According to Geir Lippestad, his lawyer, Anders Breivik appears to be insane. If this non medical assessment proves correct then the Islamophobic and extremist nationalist Norwegian mass killer will be one of the first terrorists in the entire history of political violence who has not been psychiatrically and psychologically normal.
Interestingly, it is only in recent years that academic research has finally laid to rest the persistent and popular notion that terrorists are predisposed to insanity or psychiatric or psychological abnormality. Whatever the cause terrorists pursue and – in those cases where they survive the terrorist attacks they carry out – whenever they are examined by medical experts their sanity and normality is invariably proven.
Even Nazi war criminals were eventually shown to be psychologically healthy and normal and indistinguishable from a sample of average American civilians.
Terrorism scholar Andrew Silke has done more than most to explain that psychological abnormality or anomaly is rarely a trait in terrorists and is certainly not evidenced simply because terrorist violence ‘runs contrary to the accepted standards of society’. Instead, rigorous examinations conducted over three decades point to the fact that terrorists are perfectly rational and approach their chosen tasks in much the same way as soldiers.
I should add that all of the terrorists I have investigated or researched over the last thirty years have all been entirely sane. Indeed, some of them are now considered sufficiently stable to hold high political office.
On the face of it Breivik appears entirely rational as well. Having just ploughed through his 1500 page political ‘manifesto’ and reviewed the terrorist tactics he employed on Friday 22 July, it also strikes me that he possesses outstanding organisational and planning skills that would be highly valued in society if he put them to conventional use – most obviously in the Norwegian military.
Of course we should wait for a full medical examination of Breivik before coming to any firm conclusions about his mental health. However, I am compelled to write this article now because Lippestads’s premature pronouncement of his client’s insanity has naturally become a headline and a media mantra that is likely to set the tone for the coverage of the case for the foreseeable future.
“This whole case indicates that he’s insane,” Lippestad told a press conference but when pressed by reporters he appeared to lack any solid basis for his assessment. In fact when he described Breivik’s behaviour and his doctrine of politics and political violence it was clear that Breivik had been talking to his solicitor in the same measured tones he uses in his written ‘manifesto’. “[Breivik’s] in a war and he says that the rest of the world, particularly the Western world don’t understand his point of view but in 60 years time we all will understand it” Lippestad said.
Eventually Lippestad concludes that Breivik is insane because he ‘is not like any one of us’. But experience suggests that Breivik is ‘unlike us’ because he has resorted to terrorist violence for exactly the same kind of reasons that terrorists in all kinds of terrorist movements always have done over the last hundred years or more.
More to the point Breivik’s manifesto is of a piece with the sentiments and methods Europe’s burgeoning violent extremist nationalist network that appears to have sustained his morale during a long process of strategic and tactical terrorist planning.
Lippestad reveals an alarming lack of knowledge of terrorism and of his client’s apparent motivation when he says he simply does not understand why Breivik attacked Labour Party members and not ‘Islamics’ (presumably Muslims). As if again this was somehow evidence of insanity. Instead, by choosing to attack a government building and a Labour Party summer school, Breivik is drawing attention to what many fringe nationalists see as the political failure of mainstream and left-wing politicians to confront the Muslim threat. So-called appeasers of the “Islamification of Europe” have become as hated as Muslim activists and therefore face the same kind of attacks.
Breivik can claim to have followed a long tradition of terrorism target selection that is intended to send a strong message to politicians in an attempt to persuade them to change policy. As leading terrorism scholar Alex Schmid reminds us, terrorism is a form of communication that ‘cannot be understood only in terms of violence’. Rather, he suggests, ‘it has to be understood primarily in terms of propaganda” in order to penetrate the terrorist’s strategic purpose.
This is normal terrorist thinking. Thankfully terrorism is by definition a minority pursuit. If it ever it became commonplace Europe would be facing the kind of civil war Breivik intends he and others like him will eventually trigger.
If we make the mistake of calling terrorists mad we will be in danger of overlooking their extremist politics and their adherence to tried and tested methods of political violence. Significantly, we never make that mistake when dealing with al-Qaeda terrorists so until we get compelling evidence to the contrary let’s not do it with extremist nationalist terrorists like Breivik.
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Muslims and their mosques face a higher level of threats and intimidation in UK suburbs and market towns than in big cities, according to a new report. Case studies reveal that examples such as a Muslim woman who was punched and called a “terrorist” in front of her petrified daughter are not uncommon.
Such attacks often go unreported, and in this case the woman was too scared to inform the police. She also played down the incident to reduce her child’s distress, and avoided explaining why she was singled out for wearing a burka and being a Muslim woman. The new study Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, published 27 November reveals that this kind of unprovoked incident is a largely hidden experience that is insufficiently acknowledged and understood outside of the communities where they occur. The report is part of a ten year academic research project led by the University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC). It captures a snapshot of these experiences which are often unrecognised by the media, politicians and wider British society. The research also combines an academic approach to identifying world events and policy information that inform the way reactions and actions towards Muslims can be influenced.
Findings show that since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, arson, criminal damage, violence and intimidation against mosques has increased dramatically and smaller or isolated Muslim communities in places like Colchester, Bishop Stortford and Boston have become especially vulnerable.
Dr Jonathan Githens Mazer, co-Director of the EMRC said, “Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime are very real problems for British Muslims going about their everyday business. Through our research we have found that in smaller and more isolated mosques in many suburbs and market towns there is a feeling of being under siege. Some local councils who are made aware of the situation say to mosque officials, ‘we can see this is bad, why don’t you move the mosque?’”
The report also analyses the local activity by the British National Party, English Defence League and sister organisations. Anti-migrant and random attacks that have impacted on every poor urban community where most Muslims live have also been studied.
Dr Bob Lambert, co-Director of the EMRC said, ‘Evidence has also indicated that the galvanising report of the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry changed police response to hate crimes. Whereas, because the war on terror is viewed as a security risk, Muslims do not have the support that is now widely accepted in other areas of hate crime. Muslims are not requesting special treatment, just equal rights with their fellow citizens.’
Professor John Esposito from Georgetown University, USA argues against the anti-Muslim rhetoric and has recently been commenting on the furore surrounding the negative campaigning against Park5l, the co called Ground Zero Mosque in Lower Manhattan. He will be attending the launch of the new report and recognises the need to unite UK and US citizens in a common purpose. He said,‘US and UK citizens should distinguish the faith of mainstream Muslims from the claims of a minority of extremists who justify their acts of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam. Blurring this distinction plays into the hands of preachers of hate (Muslim and non-Muslim) whose rhetoric incites and demonizes, alienates and marginalizes and leads to the adoption of domestic policies that undermine the civil liberties of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The report will be presented to community audiences around the UK, commencing with the following engagements:
- Saturday, 27 November, 2010 – London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel, London
- Sunday, 28 November, 2010 – Birmingham Central Mosque, Birmingham
- Friday, 10 December, 2010 – Woodfarm Education Centre, Glasgow
The UK launch of An African Answer will take place 8-12 November, in the presence of the film’s protagonists Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, the director Dr Alan Channer and producer Dr Imad Karam.
The UK premiere will be at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), London at 6.30pm on Tuesday 9 November. The event will be chaired by
Sir Richard Jolly, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.
The first screening for the general public will be at Friends House, Euston, at 7pm on Friday 12 November. Private screenings will also be held at St John’s College, Oxford University and Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution, Rochester – where Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye will facilitate a workshop with inmates on reducing re-offending.
An African Answer depicts a dramatic bid by Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa – former militia leaders turned peace-makers from Nigeria – to bring reconciliation in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, following communal killings. It is filmed in the district of Kenya worst hit by the post-election violence of early 2008, when around 1000 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes and farms.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, describes it as ‘A very important film. We need to learn, indeed, from Imam Ashafa and Pastor James’ says Annan, ‘and multiply in a thousand places their experiences of healing and reconciliation.’
An African Answer is produced by For the Love of Tomorrow Films (FLTfilms), the film-making division of UK charity Initiatives of Change. It follows an earlier, award-winning film about the two men, The Imam and the Pastor, shot in Nigeria and narrated by Rageh Omaar. This depicted the astonishing reconciliation between the former enemies, showing that it is possible for perpetrators of inter-religious violence to become instigators of peace.
