary international politics? Questions such as whether Islam is compatible with democracy, human rights and gender equality ,(post)- modernity and values underlying its worldview ;its views on the nature of the relationship between predominantly Muslim societies and western liberal societies; issues pertaining to non-Muslim minorities in Muslim societies and Muslim minorities in Non-Muslim societies ; institutions of secular nation/state-hood , validity and viability of global governance and other international bodies are some of the most important questions in the international political realm concerning Islam and Muslims today.
Let us briefly explore some of them.


The mainstream Muslim political governance model throughout its history, as embodied by the early Muslim community just after the Prophet's death, was based on the notion of caliphate ( a qur'anic term pertaining to the role of human beings on earth as viceroys /representatives of God ) which from the very beginning translated itself into a hereditary and dynastical rule of the caliph belonging to a particular tribe or family related to the Prophet in one way or another . There was , in theory, no separation between the religious and the non-religious spheres of governance. The caliph was not only a ruler but also "a shadow of God"( as the tradition puts it) on earth, custodian of revealed knowledge and ensurer of its implementation . In reality, however,the caliph largely assumed a political and military position while the 'ulama, being under the discretion and the mercy of the caliph, were entrusted the extrapolation and application of what was seen to be as The Divine Law( Shari'ah). The masses, did not take any significant part in the matters of governance and running of the Empire and were not consulted on political or societal issues. The literalist exclusivist interpretation of Prophetic authority as taking place in a spatio-temporal vacuum and it being completely divorced from the reality/historical context in which it unfolded,( during the time of the prophet and the first four "rightly guided" caliphs) , sees the re-establishment of pan-Islamic caliphate as the only form of "Islamic " government that is in accordance with the concept of Sunnah.

The evidence of caliphate as a the only legitimate form of Muslim government , cannot not be found neither in the Qur'an nor in Sunnah as the Prophet himself , according to the majority view( excluding the Shi'a) did not leave any explicit instructions on what form of government/governance the post-Prophetic Muslim community is to adopt. If anything, the Qur'anic principles of shura ( consultation) and its partial adaptation in early Muslim community ( restricted to a particular tribe or family) in the election of caliphs along with the socio-historical context of its development (e.g. low literacy rates, socially and culturally accepted gender norms) can be seen as valid historical antecedents for the viability of parliamentary democracy , under the aegis of Shari'ah- in a sense of a Divine Law inherently subject to human interpretation-, as a legitimate model of governance in Muslim societies. This view of Islam being essentially compatible with democratic institutions and democratic form of government is of course of immense importance in today's society if we consider the current debates in Muslim countries , especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where efforts to democratise societies , internally and externally, are currently taking place. The democratising tendencies and the idea of democratisation of a society are slowly gaining ground in other Muslim countries such as S. Arabia but due to the socio-political realities of the world today are they are often forced to take a back-seat given the immediate appeal and simplicity of Salafo-jihadi politics. Additionally, another main obstacle democracy is facing in Muslim societies is that the democracy is largely seen as foreign , western concept that is being imposed on and is at odds with traditional Islamic values. This view is further consolidated by at times direct and explicit involvement of Western countries, such as the USA and Britain, in stipulating and guiding Muslim societies towards democratic -like models of government (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) without taking the will and readiness of the native population into consideration.


During the time of the Prophet apart from the Arab pagans Muslims in Medina were in contact with its large Jewish and smaller Christian communities. Prophet's attitude towards mom Muslims was largely context dependent . The Qur'an itself bears witness to this in many places. The signing of the peace treaty between various faith communities in Medina soon after the Prophet's arrival indicated his willingness and readiness for peaceful co-existence. A number of incidents that happened during Prophet's time in Medina , such as his order to execute the male members of a particular Jewish tribe in Medina after their repeated breaking of an agreement, along with Qur'anic injunctions which often , if taken literal and decontextually, could be seen as ambivalent , even contradictory towards ahl-Kitab ( recipients of previous revelations) resulted in a certain uncertainty and lack of definition as to how the subsequent generations are to approach people belonging to non-Muslim faiths.
It is only after the Prophet's demise the expanding Muslim Empire was confronted and exposed to the realities beyond the Arab peninsula. The concept of Ahl-Kitab was largely applied to majority of people who, over time, were brought under the rule of the caliph. They did not have same rights and responsibilities as Muslim citizens ( this distinction was also applied to Muslim men and women not just as citizens but also as spouses ) and they enjoyed (limited) religious freedom and protection by the Muslim government as al-dhimmi .
The traditional doctrine developed, among others, specific terminology such as dar-ul-harb ( realm of war) and dar-ul-islam (realm of Islam) designated to particular geographical areas in its relation to the Muslim empire and Muslim populace . These , binary concepts of the world developed a millennium ago, are being coined by certain contemporary Muslim movements in Muslim societies as well as those living in western-democracies as being eternally valid and part of the Prophet's Sunnah. Thus the west is the dar-ul- harb and inherently antagonistic to Islam as embodied by the Prophet. Muslims duty, according to this dialectic, is either to "convert" the dar-ul harb into dar-ul-islam through missionary ( da'wa) activity or to isolate and distance itself form it (with the exception of in some cases of the sphere of economics) or even engage in military conflict until it itself becomes dar-ul Islam( a rather rare opinion ).

