Monday, March 10, 2008

The appeal of "radical Islam"

An important article appears today in The Times of India entitled "Young Muslims in UK attracted to radical Islam." The unfortunate reality is described plainly in the headline, but the article fails to unpack the implications of two key elements concealed in the very words of the writer himself.

The first clue appears in paragraph one:

Young Muslims in Britain are increasingly getting inclined towards radical Islam as it presents a more "comprehensive and coherent" ideology than the one advocated by local mosques, a report has suggested.

And the second in paragraph two:

"The growth of monocultural ghettos has led to the radicalisation of young Muslims who see extremism as the only theology available to them," the report, by British home office in 2005 said.

The essence of my commentary is twofold. The first is a call to world, Muslim leadership, especially its theologians, scholars and educators to recognize the implications of this observation. The second is a call to all concerned citizens worldwide to recognize the enduring fact that non-religious elements contribute to this harmful and self-destructive identification with deviant and aberrant "religious" interpretations.

When first reading this Times of India headline, I felt saddened. On balance I tend to admire the UK for its efforts to intuit and implement the all important ideal of religious freedom (as opposed to so many mainland European nations, which or some odd reason are lowbrow in this arena). Thus, why in the UK of all places (as one of the better places to be Muslim) should there be an increase in the trend toward what is called "radical Islam" (a misnomer in my opinion)?

The reasons for this shone through the writer's casual observations. I was not at all surprised to discover that both halves of the equation had little to do with religion per se. Yet even so, the implications for religious leaders and practitioners are great.

The two elements identified in the article as responsible for the rise of "radical Islam" among Muslim youth in the UK are: 1. Monocultural ghettos, and 2. The comprehensiveness and coherence of these evil teachings.

The fact of monocultural ghettoes is a political, economic, cultural, and historical reality, far more than a religious one (if at all). While not a religious reality, it is nevertheless a religious problem, namely something religions (and surely not just Islam) should address and fix. Monocultural ghettos are a problem. These have the potential to lead to anger and violence whether packaged in an ideology or not (for example plain old drug and gang violence), and whether the ideology happens to be the perversion of religious teachings or not (for example Marxism, a religion denying ideology is extremely violent).

The second element that completes the circle in this sad and destructive mix is that the appeal described for "radical Islam" is that it is comprehensive and coherent! Not that it is true, edifying, uplifting, consistent with tradition and historical interpretation, or responsible in anyway to genuinely religious purposes. As with the ghetto problem, comprehensiveness coherence in a thought system are not related necessarily to religion. Any thought system can be comprehensive and coherent, even one claiming to represent a religion despite violating the most important of its basic tenets.

And here with this issue of coherence, (just as it was with the issue of monocultural ghettoes), it is not a matter necessarily related to religious thought, but again it is a religious problem. If Muslim leaders, educators, and parents cannot present a comprehensive and coherent account of the Islam of peace, human equality, social cohesion, and respect for life they leave their precious children vulnerable to villains who can construct a comprehensive and coherent call, even if it is one that defiles all virtue and life itself.

It is not sufficient merely to proof-text and reiterate ad nauseum the incessant declaration that Islam is a religion of peace, and that Islam means peace. It is necessary to compete with the appeal, devotion, and ideological ardor invested in the thought systems generated by militant and violent preachers and recruiters.

The realities sadly happen to be, 1. intolerable and enraging life in monocultural ghettos, combined with 2. selfless (if perverse) devotion and intellectual striving of hateful, violent ideologues. These are the challenges that must be faced and resolved by Muslim intellectuals, leaders and educators. Wherein lies a comprehensive and coherent account of Islam's true beauty that can speak in the midst of this tragedy, this current world of offense, separation, and inequality experienced in Europe's ghettos? This is the most pressing challenge of our time. The lives of a generation of beautiful young men and women depend on our success.