Extremists distort all religions, not just Islam

By Ihsaan Gardee
National Post | September 12, 2014

If the aim of recent commentaries by Rex Murphy and Tasha Kheiriddin (‘The I-word,’ Aug. 23; ‘Western civilization to the barricades,’ Sept. 4.) was to enlighten readers about the threat that Islam poses to the world, then they earn a failing grade.

Instead of facing the reality of the situation, both writers preferred to regurgitate outdated stereotypes, by arguing that the first step toward stopping the threat of terrorism, is to acknowledge that it emerges from Islam. This argument is flawed for the obvious reason that Muslims and Islam have co-existed with people of other faiths quite peacefully all around the world for centuries. It simply ignores the reality that innumerable acts of goodness are done in the name of Islam by its adherents.

Academics Peter Beyer and Rubina Ramji note that their study of second-generation Canadian Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, revealed that Canadian Muslims are fully able to integrate into mainstream society, while continuing to practice their faith.

Ms. Kheiriddin tries to give the appearance of balance, by citing some of the past evils perpetrated in the name Christianity. However, she goes on to argue that Christianity has evolved over the centuries and is no longer used to justify acts of barbarism. Islam, she implies, has yet to be transformed by the ideals of the Enlightenment.

She neglects the fact that much of the inspiration for the Enlightenment stemmed from different traditions within Islam. She also disregards the fact that the Protestant reformation and the rise of humanist doctrines were, in part, a response to issues unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition of the time, including antagonism towards scientific advancement.

Besides, it is difficult to argue that the Enlightenment in Europe prevented post-Enlightenment Christian societies from becoming embroiled in immense violence. We need look no further than the devastation of the two World Wars and the genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans, to learn this lesson.

Christian reforms have, likewise, not prevented fringe groups from defending inhumane practices, or from engaging in violence with clear reference to what they see as religious doctrine. Whether the crimes of the Ku Klux Klan, South African apartheid, the bombing of abortion clinics or the terror wrought by the Lord’s Resistance Army, religion has been at the forefront of extremist rhetoric.

Christianity is not the reason for the vile acts of these groups, it is merely a cover used by the perpetrators. Why then is it so difficult to accept the same truth when it comes to the barbarism committed in the name of Islam by a tiny minority of extremists?

Both pundits are unable to look beyond the self-serving religious jargon of ISIS, to recognize the complex political and socio-economic agendas at play. The religious references are used to entice « believers, » to help do their bidding and gain sympathy from less-informed Muslims.

Yet, these attempts are failing to sway those educated enough to see through this Machiavellian co-opting of the faith. Muslim religious leaders around the world have vocally condemned these criminals.

Ironically, journalists and politicians play along by accepting the rhetoric. Why call ISIS’ barbaric violence a jihad (an Islamic concept that is used to describe religious struggle), as our Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister have done? Why give credence to a scheme aimed at manipulating the most vulnerable and most frustrated, when the vast majority of Muslims reject the extremists’ sham religiosity?

As pointed out by the British think-tank Demos, some of the most effective allies in battling the hateful ideology espoused by violent extremists are those who devoutly practice their faith with a high degree of knowledge. They have helped shatter the veneer of religiosity promoted by violent extremists.

These findings confirm results from a U.S. study called « Why Youth Join Al-Qaeda, » which examined Americans who join extremist groups. It argues that they « do not become terrorists because they are Muslim. » In fact, they are vulnerable to misinterpretations of religious doctrines because they have an inadequate understanding of Islam.

This week, in Calgary, Muslim community leaders and youth have organized a major summit with social activists, law enforcement and government officials, to tackle the issue of radicalization and search for real answers. It’s an important step.

In the meantime, enough of the tired attempts to over-simplify a complex scourge that threatens peace and security. Recycled myths have no place in educated discourse.

Ihsaan Gardee is Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).