Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Civil War Within Islam

The American far right likes to paint Islam with a broad brush and equate all Muslims with violent and brutal Islamic extremists such as those who flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and more recently massacred innocents in Paris.  In fact, Islam is no more unified than the adherents of Christianity who range from Christian dominionists who want a Christian theocracy and advocate executing gays and others they view as non-believers to liberal Episcopalians and Lutherans.  To hold all Muslims responsible for the sins and horrible acts of the few is akin to holding modern day Lutherans and Episcopalians fully responsible the horrors done by the knuckle dragging evangelical fundamentalists.  Yes, the liberals of both faiths need to loudly condemn the hate and embrace of ignorance that defines the fundamentalist believers - something both groups of liberals and moderates fail to do sufficiently - but one must not miss the reality that a civil war is raging in Islam with large segments of the faithful opposing extremists.  The New York Times looks at what is happening in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation (I suspect that most American Bible thumpers do not even know that Indonesia is a Muslim nation).  Note the role of Saudi Arabia, America's false ally, in exporting extremist versions of Islam.   Here are article highlights:

The scene is horrifyingly familiar. Islamic State soldiers march a line of prisoners to a riverbank, shoot them one by one and dump their bodies over a blood-soaked dock into the water.

But instead of the celebratory music and words of praise expected in a jihadi video, the soundtrack features the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, singing a Javanese mystical poem: “Many who memorize the Quran and Hadith love to condemn others as infidels while ignoring their own infidelity to God, their hearts and minds still mired in filth.”

That powerful scene is one of many in a 90-minute film that amounts to a relentless, religious repudiation of the Islamic State and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world’s largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on.

The challenge, perhaps surprisingly, comes from Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population but which lies thousands of miles away from the Islamic State’s base in the Middle East.

“The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at largeextremist groups — justify their harsh and often savage behavior by claiming to act in accord with God’s commands, although they are grievously mistaken,” said A. Mustofa Bisri, the spiritual leader of the group, Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian Muslim organization that claims more than 50 million members.

“According to the Sunni view of Islam,” he said, “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”

This message of tolerance is at the heart of the group’s campaign against jihadism, which will be carried out online, and in hotel conference rooms and convention centers from North America to Europe to Asia. The film was released Thursday at the start of a three-day congress by the organization’s youth wing in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta.

As world leaders call for Muslims to take the lead in the ideological battle against a growing and increasingly violent offshoot of their own religion, analysts say the group’s campaign is a welcome antidote to jihadism.

The campaign by Nahdlatul Ulama, known as N.U., for a liberal, pluralistic Islam also comes at a time when Islam is at war with itself over central theological questions of how the faith is defined in the modern era.

In a way, it should not be surprising that this message comes from Indonesia, the home of Islam Nusantara, widely seen as one of the most progressive Islamic movements in the world. The movement — its name is Indonesian for “East Indies Islam” — dates back more than 500 years and promotes a spiritual interpretation of Islam that stresses nonviolence, inclusiveness and acceptance of other religions.

Indonesian Islam blended with local religious beliefs and traditions, creating a pluralistic society despite having a Muslim majority.

Indonesia today has more than 190 million Muslims, but also has a secular government and influential Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities.

Such liberalism poses a counterargument to the Islamic State, analysts said.  “We are directly challenging the idea of ISIS, which wants Islam to be uniform, meaning that if there is any other idea of Islam that is not following their ideas, those people are infidels who must be killed,” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary to the N.U. supreme council. “We will show that is not the case with Islam.”

N.U. has established a nonprofit organization, Bayt ar-Rahmah, in Winston-Salem, N.C., which will be the hub for international activities including conferences and seminars to promote Indonesia’s tradition of nonviolent, pluralistic Islam, Mr. Yahya said.

N.U. is also working with the University of Vienna in Austria, which collects and analyzes ISIS propaganda, to prepare responses to those messages, which N.U. will disseminate online and at conferences.

A prevention center based in Indonesia, expected to be operational by the end of the year, will train male and female Arabic-speaking students to engage with jihadist ideology and messaging under the guidance of N.U. theologians who are consulting Western academia.

In scene after scene, they challenge and denounce the Islamic State’s interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith, the book of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, as factually wrong and perverse.

The Islamic State’s theology, rooted in the fundamentalist Wahhabi movement, takes its cues from medieval Islamic jurisprudence, where slavery and execution of prisoners was accepted. The filmmakers accept the legitimacy of those positions for the time but argue that Islamic law needs to be updated to 21st-century norms.

“The problem with Middle East Islam is they have what I call religious racism,” said Azyumardi Azra, an Islamic scholar and former rector of the State Islamic University in Jakarta. “They feel that only the Arabs are real Muslims and the others are not.”

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the main source of financial support for Wahhabism worldwide, has had more success in imposing its interpretation and has even made inroads in Indonesia. Analysts say a steady flow of money from Persian Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, supports an active and growing Wahhabist movement here.

Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, an organization based in Washington that works to combat extremism, said that, according to open source data, supporters of the Islamic State were sending an average of 2.8 million messages a day to their followers on Twitter.

“Who’s going to counter that?” she asked.  “It’s what they are doing in Indonesia, it’s what we are doing in the U.S., and in other places,” she said. “You flood the space, and you hope people get the right messages.”

Frankly, to me it is maddening that the United States doesn't have a very blunt conversation with the Saudi royals.  Either the export of extremism abroad stops or America needs to drastically rethink its support for the Saudi royals and make it clear that Saudi funds in American banks will be frozen and/or confiscated.  The Saudi regime can crack down on moderates and bloggers but turns a blind eye to the export of Wahhabism.   This is simply unacceptable.

As for Muslims in the USA, my Muslim clients are incredibly hard working and want nothing to do with extremism - they came to America to escape it and make a better life for themselves and their families.   Just like most of our ancestors did. 


EdA said...

"it is maddening that the United States doesn't have a "come to Jesus" conversation with the Saudi royals. "

Umm, I appreciate and agree with your sentiments, Michael, but your choice of metaphor, "come to Jesus" conversation, is rather odd. And while I think that a great many Americans ARE aware of the repressive nature of internal Saudi society, to the extent that the religious police would rather have girl students perish in a fire than risk having them be in public view in an escape, I think that there is far too little attention given to the material and psychological support that "our good friends and allies" provide to people who don't like America and Americans.

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

I made a change in the metaphor. :)