Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Listening in

For a lucid introduction to a lay person's analysis of a radio talk please read excerpt from link to Dr.Amira Nowaira's highly informative article published in the Guardian 10th May 2010

In examining this chapter of Islamic history, regardless of the validity or otherwise of the views expressed, one cannot help feel amazed at the fact that the Islamic thinkers of the 10th century had the freedom to discuss and publish their "unorthodox" ideas, while the Islamic world now cannot, or will not, deal with any form of intellectual dissent. It might be reasonable to suggest then that the problem of Islam does not lie in inherited texts and traditions, but in interpretation. The Islamic heritage, like its Christian counterpart, is made up of a huge body of commentaries and interpretations that were produced in various periods of history to address problems specific to their age. We need to remember that the Christian scriptures have not changed since the middle ages. It was in the name of these very texts that innumerable so-called heretics were burnt at the stake.
There is little doubt that Islamic scholars have the task and the responsibility to review tradition and re-emphasise the human values of tolerance and freedom of thought. They do not have to look far for these values. All they are required to do is to reach deep into their own cultural coffers to retrieve the pearls and discard the dregs.

BBC Radio Two, 7th February 2011: Jeremy Vine discusses counter-terrorism.
Should doctors, university lecturers, lawyers and other pillars of society look out for people who ‘may’ become terrorists in the future? In other words: ‘how to spot a future terrorist ’ in the so-called “prevent strategy”.
The talk is presented by Jeremy Vine and held between
Professor Anthony Glees of Buckingham University and Azad Ali, Chair of the Muslim Safety Forum.

We switch on the radio and that is what we do, we listen. But listening implies understanding. When presentation is lacking or obtusely angled we are deprived of understanding. When germane discernment which should prevail throughout is blatantly absent, we are intentionally or not, sadly misled. 

Without prejudice:
When Azad Ali, Chair of the Muslim Safety Forum points out that an ideology is merely a concept, a thought process and questions what is actually meant by ‘Islamist ideology’ he is met with an uncomfortable and disparaging laugh with no trace of a definitive response: “We could probably spend another half hour describing it”. So therein lies the problem notes Azad Ali, lack of definition of a concept and condemnation of thought in ideological phase. He further adds that to bring about specific targeting of a particular sector of society would be discriminatory and inciting. Every point made by Azad Ali is shot down by Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence at Buckingham University.
Professor Glees continues to refer to the ideology of islamism as being dangerous in itself; when Azad Ali asks: "Is it a crime?"
Professor Anthony Glees makes the resounding statement: 
“Islamist ideology is a crime”
Azad Ali points out the fallacy of attributing blame to any ideology in a ‘liberal society’ and makes the distinction: A successful counter-terrorism strategy would be to zone in on activities that denote the threat, an unsuccessful and misleading strategy would be to view a thought process alone as a crime. 
     Now enlightened to what is referred to as ‘islamist’. The ‘ist’ being just another suffix attached to coin yet another term evoking negative implications herein conveniently sharing its cadence with ‘terrorist’.
With respect, the response in current vernacular would be: “Whatever”. 
     On a more serious note however words such as Islamic and Islamist are bandied about without much thought. In today’s climate, they are often perceived as one and the same and yet, bearing in mind the association made above, the difference between them as reference points would be significant.

If 'Islamist' ideology is perceived to be one that is politically motivated and of an extreme nature, it neither does nor can accurately portray the Islamic ideology which pursues aspiration of the nobler traits of human nature as its ideal. Enforcement with oppressive tendencies subjugating other faiths to abide by the dogma and creed of its own is not an endorsement of Islam. Islam does in fact advocate quite the opposite. Guidance that comes through Islam is not dependent upon appearances nor is it necessarily confined to those who relentlessly practise its rituals. Any enforcement of laws of an extremist nature causing rift and oppression are not condoned. To do so, the underlying message of Islam would in fact not only be lost but moreover never within reach. Oppression in the Quran as an abstract as well as established regime is referred to as the worst of worldly predicaments.
     Laws pertaining to any denomination or even to a secular state relate to customs and conformities which in fact often emanate from religious teachings and guidelines. It follows that codes of morality within justice systems bear basic similarities. The principal aim of any good justice system is to meet the standards of an accepted morality, to enable law-abiding people to feel they are protected from perpetrators of crime. The depth of Sharee3a laws is often broadly unperceived.
     Islam bears a universal message; one that is essentially required to suit and conform to every time and place whilst still guarding principled codes of behaviour. Should any of its bona fide teachings be respectfully advocated they would be seen to relate and even coordinate directly with those of other faiths. Its principle being: integration rather than violation. 
Where this is unlikely Islam has the propensity of remaining aloof, adhering firmly to the motto: ‘To each their own’. People have the freedom to follow any faith or dogma they choose to so long as they all bear respect. This is a principle code in Islam necessarily honoured and somewhat reminiscent of ‘free speech’ but ironically less flawed. When not honoured, it may be considered an inner threat to the faith itself. Islam professes that one can remain true to one’s own religion whilst simultaneously accepting another’s freedom of choice. This notion correlates directly with the ethos of a peaceful and fair religion.

The pre-requisites of Islam are not met through deviance or extremism. Quite contrarily, the condemning of 'Islamist ideology', a concept associated to Islam, both cognitively and sub-consciously in the world today, is in itself deviating and regrettably misleading.