Theories, concepts , policies and views elaborated and accumulated during medieval times pertaining to the Muslim non -Muslim dynamics are largely socio-historically contingent and cannot be applied in the current context and the state of affairs in which the humanity is in. The medieval worldview cannot longer be considered as being faithful to the Prophetic model and action. Prof. Ramadan brings in another concept, namely that of dar-ul-shahada (abode of testimony) to say that Muslims in vast majority of cases , especially but not exclusively in the context of Muslim minorities living in liberal democracies, enjoy constitutional rights as citizens allowing them to remain faithful to their faith and be witness bearers of God .This, in turn ,enables them not only to remain faithful to their religious principles but also to meaningfully engage in the betterment of their societies in accordance with Islamic values that are universalist and socially non-contingent such as social justice, freedom of belief and thought etc.
Thus depending upon the approach and interpretational models of Qur'an and Sunnah the Muslim -Non-Muslim dynamics can take two diametrically opposed pathways, a pathway of peaceful co-existence based on commonly shared values or that of animosity and oppositional dialectics that can seriously affect the future course of international affairs/politics .

The concept of Prophetic authority , its underlying epistemological parameters and methodological tools have occupied a central place among the debates between Muslims ever since the conception of Muslim Ummah. Often the conclusions have been quite diametrically opposed with enormous consequences for not only individuals but also societies at large may they be Muslim or non-Muslim. Author has just scratched the surface by choosing the examples of democracy and Muslim-non-Muslim dynamics as just two of many issues that are of great importance for understanding the role of Islam and Muslims in contemporary international politics ands the future nature of that dynamics.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Only “Them” Can Commit Acts of Violence?

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009   No comments


Linking Islam to violence is not new trend any longer. However, after the tragic Fort Hood shooting, many people are making the connection unabashedly. I am not about to write a rebuttal. I would state, instead, that Islam—as practiced by many self-proclaimed Muslims—does have a violent side. In fact, it has some indoctrinated notion of violence manifested in the institutions governing war and peace and social order. As a religion that developed in the arms of political entity (Madinah), Islam could not have escaped the use of violence because that is what state/government does: monopolize the institutions and the uses of violence. What is also true is this: the use of violence in Islam is governed by the rules put forth by the founder of Islam, Muhammad.

But I am also absolutely sure that other religions have some indoctrinated notion of violence, too. But, the rules in the use of violence were not even put in place by the founders (or first leaders) of these religions. This is particularly true for Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. These facts, coupled with other historical facts, ought to make the case for the propensity of all humans to engage in violent acts, not just “them, Muslims.”
Here is an observation: People who single out one religion as violence-prone are narcissistically masking their own faith’s propensity to embrace violence. Moreover, the accusatory tone is generally indicative of a fractured self torn between the manufactured image of a faith’s pacifism and the naked reality of blatant reversion to violent means. Overcompensation for failure to follow-through with one’s faith-based teachings and the demands of reality may lead  one to embark on a mission to demonize others in hopes of winning arguments by default rather than by merit.

Supportive evidence for this observation can be found in numerous specious arguments presented by many politicians, pundits, and commentators. The common link between these otherwise persons of different backgrounds is the shared commitment to supremacist ideology although most of them avoid making it the issue of discussion at any cost. It suffices to examine three figures: a Hindu commentator, a Jewish politician, and a Zionist ideologue. The first argues that Islam is inherently violent, the second claims that extremism is inherently Islamic, and the third contends that Islam is pure evil—no matter what shade of Islam; all of Islam is dangerous.

 Recently, the commentator, Tunku Varadarajan, recycled the phrase “Going Postal” to suggest that, because of the violent nature of Islam, one must be wary of someone next to them “Going Muslim.” By reading his other commentaries, one would easily discover that Varadarajan sees the world as a static mosaic of good people—Hindus—and bad people—Muslims. In his mind, Muslims are violent the same way Hindus are tolerant. Let us consider what he thinks of his own faith to see the failure of his logic.
In an article entitled A Democratic Inclination, Varadarajan declared that “there is a strong correlation between electoral democracy and Hinduism.” To be sure, he added, “Hinduism, more than any other religion—with the possible exception of mainstream Protestant Christianity—has an intensely tolerant core, one that encourages religious and intellectual plurality in society… Indian society is predominantly Hindu, and mainstream Hinduism tends to be big-hearted, broad-minded, easygoing, indulgent... in my estimation, preponderantly Hindu societies will always be predisposed toward democracy.”