‘After the global impact of The Imam and the Pastor, we wanted to make a film that depicts the peace-building methodology of Pastor Wuye and Imam Ashafa,’ says director Dr Alan Channer. ‘We were ready to follow them to any conflict in the world where they were invited to mediate. Then the post-election violence erupted in Kenya. We went to Kenya, they were invited back, and we followed them again. We found ourselves witness to Africans from one country working to help those in another, in a highly effective way.’’
An African Answer had its Kenyan premiere in Nairobi in May 2010, in the same hotel in which Kofi Annan brokered the National Peace Accord. Chief Guest Francis Kimemia, Permanent Secretary for Internal Security, said ‘There are no permanent angels or permanent devils in any community. Peace needs to be deepened.This film is a resource of best practice…. It reflects the indomitable spirit of the Kenyan people.’
Looking back on the process, Imam Ashafa says: ‘This work is about helping people take charge of their own destiny. Solutions can come from the grass-roots. We touched a spirit of reconciliation that was there in the Kenyan people.’
Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye were awarded the inaugural Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention in December 2009.
An African Answer (38m)
Narrator — Kathleen Openda-Mvati
Camera – Robinson Malemo & Tony Biwott
Producer – Imad Karam
Director – Alan Channer
An African Answer is available on DVD from FLTfilms, price £15.99 (inc p&p)
Tel – 020 7798 6020 www.fltfilms.org.uk
For more information about the public premiere, please click here.
For more information on The Imam and the Pastor, please click here
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye will be available for media interviews during the day on 9 November, and on the afternoon of 12 November, as will the film’s director, Dr Alan Channer, and producer, Dr Imad Karam. Please use the contacts below for further information. Photographs of Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye and stills from the film are also available.
FLTfilms is an autonomous division of Initiatives of Change in the UK. Over a period of almost 50 years, FLTfilms has established itself as a world-class documentary film unit specialising in films which foster reconciliation and peace-building. Its name derives from a documentary film on Franco-German reconciliation, For the Love of Tomorrow.
FLTfilms is co-directed by Dr Alan Channer and Dr Imad Karam
About Initiatives of Change
Initiatives of Change is a global network of people from many cultures and nationalities who are committed to building trust across the world’s divides, starting with change in their own lives.
We run programmes for social and economic justice which encourage participants to find their own path to building trust in their community and country. These initiatives are based on a commitment to absolute moral standards of honesty, purity of heart and motive, unselfishness in private and public life, love and forgiveness. We are open to those of all faiths and none.
About the RSA
For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. The RSA provides one of the biggest free events programmes in the UK, enabling leading thinkers and new voices to share ideas on key contemporary issues. The RSA’s work is supported by an international Fellowship of 27,000 people and is based at a historic London house designed by Robert Adam in the early 1770s.
Background to An African Answer
More than 1,000 people were killed following disputed elections in Kenya at the end of 2007. Suspicion over the validity of the poll and fears of a change in the balance of power between Kenya’s ethnic groups sparked widespread violence. On 1January 2008, near the town of Eldoret, a mob attacked and set fire to a church where hundreds of people had taken refuge. Some 40 people were burned to death.
For media enquiries please contact:
Michael Smith (07986 179776)
Don de Silva (07904 122248)
020 7798 6000
Venue: Park Campus, University of Northampton,
Northampton NN2 7AL, UK
This conference gathers academics, journalists, researchers, policy
makers, youth workers, civil society organisations and other members of the public to discuss issues around Muslims in Europe, identity, citizenship and belonging. It aims to address issues relating to Muslims’ engagement or disengagement with the mainstream European society; what challenges are there for their positive participation in the success of the multiculturalism model. It will also aim to map out Muslims’ use of the media and the extent to which that helps define who they are.
This conference will cover (but not necessarily limited to) the following areas of enquiry:
– European or Muslim: What do Muslims in Europe believe to be
– Multiculturalism and Integration: What does this actually mean?
– Active citizenship: What does this mean in Islamic terms?
– The relationship between British Muslims and the global Muslim
community – the Ummah.
– The rise of political Islam – Islamism
– Post 9/11 Radicalisation and terrorism
– New media and youth/women empowerment.
– Youth subcultures and new media, what is going on?
– What functions are the internet and satellite TV playing in
engaging/disengaging Muslim communities?
Call for submissions:
Abstracts of no more than 400 words, along with a short bio should be submitted by the 15th October 2010. Papers should reflect one or more of the conference themes mentioned above. Particularly welcome are papers based on empirical work and a clear research method (s).
Submission of abstracts: 15th October 2010
Notification of acceptance: 3rd November 2010
Submission of full papers: 26th January 2011
Selected conference papers will be published in an edited volume.
Please send all submissions and enquiries to Dr Noureddine Miladi
(conference coordinator), E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: +44 (0)1604 892104
This is a copy of the Friday Sermon delivered on this occaision by Dr Mustafa Ceric.
1) Say :He is God alone! He has begotten no one, nor is He begotten; and there is no one comparable to Him! (Qur’an: 112).
2) There is a couple, a man and a woman, whom from families arise, as well as tribes and peoples that are supposed to meet and recognize one another on the path of common good!
3) There are three ethnic communities in our country, which respected differences of one another since ancient times and complemented each other with similarities in the spirit of Bosnian coexistence and tolerance!
4) There are four religions and traditions: Judaism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, as gifts from Jerusalem and proof of God’s will to have several religions and traditions as a means to encourage people to compete against each other in making good deeds!
5) There are five rivers: the Drina in the east, the Una in the west, the Neretva in the south, the Sava in the north and the Bosna in the middle of our country, from which we all, irrespective of our faith and ethnic background, absorb the power of life!
6) There are six indefeasible human rights guaranteed to any person: right to life, right to faith, right to freedom, right to property, right to dignity and right to a family!
7) There are seven green wheat ears that should be preserved from drying out during the seven hungry years!
8) There are eight pillars of morality: sanctity, philanthropy, patriotism, nationalism, veracity, fairness, pacifism and tolerance!
9) There are nine reasons to live and to bear up: to be a witness of genocide; to be a fighter for truth and justice; to be in Potočari on July 11th; to preserve the memory of shahid (martyrs) – one’s own relatives and brothers; to disclose war crimes, wherever they happened; to fight for the rights of the vulnerable and disempowered, irrespective of who they are; to return to your home and your homeland; and to be a proud advocates of peace and reconciliation among the people, wherever you are!
10) There are the ten Commandments of God: worship only God, be kind, honorable and humble to one’s parents, look after your neighbors, love your homeland, care for orphaned children, do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, keep promises and stay on the path of righteousness.
11) Eleventh is the day contained in each of the twelve months, which reminds us all of the day of genocide that took place on July 11, 1995 in Srebrenica!
12) There were the twelve apostles of ‘Isa, the followers whom shall we learn from all over again, trusting that their path is the only right path for all of us – the path of faith, peace and reconciliation! There is no other path to success and salvation of human kind!
13) There are thirteen ways to look after the victims of genocide: by showing them respect; by giving them hope; by not giving up on them; by offering them love and friendship; by fining them a shelter; by ensuring them the right to work and employment; by recognizing them the right to compensation for emotional pain and suffering; by saving them from offenses and humiliations; by offering them solidarity; by ensuring that in their homeland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, at any place and at any time they enjoy fundamental human rights; by ensuring that in Srebrenica they do not encounter those police officers who have killed their children; by having all states of the world to sign the resolution that condemns genocide!
We want to say it now and here. If they are honest in what they are saying, and we do not know what is in their hearts, they should forgive us our faith, our culture and our desire to have home, to have a state to protect us from genocide.
If they are honest in what they are saying, they should open the doors of ghetto and allow us to travel around Europe and the world as free citizens, without visas.
I want you all to know that, on the earth and in the sky, civilization does not start from the moment when a Bosniak is buried. The civilization starts from the moment when a Bosniak is born without the fear from genocide in the future.
I also want to say that, as people who have memory of genocide in Europe, just like Jews, we are deeply hurt and humiliated by the fact that honorable men of ours, who defended the little freedom we have, are nowadays being arrested at the European airports.
We want freedom for all, as we want it for our selves. We want to live without fear in this Europe -without the fear for our children and grandchildren.
We pray to Allah to help us all in fighting for one another, for the rights of us and the others in Europe, so that we do not experience expulsion in this century as the Jews and Muslims have experienced it on two occasions.
This is for those here, who brought us all together to this place today.
14) Rijad Gabeljić, who shall we burry today, was only fourteen when he was killed in Srebrenica genocide on July 11, 1995!
