The challenge of Islamic extremism (3)

This weekend, I attended a one-day course entitled “Hope And History: A Short Introduction To Contemporary Issues In Muslim Contexts” run by a lecturer called Dr Farid Panjwani.

He was adamant that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS should not be called “fundamentalist” because many Muslims hold fundamental beliefs but do not condone violence. Instead he insisted that we should call such groups “extremist”. He offered this definition: “Extremism is a product of a particular interpretation of Islamic religious texts which becomes attractive to people under specific social conditions.”

On the basis of this definition, he argued that support for extremist Islam required two conditions:

Condition 1: a pro-violence interpretation of religious texts. He acknowledged that, although many Muslims insist that Islam is religion of peace, there are parts of the Quran which can be interpreted as supporting murder.  He instanced verse 5:32 which moderate Muslims interpret as condemning murder but extremist Muslims interpret as justifying murder because of a wide interpretation of the word “corruption”.

Condition 2: social conditions that make such interpretations attractive. He gave many examples of such conditions including:

  • The development of Wahhabism in the 18th century and its support by forces in Saudi Arabia today (so-called “petrodollar Islam”)
  • The use of religion by the USA and Pakistan against the communist USSR during the Afghan War in the 1980s (“Charlie’s War”)
  • The western violation of Muslim countries starting with the use of Saudi Arabia by Western forces to expel Iraq from Kuwait and going on to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq
  • The continuation of political wounds such as Palestine and Kashmir
  • The failure of the promise of the nation state/modernity in Muslim contexts such as North Africa and the Gulf States
  • The use of global communications technology including social media
  • The proliferation of sophisticated weapons including automatic weapons

As Dr Panjwani put it: “All of us, at one time or another, have played a role”.


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>