Of course, he is talking about the same Hinduism that enshrined the lovely cast system whose dehumanizing effects were only mitigated through secular institution; the same Hinduism whose adherents destroy mosques in India; the same Hinduism that produced Hindus who gleefully cut and murdered pregnant Muslim women alive in Gujarat; the same Hinduism that he himself described in a piece written for The New York Times, on January 11, 1999 by saying, "What we are witnessing in India is the growth of a sort of Hindu Taliban movement.” Of course, he needed to use “Taliban” just like he used “postal” to indicate the foreignness of violence in “true” Hinduism.
The politician is Sen. Joe Lieberman who took advantage of the Fort Hood tragedy to push his political agenda of making connection between Islam and murder. Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Lieberman  declared, "If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance, he should have been gone.”

Every word spoken by Sen. Lieberman is problematic and it is, I believe, deliberately worded to suggest to his listeners that Islam is a disease, an illness that has “signs” (symptoms). Then by suggesting that the army should have fired “Hasan,” he leaves no doubt that being Islamic extremist is bona fide criminal. I am not sure which part of the phrase denotes a crime, being Muslim, being extremist, or being extremist Muslim?

Given Sen. Lieberman’s political savvy, it would not surprise anyone if he responds that he is not anti-Muslim; which leaves us with him being against extremism. If this were to be the case, then why would Sen. Lieberman attach the adjective “Islamic “to “extremism”? In other words, is Sen. Lieberman ambivalent to extremism linked to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, nationalism, and all other forms of isms that have been historically linked to acts of violence?
Since Sen. Lieberman is a self-described Jew, let me remind him that it was a self-declared Jew who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister of Israel); it was in the fold of Judaism that the Stern Gangs, Meir Kahanes, and Baruch Goldsteins were born and raised… Judaism, Senator, has its extremists, too.

Here are the facts: in a democracy, neither being a Muslim nor being an extremist is a crime. There are extremists in every society and no civilized community ought to criminalize extremism. Doing so will take humanity back to the dark ages of absolutism. To put things in context, many Americans think that Rev. Wright, Minister Louis Farrakhan, David Duke are extremists. Many Americans, especially Democrats, think that Senator Lieberman is an extremist and that is why they fired him during the primaries last time he ran. Another Lieberman, Avigdor Lieberman, is by most accounts an extremist Jew who is now the Foreign Minister of Israel. Every Jewish prophet was dubbed extremist when he first arrived. The right to hold extreme views (as long as they do not break the law) is what separates a nation of laws from a nation of tyrants.

Christianity, too, has had its share of violence and extremism. Christianity nurtured the crusades and Spanish conquistadors who burned native Americans alive in bundles of 13 in honor of the Twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. Not just in the past, but also in the present, Christianity continues to justify—in the mind of many—the murder of those who violate some Christian dogma: in the last two decades alone, 24 murders or attempted murders, 179 bombing and arson or attempted bombing or arson, 2795 of other acts of violence (invasion, assault & battery, death threats, etc…) were undertaken by self-proclaimed Christian activists against doctors who worked in clinics that provided abortion.
The most outrageous thesis is authored by Daniel Pipes who is in favor of interning all American Muslims during times of war because, in his mind, they cannot be trusted. In a piece written for The Jerusalem Post (Nov. 14, 2009), not only did Pipes compare Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the Prime Minister of Turkey) and Keith Ellison (US Congressman) to Osama bin Laden, but he actually declared them to “pose a greater threat to Western civilization.” Pipes dislike of Muslims extends to elected leaders, suggesting that Muslims should be shut down even if they come to govern through democratic means.

Unlike these representative demagogues, I am not suggesting that only religious people commit acts of violence; violent individuals are as diverse as American society. After all, it is American society that produced Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who raped and murdered 33 young men and boys in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1970s; Robert Lee Yates and Gary Ridgway of Washington who murdered 61 women, and more than 125 serial killers who killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children.

The idea of linking all of Islam to extremism is absurd given that there are 1.57 billion Muslims who did not “go Muslim” or “go extremist.”  In the U.S. military alone, there are more than 5000 American-Muslim service men and women who served, continued to serve, and gave their lives in the most heroic fashion to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.

The Liebermans, the Pipes, and the Varadarajans will always continue to look for imperfections in an imperfect world, for faults in faulty religious views, for reasons to hate others. Yes, there is a propensity to violence in any religious and secular ideology. They are human discourses and as such, they are shaped by all that is human. If one feels the urge to condemn violence, one should have the courage to condemn it for what it is not for where it came from. In the end, we may all be complicit in fomenting hate and violence by preaching our own supremacy and by looking for foreignness to explain away instances that make one’s faith look like any other: to some extent, violent. There is nothing foreign about violence in human societies. There will always be criminals, psychotics, lunatics, murders, and rapists amongst us, especially among those who insist that none are amongst them.

 *Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches course in International Studies, Islamic studies, and law at the University of Iowa; he is the author of the book, Contesting Justice.


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