15) For fifteen difficult, sad and painful years the families of genocide victims in Srebrenica have been searching for their beloved ones. For fifteen years perpetrators of the Srebrenica genocide have been denying their crime, outraging the victims and defying the International Court of Justice. We hope that on the 15th anniversary and day after this funeral in Potočari, on July 12, we will not look again at hordes of unknown people wearing well-known symbols of hatred and terror, mocking all of us who came here to pay respect to victims of the most hideous crime since holocaust! Victims of the Srebrenica genocide must be saved from the insults and humiliations, which had happened in the middle of town of Srebrenica right after this solemn gathering, because these people know how to bear their pain and distress in a dignified manner! This is a proud and honorable people who means no harm to anyone, but also the people determined not to be subject to any mocking and humiliation!
Thus, if we really want to prevent future genocides we must do much more than sympathize with the victims. We have to comprehend the psychological depth of the perpetrators of genocide and indifference of genocide observers.
We have to learn what makes some persons, who were once normal, to hate other persons and people to the extent that they want to systematically and methodically eliminate them all! But we also need to learn about those who support genocide against innocent people or observe it from the distance! We need to learn more about them too!
We also need to learn about the holocaust and genocide not only as of historical facts but also as a means to teach our children about the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other examples of human intolerance.
We must teach younger generations to appreciate democracy and human rights and encourage them to reject hatred, intolerance and ethnic conflicts.
Britain’s fight against terrorism has been a disaster, because its “flawed, neo-conservative” direction alienated Muslims and increased the chances of terrorist attacks, a former leading counter-terrorism officer has told the Guardian.
Speaking to mark today’s fifth anniversary of the 7 July attacks in London, Dr Robert Lambert said the atrocity had led the Labour government to launch not just the publicly declared battle against al-Qaida, but a much wider counter-subversive campaign that targeted non-violent Muslims and branded them as supporters of violence.
For more information, please click here
Amidst nervousness at the sharpening of rhetoric against Iran and a frustration of the stalemate in the issue of Israel and Palestine, the 7th US-Muslim world Forum took place in Doha between the 13th – 15th of February in Doha, Qatar.
Conceding that the Obama Administration had not yet delivered on some of its signature foreign policy goals, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pleaded for patience saying that ‘Building a stronger relationship can not happen overnight or even in a year’. Addressing the conference via video link President Obama tried to focus on practical steps that the US had taken in trying to forge a new relationship with the Muslim World. He also mentioned the appointment of Rashad Hussein as his special envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Countries as a commitment to his seeking a new beginning with the Muslim World.
The 3 day forum which had a multitude of guests from all sorts of disciplines across the world included guests such as Anwar Ibrahim (Opposition Leader in Malaysia), Racep Tayyip Erdogan (Prime Minister of Turkey) and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah (Saudi Arabia) amongst others.
The forum explored issues in 5 different working groups designed to generate dialogue, ideas and policy recommendations to address challenges such as democracy, interfaith relations, diplomacy and civil society development. The working groups were:
- Role of Religious Leaders and Religious Communities in Diplomacy
- Democracy and Islamic Parties: Opportunities and Challenges
- Transformative Partnerships in US-Muslim World Relations: Empowering Networks for Community Development and Social Change
- Scientific, Intellectual and Governance Cooperation on Emerging Environmental Challenges
- New Media to further Global Engagement.
The event was not without its critics though. Some who expressed concerns over the sponsors of the forum itself , whilst others expressed disappointment at the lack of real sign for moving beyond rhetoric and at the failure of the US administration to address burning issues
For more information about the event, please click here
The recent attacks in Egypt and Malaysia on churches have raised concerns about the erosion of rights for religious minorities in Muslim countries. Faith leaders and academics from both the Muslim and Christian communities have been united in their condemnation of the attacks and the calls for unity and greater religious pluralism, understanding and acceptance.
Two such statements are reproduced below:
PRESS STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 10, 2010
We are outraged by the tragic attacks on our Christian brothers and sisters and reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of the bombing of churches in Malaysia. Today’s attack on the oldest standing church in Malaysia, the All Saints Church in Taiping, is an attack on our nation’s heritage.