Fair debate cannot exist where loose labelling and generalisations are made with no reference to the bigger picture. With the absence of clarity and distinction in the talk referred to, the statement appears acutely disparaging and sadly conducive to hatred of Muslims and Islam itself; a little ironic when extremism is being addressed. 
     The voice of any opposition to such a statement comes through as faint in comparison since it is already compromised before it can be heard. The opposition would in fact not be in defence of the extremism in question, but more opposed to labelling and dismissal by association which is both detrimental and blinkering.
     Within the chat show, the so-called debate’s outcome was a foregone conclusion. There is a general air of superiority that accompanies dismissive statements portrayed as definitive axioms. Any alternate view, due to indubitable connotations can at best appear subjugated.
Nevertheless, Professor Glees' personal viewpoint and perspective may appear somewhat more balanced and backed up when read in an article published in the National Observer, Australia, No. 81 (Dec. 2009 - Feb. 2010)
Distinctions are made which may in some cases have their validity:
“Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.” …
”Exposure to extreme and politicised interpretations of the peaceful faith of Islam is always the necessary precondition of terror.
Islamism is a specific system of political ideas which is found wherever Islamic ideas are studied and traded by extremist and radical preachers.
Not surprisingly, there is general agreement that the best policy is to try to prevent the transfer of this lethal ideology. If it is acknowledged — which it should be — that Islamic studies centres can promote political extremism, it then becomes imperative to regulate and evaluate what goes on inside them or in their immediate vicinity and, if necessary, contain their number so that they can be properly monitored.”
He then proceeds to elaborate on the dangers of the
‘Proliferation of Islamic studies centres’
As dubitable as some of the content may or may not be, perhaps that is where those views should have remained; in context and theoretic writing.

     When Radio addresses listeners without correct measures in place, without elucidation of the particular misrepresentation occurs. It is unfavourable all round, for both speaker and listener. Undiscerning condemnation in such a context is extended to all articles of faith associated in the listeners’ minds. In this particular case it stands to offend law-abiding citizens who cherish their Muslim identity and all those who can identify with the dangers of bigotry. 
     Surely labelling one ideology criminal is paramount to saying any ideology may well have the same potential since every ideology is a concept involving an ideal, an acme of a particular dogma, philosophy or creed. Labelling an ideology a crime stands to cast a shadow over its entire links.
     Islam, in essence, is a religion of high definition administering tolerance rather than bigotry. Far from posing as a threat it is one that endows whoever wishes to embrace it with, many would say, unparalleled serenity and the comfort that accompanies surrender of self and ego to the highest power, our Creator.
     Terrorism on the other hand, whatever its origin, is a concept seeking to incense and to instil fear in that which it considers a threat. It manifests itself not only in physical attacks but primarily through infiltration into the ethos of a people, the psyche of individuals. It does not even need to be related to an ideology, but may indeed appear to be inextricably linked to one or other. 
When criminal activities are perpetrated in the name of a religion, disrespect for the very religion supposedly revered is manifested. Within such atrocities there lies a dismissal of the very ideology they profess to follow.

Islam misinterpreted may suit an age where fuelling against it is viewed as a necessary defence. Ideologies are more than often interlinked, religion and politics becoming almost inseparable in today's globalisation. Islamist ideology with the rationale of political gain is not alone in seeking to gain power but it is indeed so much easier to dismiss it a crime and paint with the same brush all it is associated with. Attempting to fathom where the problems actually lie is deemed unnecessary and surplus to requirements. 

The debate about politically motivated religious views is an on-going one, visibly present in the Muslim world itself. Islamic principles aiming to integrate with the ethos of a society may, if aptly applied help give structure to moral guidelines already in place whatever the denomination. Even in a secular society there are laws that are bound by morality in one form or another. ‘Moderate’ Muslims, may be seen opposed to the fundamentally inclined. However, 'Fundamentalism' is yet another misleading term since it implies its views relate to the core of an ideology. Extremism is indeed the more apt term and since balance and tolerance and lack of bigotry are all pivotal to Islam, extremism neither was nor is nor can ever be at its pinnacle.

With yet another familiar, catchy term: “Islamophobia”, one finding its resonance in the Arab world where extremist takeovers prevail, should it be coined ‘Islamistophobia’? And more importantly: Why is terrorism in the West attributed almost singularly to ‘Islamist’ ideology when statistically speaking the majority of attacks have and continue to emanate from decidedly unrelated sources? 
Where there is a lack of tolerance, cracks may appear as flaws and imperfections within an ideology; it may appear to entwine itself obsessively with self-righteousness, ultimately leading to condemnation of all else. But the flaws would be in adaptation rather than ideology itself.

Sweeping statements made on Radio are a far cry from any theory deemed substantiated and thus believed to hold water:
“Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.”
It may surprise us a little at how refracted this sentence may now appear.

 Saying Islamist ideology is a crime unfortunately runs the high risk of depicting the religion itself as an insidious evil. A King Kong perceived as a villain, dismissed through ignorance and shallow viewpoint rather than understood.
     Having made this point we must remind ourselves yet once again of the statement made prior to the radio talk in Professor Glees' article: “Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.” Carefully angled perspective is indeed everything.

The analogy that accompanies the above is that akin to people of any faith, fearing terrorism of any kind, 'moderate' Muslims have the additional bonus of looking forward to a targeted bigotry, to a fear of feeling singled out when in essence they do no more than live their religion quietly and peacefully. Where there is a severe lack of tolerance perhaps terrorism is a relatively perceived concept.

No comments: