06 Jun 2017
June 6, 2017
Hot on the heels of Theresa May’s ‘western values’ theme, plenty of folk have been quick to bring out the old saw which runs that terrorism carried out by Muslims is motivated by a ‘perversion’ of Islam. That notion is tricker than it seems, and does not of itself seem likely likely to help reduce terrorism.
First off, if we say that a particular interpretation of Islam is a ‘perversion’ then we’re giving authority to someone to tell us what isn’t a perversion. And who are we going to imbue with the power of arbiter of what is and what isn’t a perversion? Or to put it another way, who are we to say who gets to say what the ‘true’ faith is?
And who are ‘we’ anyway. Are ‘we’ folk with western values, Muslims and otherwise? Or are ‘we’ excluding Islam, the religion of many of us, from the ambit of ‘western values’?
Given the non-hierarchical nature of the Islamic faith, are ‘we’ to rely on the centres of political power within the primarily Islamic nations to tell us what the ‘true’ faith is? If so, we’re going to be taking a lot of ethical advice from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Or are we going to, instead, give special status to UK-based Imams, themselves often imported from Islamic states?
And having codified what we accept as ‘true’ Islam and what we reject as ‘perversions’ of Islam, are we going to do the same with Christianity? After all, the trend for Christianity in recent decades has been to democratise its interpretation and practice. So we’d better stop all that, give all the power back to ‘ye old-worlde’ bishops and ban homosexuality again, yes?
Oh, but that’s different. Christianity doesn’t preach violence against the state and its citizens, right?
No, actually. Not right. Take a look, for example, at liberation theology and its association with violence.
The simple fact is that the instrumentalisation of religion as a justification for violence is entirely embedded in ‘western values’. And in every conflict the world over, each side invokes the (or a) diety.
If there’s to be a genuine and serious programme to reduce terrorism in the UK, it will be necessary to conduct a serious analysis of why the violence exists; one which goes beyond claiming the right to assert a confused notion of ‘western values’ by way of picking the goodies and baddies of the Islamic faith. It’ll also be necessary to make some tough choices which go well beyond the literally meaningless soundbites coming out from the UK government at the moment.
Tariq Ramadan, an Oxford professor of great renown, is one of the UK’s most valuable resources when it comes to understanding the challenges before us. He does not shy from stressing the role of Muslims in ‘our’ society, but also locates the solution in non-Muslims understanding more about Islam and helping reduce injustice across those states where Islam is the dominant faith.
We might also add to Ramadan’s imperatives the need to understand and explain the psychological workings which lie beneath the choice of some young British Muslim men who see themselves as failing in the society they were brought up in and then choose to ‘jump tracks’ to an extreme and violent interpretation of their Islamic faith.
If you have a moment, listen to this clip (at 2:27.00) from this morning’s BBC ‘Today’ programme. Apart from having to distinguish between ‘explain’ and ‘justify’ – the fact he still has to is an indication of the scale of the task before us – Ramadan takes a view which many would reject were it applied to Christianity.
The trouble with ‘democratising’ Islam, he says, is that it encourages all sorts of extremists to claim some kind of legitimacy. This of course means that even Ramadan is himself at risk of calling for a ‘top down’ interpretation of Islam just as Christians are doing the opposite. Whether he is calling for a more ‘top down’ Christianity’ is not clear, mind you.
And finally, for those who have forgotten or perhaps never knew in the first place, consider this. Ramadan, a proper voice of wisom and intelligence in this whole sphere, was banned from the UK and France and initially refused access to the UK to take up his professorship. He was vilified by the usual parts of the media. He was, it was claimed, a threat to our security. Now it turns out he’s the best thing going in sensible advice to a trouble nation. There’s a lesson there somewhere.