Last update: 2022-04-22 09:49:43
The strategy "to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community" appealing to moderate, mainstream Islam, is bound to fail because of two fatal assumptions. First, that every culture and every religion wants to become like the secular West. Second, resistance to Western secularization is fueled by false grievances and as such can be legitimately ignored.
In practice, this sort of approach marginalizes traditional Islam in favor of an ersatz "progressive" version that robs it of all its distinctive character and vision. The litmus test for integration is whether Muslims are willing to be like "us." Unsurprisingly, many young Muslims are increasingly alienated by an aggressively secular culture that enforces liberal transgression of moral norms and taboos.
Crucially, current policies are not working because they fail to address the real cause of radicalization and fanaticism. Contemporary Islamic violence is religious in nature. Its origin lies in Islamic scripture and the destruction of the traditional medieval schools that dictated its interpretation. The Koran contains clear penal injunctions against apostates, idolaters and those who challenge Muslim territorial ascendancy. While the sacred texts do sanctify violence - they also codify it, limiting its range and application. Thus, there is no legitimation in classical Islam for suicide bombing or the wanton slaughter of innocents. And since there were four traditional schools of religious interpretation, which themselves varied according to time and location, what constituted a proper Islamic practice varied according to local norms and customs. As such traditional Islam prohibits the very totalitarian state Al Qaeda seeks to impose.
For example, if Islam recovers the traditional practice of ijtihad, a process of textual reinterpretation that replaces the scriptural literalism of the fundamentalists with a more medieval allegorical reading of the Koran, this would enable the Muslim faithful to distinguish between immutable God-given laws and mutable human interpretations.
It is worth stating all of this because the only force that can challenge Islamic terrorism is not liberal progressivism but Islam itself. Those who have abandoned terrorism did so as a result of the realization that the variant of Islam they were killing for was itself Western, modern and secular. Demonstration of the essentially blasphemous nature of contemporary fundamentalism is crucial for the deprogramming of its adherents.
However, the mere rebirth of classical Islam is not enough. Since faith is separated from reason and nature it becomes a self-authenticating phenomenon that invalidates all other perspectives. What is really required is the revival of Sufism - a practice previously common to all forms of the faith and one that stresses the mystical unknowable nature of God and His transcendence of all forms of human knowledge. Such a recognition deprives Islamic fundamentalism of its primary motivating principle - that it knows the will of God and is therefore justified in enforcing it upon the earth.
A renewal of Sufism could help Islam to broaden its understanding of authority beyond rulers and the ulama to include civil society. This would also empower Muslim society to challenge the fundamentalist assertions of its heretical preachers with reasoned belief.
Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in philosophy and religion at the University of Cumbria, Adrian Pabst is a lecturer in theology at the University of Nottingham.