Sunday, November 21, 2010

Islam is a Religion of Peace

Intelligence Squared Debate, 6 Oct 2010

Why Now?

There are two views of punishment: one that it is necessary to protect society from the destructive behaviour of the criminal; the other that it is necessary to preserve society from the wrath of victims seeking revenge. The second is interesting because it underlines how important it is that punishment be seen to be fair, objective and proportionate. If it is not, it will not serve its purpose of repairing society.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a brutally clear argument against Islam per se: Islam is a fighting religion which built an empire; that empire collapsed and the defeated peoples often adopted a protective layer of victimhood. As self-believing victims, it is easy for them to create the illusion of righteousness in the use of extreme violence. Ali’s argument is that the old violence of empire is replaced by a new violence of victimhood.

On this account, the wrath of the victim is what society needs to manage, just as it is when we come to ordinary matters of justice. And here there are two ways: either you make the victim believe that justice is being done, or you try to convince the victim that they should not think of themselves as victims.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has not an ounce of victimhood in her, which is what impresses anyone who watches her. But can we really rely on a policy that would generalise her remarkable story? In this Intelligence Squared New York debate, Zeba Khan and Maajid Nawaz provide a pretty convincing case that the “victim” can come to believe that universal justice is possible.

Event information

Arguing in favour of the motion are Zeba Khan and Maajid Nawaz.

Coming from a middle-class, American background, Zeba Khan argues that Islam is a religion which values knowledge and compassion above destruction and violence. She concedes that there are as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims, but stresses that the vast majority of them espouse virtuous principles.

The only way to reconcile the Qur’an’s peaceful passages with its violent verses is to look at the actions of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. According to a recent Gallup survey, 93% of Muslims around the world are peaceful, mainstream Muslims, and of the ‘politically radicalized’ 7%, only a small minority advocate the use of violence.

This tiny proportion is motivated by politics, not piety. These extremists, who seek to use the Muslim faith to justify their hate and violence, do not speak for Islam. The idea that they do is propagated by the media, who refuse to extricate themselves from this narrative of ‘Islam Vs. The West.’

Maajid Nawaz believes that Islam must be re-claimed from the minority who have defined its public image. Extremism should be challenged and democratic values promoted; the majority of Muslims do have a responsibility to speak out about terrorism more actively. Islam should and deserves to part of the effort to create world peace.

For 13 years Nawaz encouraged and established jihadist ideology and extremism in Denmark and Pakistan. However, in prison, Nawaz realised that, in fact, he had it all wrong; he had failed to contextualise history and used anger to motivate his jihad, not Islam. After actually studying the Qu’ran and its theology, it can be recognised that it is a religion of peace, but also a religion that has been hijacked, abused and politicised by ‘Islamicism’. Islamicism itself actually owes more to post-World War I fascist ideology than it does to Islam.

Similarly, Islam needs to be re-interpreted; it needs to be handed an olive branch. Nawaz argues that during his term in prison Amnesty International’s willingness to allow him, as a human, to re-define himself was crucial. The debate around Islam must also be re-defined and the paradigms imposed upon us, rejected.

Arguing against the motion are Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes the reason the motion for the debate is not ‘Is Christianity a religion of peace?’ or ‘Is Judaism a religion of peace?’ is because those would be academic questions. Unfortunately, placing Islam under the microscope is not an academic exercise: it is a pressing and timely issue, precisely because religion continues to inspire Muslims around the world to commit violent deeds.

Faisal Shahzad, who failed to carry out his attack in Times Square earlier this year, was a middle-class professional: he went to business school, had worked as an accountant, and had two children. And yet, due to a combination of political and religious factors, he was prepared to carry out a horrific attack in the centre of New York.

The religious motivation is directly attributable to the founder of Islam, Muhammad, who said that polytheism had to end, that all mankind had to be united under one god. Throughout his life, and in adherence with these principles, Muhammad conducted sixty-five campaigns of war, all of them successful. This militaristic history, combined with feelings of victimhood resulting from the weakened status of the Islamic countries in the world since the end of the 19th century, has lead to an increased preparedness among some Muslims to resort to violence.

Douglas Murray states that Islam is complex and tripartite: there is the Qur'an, its teachings and the life of Mohammad; there is the tradition of Sharia, and then there is what Muslims do now. Thankfully, what Muslims do now offers hope. Most Muslims now exercise their judgement as moral beings, without referring to defunct Holy books. However, the Qur'an itself is bad, really bad. Muhammad himself was also a bad man; he had child brides, multiple wives and beheaded Jews.

The reality of the situation remains; Islam is an unstable component as a religion. 1000 years ago, the Mutazilites tried to reform the religion and they were wiped out. Today, the people who are leading the religion, making decisions for it and promoting it refuse to debate these issues.

Neither is it an accident, or a small detail that the largest Sunni state, Saudi Arabia, the most important in the world, is a closed prison of a society. Facts like these are not small, accidental details of Islam, nor are they ‘paradigms’. Claiming Islam is a religion of peace is nonsense. It is turning hope into truth.

Zeba Khan - Writer and advocate for Muslim-American civic engagement
Zeba Khan is a writer and advocate for Muslim-American civic engagement. Born and raised in Ohio by devout Muslim parents, she attended Hebrew school for 9 years all while actively participating in her local Muslim community. In 2008, she launched Muslim-Americans for Obama, an online network to mobilize Muslim-American voters in support of the Obama presidential campaign. Since then, she continues to work on issues of Muslim-American civic engagement and was recognized for her work by the American Society for Muslim Advancement as a 2009 Muslim Leader of Tomorrow.

Maajid Nawaz - Director, Quilliam Foundation
Maajid Nawaz is director of the Quilliam Foundation. Formerly, he served on the UK national leadership for the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), and was involved in HT for almost 14 years. He was a founding member of HT in Denmark and Pakistan and eventually served four years in an Egyptian prison as a “prisoner of conscience” adopted by Amnesty International. In prison, Nawaz gradually began changing his views until he finally renounced the Islamist Ideology for traditional Islam and inclusive politics.

John Donvan - Correspondent for ABC News
John Donvan is a correspondent for America's ABC News. He began his career with ABC Radio in 1990, moving to their television station in 1982, where he covered events in the Middle East. In the mid-1980s, he was CNN's London correspondent. He rejoined ABC in 1988 and, based in London and Moscow, covered many of the major international news events of the last two decades of the twentieth century. He returned to New York in 1993, contributing to ABC programmes such as World News Tonight and Good Night America. He joined Nightline as a correspondent in 1998.

Donvan has won two Emmy Awards, two Cine Golden Eagles, and a number of Overseas Press Pack Awards.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali - Founder, AHA
Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a devout Muslim. She escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to the Netherlands in 1992 and served as a member of the Dutch parliament for 3 years. She has since become an active critic of fundamentalist Islam, an advocate for women's rights and a leader in the campaign to reform Islam, establishing the AHA Foundation in 2007

Douglas Murray - Author, commentator, Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion
Douglas Murray is Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a non-partisan think-tank in Westminster, London. Founded in 2007 to promote human rights, tolerance and greater cohesion among the UK's ethnic and religious communities and within wider British society, the CSC is the first think-tank in the UK to specialise in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain. Murray's writings have appeared across the British and foreign press. A columnist for Standpoint magazine, he writes for many other publications, including the Spectator, and appears regularly across the British and foreign broadcast media.

In 2005 he published the critically acclaimed Neoconservatism: Why We Need It which Christopher Hitchens praised in the Washington Examiner as ‘a very cool but devastating analysis’ The British historian Andrew Roberts hailed him ‘The right's answer to Michael Moore’ continuing, 'This book shows how to fight and win the War on Terror'.

In 2007 Murray co-authored Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership with Gen. Dr. Klaus Naumann, Gen. John Shalikashvili, Field Marshal The Lord Inge, Adm. Jacques Lanxade, Gen. Henk van den Breemen and Benjamin Bilski. In 2008 he co-authored Victims of Intimidation: Freedom of Speech within Muslim communities a report for the Centre for Social Cohesion. Murray is a trustee of the European Freedom Fund, a member of the Advisory Board of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and a member of the International Advisory Board for NGO Monitor.

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Is islam Intolerant?

Has Islam been hijacked by radicals?

Would Sharia Help the West?

Jihad Exposed

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