Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What perpetuates the idea of ISIS. Reviewing the dialogue between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz

Over the previous four parts of this series on Islam and Islamism, we have charted a course over the writings over the problems of increasing radicalisation among the Muslims. We had reviewed the works of five authors - Tarek Fatah (Chasing a Mirage - The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State), Maualna Wahiduddin Khan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and  Wafa Sultan, and looked at "The Radical" by Maajid Nawaz, a reformed Jihadi. 
Just as I was planning to write the concluding part by reviewing the fine dialogue between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz now published as a book - "Islam and the Future of Tolerance", some interesting events have taken place in India. Prof Irfan Habib has compared the thought process of RSS with ISIS, the left-libbers have let loose a volley of intolerant rants and actions like "Award Wapasi" against a mythical intolerance of the Right, and the irrepressible Tufail Ahmed has taken on the Islamists by stating that "Muslims have no right to shout intolerance unless they condemn burqa, triple talaq, Barelvi fundamentalism and Deobandi Jihadism". So just the right time for this piece to be penned.
Tarek Fatah's take is that Sharia is an accretion to Islam, and Qur'an by itself does not preach a hate doctrine. Get rid of the influence of the clerics and you would have a much more benign and benevolent religion. Maulana Wahiduddin on the other hand feels that Da'wa and Jihad are peaceful calls, and essentially non-violent, but he is not very convincing as the two concepts remain a tool for proselytisation for him.
Ayan Hirsi Ali, on the other hand, says that the problem is in Islam itself. She lists out five problems - Life of Mohammed himself, Belief in afterlife and the resultant death cult, Sharia as the obscurantist code of Islamic life, Social control and its enforcement by all and sundry, and Jihad as the call for terror.
Wafa Sultan is even more forthright. She regards Islam as only a religious cloak for a hateful, pre-medieval war like misogynistic Arab culture, and sees no room for democratic and scientific values which have become the norm so far.
Set against this backdrop, the Sam Harris-Maajid Nawaz dialogue is an excellent microcosm of all the thoughts that have been discussed in the five books previously reviewed (including "Radical" of Maajid Nawaz himself).
Sam Harris is quite forthright in questioning the fundamentals of Islam. He recalls how he had confronted Maajid on an earlier occasion. He had broadly said that Maajid was trying to portray Islam as a religion of peace whereas it wasn't one. That Islam was being practised by the Jihadist in the way that a most honest reading of the faith's actual doctrine. So the dialogue begins by Maajid clarifying what he thinks of Islam. He states clearly that it is wrong to regard Islam as a religion of peace or war, but rather regard it as just a religion. His entire narrative is based on this line.
Maajid goes on to say that no scriptures speak for themselves. They have to be interpreted. How they are interpreted defines the three broad categories present among the adherents of Islam - moderates, Islamists and Jihadists. He included himself among the moderates. Those who would impose their view of Islam on others are Islamists, and those who are ready to impose their interpretation of Islam on others through violence are the Jihadists.
At another plane, Maajid divides Muslims into three categories. Conservatives, Liberals and Islamists. Conservatives sub-divide into fundamentalists and reformists. Liberals are those who hold that no idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity. Islamists sub-divide into revolutionary and Jihadists.
Harris questions Maajid  over the attitudes of Muslims in western countries as brought out in various polls. He finds it extremely troubling that 78% of British Muslims wanted the cartoonists who drew Prophet's cartoons punished, and a significant number from among them actually wanted them killed, extremely troubling. Maajid agrees with him.
What Maajid laments is the attitude of western liberals. They would rather trust an Islamist on the interpretation of Islam than a liberal like Maajid. On the other hand, the western conservatives vilify them. Attitude of the western liberals is what Maajid calls the Voldemort effect, drawing an analogy from the Harry Potter series.
It may be drawn in the following manner:

So the dialogue is a constructive attempt to understand the problems plaguing Islam. Maajid Nawaz as an ex-Jihadist is in the best position to explain it and he does so with aplomb.
Drawing from Maajid's exposition, ISIS is a Jihadist organisation, which seeks to impose its worldview on others through physical violence. How on earth an eminent historian like Irfan Habib draw a parallel between RSS, whose tenets never advocate violence to impose its world view, and ISIS which is on the exact opposite end. It actually reveals a fundamentalist mindset in Irfan Habib, which we have discussed earlier in the context of Aurangzeb. Fundamentalism as described by Maajid Nawaz.
A book worth reading.
We conclude this series with this piece.

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