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A More Diverse Islam Can Help End Muslim Extremism

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The main thesis of Phil Gurski's book The Threat From Within suggests that there is no root cause of radicalization amongst youth in the West. Based on years of experience in Canadian intelligence, he cautions against over-simplification and highlights a dozen indicators as markers of extremism. As such, the solutions he posits are also multi-faceted.

Gurski suggests that the profile of a radicalized person cannot be generalized. Through case studies of home-grown terrorism in the West, he shows how the radicalized include "men and women, immigrants and native-born, converts and born Muslims, married and single, highly educated and high-school dropouts, people on social assistance and those with high-paying jobs."

Gurski's thesis vindicates Muslim converts who feel they have been unfairly stigmatized, as recent high-profile terrorism cases have comprised of converts. Likewise, his thesis resists blaming mental illness, poverty, alienation, sexual frustration and lack of job opportunities as factors causing radicalization. Indeed, he showcases how highly intelligent people with fluent English and high-paying jobs have been complicit in home-grown terrorism.

Based on this analysis, generally those with a simplistic and fearful orientation would blame Islam for terrorism. However, Gurski cautions against such anti-Muslim bigotry. He writes:

"Muslims around the world have been criticized for "not doing enough" ... this criticism is unfair and unfounded. Community leaders have frequently and continuously raised their objections to and otherwise outright rejected terrorism. As some have pointed out, including the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point in the United States, all the Al Qaeda groups combined have killed many more Muslims than they have kuffar" (disbelievers).

This does not mean that a particular Islamist narrative can be discounted. Gurski paraphrases that "there are three things necessary ... for radicalization to violence: narrative, narrative and narrative." Muslim scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has also identified a bastardized religious ideology among the causes of Muslim terrorism and has emphatically argued for the proliferation of a counter-narrative.

However, Gurski cautions about the limits of counter religious arguments as extremists often flout the authority of Muslim Imams and elders. The arrogance of extremists stems from their exclusivism as they reject "different interpretations of Islam."

Gurski's analysis on radicalization includes factors that have been observed by rational members of the Pakistani society, which reels from decades of indoctrination since the military rule of the 1980s. These factors include "perceived oppression of Muslims, a rejection of life in the West [and] a fascination with foreign conflict," often seen through the lens of conspiracy theories.

Muslim extremism will have to be destroyed by Muslims, just as it is only Christians who can effectively counter Christian fundamentalism and Jews who can thwart Jewish extremism.

Since Gurski rejects a single cause behind radicalization, he offers multiple solutions, which include building trust through community outreach by law enforcement agencies. He also delves into the drawbacks of revocations of passports and cancellation of citizenship. However, he is interested in "developing a series of stories without trying to deconstruct what the extremists are saying." This necessitates the importance of positive and progressive Muslim role models.

Given Gurski's powerful analysis, Muslim extremism will have to be destroyed by Muslims, just as it is only Christians who can effectively counter Christian fundamentalism and Jews who can thwart Jewish extremism.

Fortunately, there exist community-driven campaigns to isolate extremists by various Imams and young Muslims. Media campaigns that expose the lies, hypocrisy and zulm (oppression) of extremists may also be useful. This is especially true when extremists highlight the plight of Muslim women and children but then enslave non-Muslim women and children.

Canada's strength does not lie in its military might but rather in its diversity. Indeed, with many diverse opinions and healthy debates, extremist voices get drowned out. This means that instead of meddling in foreign countries, which often creates the conditions for radicalization and feeds the narrative of colonialism and oppression, it is much more important to nurture diversity at home. Indeed, military expeditions may kill extremists but do not destroy extremism.

The same is true for Islam. Competing Islamic narratives should have the power to marginalize supremacist streaks employed by exclusivists and violent extremists alike. This necessitates modeling mainstream Muslim spaces that are gender-equal, LGBT-affirming and religiously plural to include Shias, Ismailis, Bohras and Ahmadis, amongst others.

In practice this means inter- and intra-faith marriages and joint celebration of religious festivals. It is also important to invest in humanities and the fine arts as they allow for multiple interpretations. Indeed, both exclusivists and extremists, who share their ideology, reject all of this as "Western" imports. The fact that many exclusivists attacked the Study Qur'an for its perennialism is a grim reminder of this reality.

Nevertheless, when such spaces are affirmed, Muslims will be able to draw upon the diverse wisdom of Islam and thwart the potential of cognitive dissonance that arises due to a conflict between the dictates of a frozen faith and contemporary society. Indeed, Muslim youth deserve to be nurtured in a truly pluralist society instead of being segregated through false exclusivist religious narratives.

When Muslims are able to have true intra-faith harmony, as minority Muslim denominations face the brunt of extremism, they will drastically limit jihad like the Ahmadis. They will be able to effectively destroy extremism and just as there are no Ahmadi and Ismaili youth involved in terrorism, the same will hold true for Sunnis as well.

In essence, combating extremism necessitates defining the ummah (community) as not exclusive to Muslims, but one that includes Jews, Christians, atheists, pagans, and any and all sentient beings. As the Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi says, "No religion is higher than humanity."

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