Extremism! Who Defines It

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Sixteen US intelligence organizations concur in their assessment of the next potential attack by terrorists. They believe that an Osama Bin Laden-inspired terror attack is imminent in the country. They suggest that the attackers will come from Europe. They even assert that the attackers have made their initial contact in the US. They have asked the public to be vigilant. Well, if the identity of attackers is clear and the their contacts in the US are well known, then the agencies have to move quickly before they strike. It is only wise to take preemptive measures and prevent those who are in the stage of planning the attack. The public, however, vigilant, cannot do much in this respect.

The intelligence report raises a number of issues that deserve serious public debate. With so much misinformation and so many lies going round, the public has every right to know the truth. One of the findings of the report is that instances of extremism are increasing among American Muslims. This finding would remain ambiguous unless qualified by a clear definition of extremism.

What is extremism and who is a Muslim extremist? Someone needs to define these two questions. Those who claim to be experts on this subject have their own definitions of extremism. For instance, increased observance of Islamic basics is considered an act of extremism by many. Some of these experts suggest that the trend of offering five daily prayers in a mosque should be considered a sign of increased extremism. Others argue that growing a beard may also be seen as a sign of extremism. If this is the case, then the Muslim community would certainly like know the length of the beard or the number of the prayers to be offered in a mosque that are not considered acts of extremism. How long a beard should be not to qualify to be described an act of extremism and how many prayers Muslims have to offer in congregation in the mosque not to be defined as extremist? The community would certainly like to know from the so called Islam experts.

It is extremely important that the term extremism be defined in the context of the violent threats our country faces.

The use of violence to promote religion is indeed extremism, and the Muslim community has no problem in accepting this definition. This definition is elaborated in details in the Qur`an and the sayings of the Prophet (s).

The statistics given by various institutes who have surveyed Muslim public opinion recently clearly indicate that not even 1 percent of American Muslims believe in violence to propagate their faith or to assert their political opinions. Since September 2001, almost every Muslim organization and has condemned violence and taken a very clear stand against terrorism.

The so-called experts on Islam have really played with the emotions of people when they use a Muslim statement out of context to pronounce a verdict against Islam and Muslims. For instance, in a recent survey, a small percentage of Muslims reported to have said that they understand the causes for suicide bombing in Palestine and Iraq. Does that mean they endorse it? No. Or that they view it as an act of religious expression? No.

If there are certain individuals who believe in the legitimacy of violence and who have shown a tendency to use it, then it is the responsibility of our intelligence agencies to ensure that they are brought to justice before they strike.

Expressing political dissent on foreign or domestic issues cannot be considered an act of extremism. Some experts argue that those who call Israel an apartheid state should be condemned as extremists. Well, if this is the case than many national political leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter and former national security advisor Bresenski and many others should be put on the top of the list of extremists. A great majority of the people of this country, including Muslims, believe that the foreign policy pursued by the Bush Administration is not in the best interests of the country. They argue that this policy is not balanced and one sided favoring dictators or regimes that promote apartheid. To view these opinions as expression of extremism would be wrong because this violates the first amendment. If anyone believes that violence is justified to force the US to change its foreign policy, then it would be wrong and currently no Muslim group has that position.

If extremism means making efforts to lead a life dictated by the religion, then almost every religious person in this country can be classified as an extremist. Like any other religious community, Muslims too have a right to express their identify according to their religious principles. By living a decent moral life, taking a stand against fornication and adultery, avoiding usury, not using drugs or alcohol for self appeasement and so on and so forth are some of the principles, a great majority of Muslims assert their religious identity.

The statistics clearly show that the number of Muslims as spousal or child abusers, or drug pushers or violence spreaders is the minimum compared with all other religious communities. To link their clean life with extremism is neither fair nor in the interest of national interests. So how can it be determined who is an extremist? Some experts have argued that a small minority of Muslims don’t believe that the September 11 acts of terrors were solely engineered by Osama Bin Laden or Muslims. This idea itself is an expression of extremism, many have asserted. Again, some 30 percent of the citizens of this country are skeptic about the origin of the 9/11 tragedy. They have held several conferences and published several articles and books in support of their arguments. Why do experts single out Muslims in this respect and use some of their opinions to accuse them of extremism?

Extremism is an elusive term and in the post 9/11 situation, it has become a political term to create hysteria against the Muslim community. During the last six years, they are subject to all kinds of suspicions and accusations. They are projected by many in the media as well as in the government as fifth columnists.

What is often ignored by many intelligence agencies as well as experts on Islam is that the community is as much concerned about acts of terrorism? After all, it is the Muslim community that has been the worst victim of terrorism as is evident from the ongoing killings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Muslims have a right to practice their religion freely like all other religious communities in the US. They have a right to share their vision of Islam to the people. The Muslim community would be the first to call those people as extremists who advocate force to impose their understanding of religion or who promote violence to achieve their objectives. This is what the American Muslim community has been saying since 9/11 and would continue to say so regardless of the political climate.


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