The challenge of Islamic extremism (4)

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 explained that most post-colonial leaders of Muslim countries were modern and secular but were dictators and did not provide welfare systems or prosperous societies. In the absence of other outlets, the discontent of the people has been expressed in religious language via the mosque.

The grievances of Muslims are often very genuine and the diagnosis of extremists can be very astute but often the prescription is wrong. The message of the extremists is that Islam will solve your problems, not modernity or democracy.

He insisted that the definition of “extremism” is very subjective and variable and argued that the problem is not extremist views themselves but intolerance to the views of others.

At the end of his five hour course (there was break for lunch), Dr Farid Panjwani offered some ways forward:

  1. A honest understanding of the Muslim tradition and its wide and varied diversity
  2. The promotion of education in humanities, in particular philosophy and the arts
  3. A visible commitment to social justice by Western countries in its dealing with Muslim societies
  4. The creation of spaces for the peaceful articulation of critiques and grievances

Our lecturer did not offer us a reading list but recommended a couple of works of fiction including “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” [my review here] which has actually been made into a film [my review here].

I have read a number of interesting books about Islam including:

  • “Islam” by Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair [my review here]
  • “The Crisis Of Islam” by Bernard Lewis [my review here]
  • “Why Do People Hate America?” by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies [my review here]
  • “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil And Fundamentalism In Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid [my review here]


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