As a nation we struggle to uphold the spirit of unity that our founding fathers envisioned at independence. We must hold fast to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion and the right of religious groups to manage their own affairs. In such times the spirit of engagement and dialogue must transcend those voices that would seek to sow discord and enmity across our land.
The people of Malaysia must unite against those who exploit race and religion to incite hatred for political gain. We must renew our commitment to religious understanding and religious freedom. This is a time that tests the resolve of all religions for peace and mutual respect. We must remember that the God who we worship is in fact the same God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
With respect to the use of the word Allah, for example, it cannot be disputed that Arabic speaking Muslims, Christians and Jews have collectively prayed to God as Allah throughout the last fourteen centuries. While sensitivities over its usage have arisen in Malaysia, the way to resolve these conflicts is not by burning churches and staging incendiary protests but by reasoned engagement and interreligious dialogue.
Muslims must recall the memory of our own tradition’s remarkable commitment to understanding and coexistence with the People of the Book. Islam clearly grants respect to Christians and Jews. In the Quran’s second chapter, God says: Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God (Aal-Imran, 3:64) And in the 29th Chapter He says:
And dispute not with the People of the Book but say “We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and that which came down to you…our God [Allah] and your God [Allah] is One, and it is to Him we bow (al-Ankabut, 29:46)
Jesus is himself revered as one of the greatest prophets whose noble example should be followed. The Caliph Umar, who visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 638 AD, was careful to ensure that the Muslims respect the sanctity of Christian places of worship. What then of our own Police’s hesitation to offer an assurance of safety and security for Malaysian churches?
Much of the blame for the recent attacks can be placed at the doorstep of the UMNO-led BN ruling party. Its incessant racist propaganda over the Allah issue and the inflammatory rhetoric issued by government controlled mainstream media especially, Utusan Malaysia, are reprehensible. Such wanton acts of provocation are indeed criminal and demonstrate the duplicity of the 1Malaysia campaign.
I am encouraged by the swift condemnation of the attacks issued by Muslim organizations and leaders. I likewise applaud our Christian leaders for their strong statements calling for calm and forgiveness and resisting revenge and retaliation.
The need for interfaith dialogue in Malaysia is an idea whose time is long overdue. We must now advance the spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood which is inherent in our religions and enshrined in our Constitution. Pakatan Rakyat will collectively take steps to ensure that the necessary dialogue and discussion take place throughout the country. Our fellow Christians must feel safe and secure in this country knowing that their freedom to worship is protected.
Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Opposition leader in the parliament, and former holder of the Malaysia Chair of Islam in S.E. Asia at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Muslim Puralism Problems
Recent attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and firebomb attacks on churches in Malaysia have raised major concerns about deteriorating rights and security for religious minorities in Muslim countries. In the town of Nag Hamadi, near Luxor in southern Egypt, seven people were killed when gunmen sprayed automatic fire into a crowd of churchgoers after a Coptic Christmas midnight mass on January 7. Egyptian officials believe the attack was in retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man. Clashes between Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in southern Egypt or, in recent years, in Cairo.In Malaysia, where Muslims make up 60 percent of the population, eight churches have been attacked with firebombs as bands of militants threatened further actions. Malaysia has long been cited as an example and model of a progressive multiracial Muslim country.
However, its peaceful coexistence has been strained by interreligious tensions and conflicts in recent years between the Malay majority and the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are mostly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.In recent years, Malay militants have insisted that Christians stop using “Allah,” the Malay term for God, despite the fact that this has been an accepted practice in Malaysia as it is in Indonesia and the Middle East. Malaysia’s Home Ministry prohibited Catholics from using the word in their Malay-language publications since 2007. Customs officials seized 15,000 Bibles from Indonesia because they used the word “Allah” as a translation for God. However, Malaysia’s High Court overturned the government ban, ruling that the word Allah is not exclusive to Muslims and that others, including Catholics, who had been prohibited by the Home Ministry from using the word in the Malay-language edition of the Catholic monthly the Herald, could use the term. Incensed by the decision, militants attacked several churches and pledged to prevent Christians from using the word “Allah.” The High Court in response to the government’s appeal to the higher Court of Appeal to overturn the ruling, granted a stay of its order on Jan. 7; the government appealed.
