Countries must devote more resources to fight global extremism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today, but the battle would falter if it becomes consumed by sectarian division or Islamophobia, Reuters reports:
Speaking against a backdrop of deadly Islamist militant attacks in France, Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere, Kerry told leaders at the annual World Economic Forum: “These kinds of actions can never be excused. And they have to be opposed. …..He compared efforts to curb the spread of extremist violence to the fight against fascism in World War Two. “The first step is to make clear the civilized world will not cower in the face of this violence,” he said.
Kerry made no specific new proposals for how to counter the tide of violent militancy. U.S. President Barack Obama has invited allies to a Washington summit on the issue on Feb. 18. Saying world leaders must “keep our heads,” Kerry warned: “The biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone.
“Unless we direct our energies in the right direction, we may very well fuel the very fires we want to put out,” he said. “There’s no room for sectarian division, there’s no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.”
He added: “We can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them. And we have to do so mindful of the fact that understanding and acceptance are not the same.”
“We have to do more to avoid an endless cycle of violent extremism,” he said.
But New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman endorses columnist Rich Lowry’s Politico essay in which he suggested that “the administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness” by using the phrase ‘violent extremism’ in order to obscure or deny the ideological motivation of radical Islamists.
Friedman also cites a remarkable piece in The Washington Post by American Muslim Asra Q. Nomani, which called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam”:
It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. … The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. … The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. … They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”
Indeed, the aftermath of the tragic spate of terrorist attacks in Paris provokes several difficult questions, notes Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, founder of the Wasatia movement of moderate Islam:
How can we reform Islam? How can Islam, and for that matter all religions, be purged of radicals and extremists who preach and practice hate and intolerance in the name of God? Can the state impose religious reform without the support of official religious authorities? Can there be an honest and enlightened interpretation of the Quran without sparking a counterrevolution?
Moderate Muslims cannot remain bystanders, he writes for Fikra Forum:
We have to join forces in recognition that our religion has been hijacked by a small, vocal minority for political ends. We, the silent, moderate majority, must raise our voices no matter the risk and stand up for what we believe. Only our voices can stem the allure of radical Islam. We must draw on our creativity and innovation to promote moderation in religion and politics, and strive to create a world built on egalitarianism, democracy, moderation, and prosperity.
There is a remarkably novel and unlikely ideological alternative emerging to Islamist radicalism, argues David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, and co-editor of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan):
The Kurds of Syria and Turkey, in the most unlikely of circumstances, have reinvented their leading political movements and begun experimenting with a modern variant of egalitarian, local, direct democracy. In a world thirsty for ways to contain the Islamist fever that has taken over many Muslims, one would expect people to pay a bit more attention to such secular efforts, or to at least be a bit more enthusiastic about such alternatives. Yet serious discussions of “democratic autonomy” barely make the mainstream news.
A “new integrationist” discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists, notes Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and Director of Harvard University’s Islam in the West Program:
Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The “Moderate Muslims” label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.
Brutal intimidation of actual and potential critics is just one of the aims of revolutionary groups, notes Ian Buruma, Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College:
What revolutionaries hate most of all are not direct attacks by their enemies, but the necessary compromises, the give and take, the negotiations and adaptations that go with living in a liberal democracy. Their most important goal is to gain more recruits for their cause. If they are Islamists, they must try to force peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to stop making compromises with the secular societies they live in. They need more Holy Warriors.
The most effective way to do this is to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash by attacking symbolic targets, such as the Twin Towers in New York, a notorious filmmaker in Amsterdam, or a controversial satirical magazine in Paris. The more Muslims in Europe feel feared, rejected, and under siege by the non-Muslim majority, the more likely they are to support the extremists.
“If we conclude from last weeks’ murders that Islam is at war with the West, the jihadis will have won a major victory,” Buruma contends. “If we embrace the peaceful majority of Muslims as our allies against revolutionary violence, and treat them as fully equal fellow citizens, our democracies will emerge stronger.”