This is not an isolated instance. Religious minorities in the Muslim world today, constitutionally entitled in many countries to equality of citizenship and religious freedom, increasingly fear the erosion of those rights — and with good reason. Interreligious and inter-communal tensions and conflicts have flared up not only in Egypt and Malaysia but also in Sudan, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. Conflicts have varied, from acts of discrimination, to forms of violence escalating to murder, and the destruction of villages, churches and mosques.In the 21st century Muslims are strongly challenged to move beyond older notions of “tolerance” or “co-existence” to a higher level of religious pluralism based on mutual understanding and respect. Regrettably, a significant number of Muslims, like very conservative and fundamentalist Christians and Jews, are not pluralistic but rather strongly exclusivist in their attitudes towards other faiths and even co-believers with whom they disagree.
A key Islamic issue and debate today regarding pluralism and tolerance is the relationship of past doctrine to current realities. Many call for a reinstatement of the “protected” (dhimmi) status in the past in which Christians and Jews could practice their faith and be guided by their religious leaders in exchange for payment of a tax. Although in the past this was progressive as compared to Christian practice, in today’s modern nation state, it would amount to second class citizenship. Other Muslims insist that non-Muslims be afforded full citizenship rights because pluralism is the essence of Islam, revealed in the Qur’an and practiced by Muhammad and the early caliphs, and not a purely Western invention or ideology. They emphasize that the Qur’an envisions a pluralistic world, mutual understanding and religious tolerance. Jews and Christians are regarded as “People of the Book,” who have also received a revelation and a scripture from God (the Torah for Jews and the Gospels for Christians), a recognition that in later centuries was extended to other faiths.
Today Muslim reformers represent a vanguard that is facing resistance from many conservative religious leaders and movements, fundamentalist and extremist factions. Most reformers both build on and also transform notions of religious pluralism already present in the Islamic tradition. They turn to Qur’anic texts that reveal a pluralistic vision such as: “O humankind, We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.” (49:13) or “To everyone we have appointed a way and a course to follow” (5.48), and ”For each there is a direction toward which he turns; vie therefore with one another in the performance of good works. Wherever you may be, God shall bring you all together [on the Day of Judgment]. Surely God has power over all things.” (2.148) These verses support religious diversity in the human community and reflect support for pluralism, not exclusivism.Religious tolerance and equality of citizenship remain fragile whether in more secular Muslim countries like Egypt and Turkey or self-styled Islamic states and republics in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran states that too often limit the rights of non-Muslims, tolerate or foster religious intolerance of other faiths or of those Muslims with alternative interpretations of Islam.
The more pluralistic visions of Islamic reformers will need to be adopted and implemented in society. Substantive change can only come with strong leadership from government and religious leaders and government legislation; seminary and university curriculum in religious, particularly comparative religion courses, to counter religious exclusivism and intolerance by instilling a more inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant vision and values in the next generation of imams, priests, scholars and the general public.
We have come a long way in inter-religious dialogue and relations both nationally and globally. Major religious leaders and scholars meet at gatherings, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Al-Azhar University, the Vatican, Organization of the Islamic Conference, the World Economic Forum, UN Alliance of Civilizations, to discuss and address and issue statements of concern. In a major global initiative, Muslim leaders sent an open latter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” to the heads of major Christian churches. They emphasized the importance of the two largest global faiths on the basis of the foundational principles of both faiths, the two great commandments: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor, to join together to contribute “meaningful peace around the world.”Finally, religious discrimination, conflict and violence cut across all the world’s religions affecting Muslim minorities in the Philippines, Thailand, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, India, and Jews and Muslims in Europe and America where Islamophobia and ant-Semitism are on the increase.
To more effectively address critical issues of religious freedom, a more ad hoc, a rapid response mechanism must be initiated. Modern technology and communications can be used as a more powerful tool for major religious leaders and organizations of all faiths. They need more initiatives to join together, condemning all forms of discrimination, intolerance and oppression against ethnic and religious minorities. Together they can speak out whenever and wherever abused occur, whether it be their own religion or government or someone else’s that is the oppressor or the victim.
By John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University
Originally Printed in the at the Washington Post-On Faith:
According to reports in the Guardian on the 16th and 18th of October and backed by an independent report produced by the Institute of Race Relations, the Preventing Violent Extremism program has been used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism causing concern amongst civil rights and civil society organisations about the violation of the privacy of individuals
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