Moderation Is Anathema to Islamists

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Salim Mansur: Moderation Is Anathema to Islamists

Wed, February 27, 2013


Ryan Mauro

Salim MansurSalim Mansur is an Associate Professor, teaching political science at the University of Western Ontario, London.

He is the author of Islam’s Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim and has been published in academic journals including Middle East Quarterly, Jerusalem Quarterly, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences and Arab Studies Quarterly. He authors a weekly column for the Toronto Sun.

Mansur was born in Calcutta, India and moved to Canada. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Islamic Pluralism and a consultant with the Center for Security Policy. He is also the Vice President of Muslims Facing Tomorrow and Vice President of Canadians Against Suicide Bombing.

The following is National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro’s interview with Salim Mansur:

Ryan Mauro: Can you give us a brief overview of what the struggle within Islam is like right now, especially in North America?

Salim Mansur: I want to thank you, first of all, for inviting me to this interview for as the organization’s National Security Analyst.

The struggle within Islam in our time is between Muslims who embrace the values of the modern world in terms of freedom, individual rights, gender equality and democracy on the one side and Muslims who oppose these values and, hence, modernity on the basis of Sharia.

This struggle, therefore, goes to the very heart of how Muslims understand Islam either as a faith-tradition, or as a total system of belief and practice that is antithetical to the norms of the modern world. In other words, for Muslims who embrace modernity, as I do, Islam is a matter of personal belief and not a political system; and Muslims opposed to modernity view Islam ideologically, hence Islamism, and accordingly they embrace the views of Maudoodi and Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutb and Khomeini, about Islam as a totalitarian value-system.

The seeds of this struggle or, more appropriately, the basis of conceiving Islam ideologically and in terms of politics and power might be traced back to the earliest years of Islam and Muslim history. But it is in our time, beginning in the middle years of the last century, Muslims have had to face the challenge of modernity when Muslim societies became independent states following the end of colonial rule by European powers.

This is a complex story. Let me note here only the following. The Muslim states sociologically speaking are almost without exception mostly poor developing countries wherein is found just about every aspect of under-development.

Despite the few states of the Middle East possessing petro-wealth, Muslim societies are relatively backward culturally, politically, technologically, and Muslims, in general, are denied freedom by those in power and who use Islam as an ideological instrument in legitimating their authority.

This is the Islam – as a totalitarian value system, as an instrument of authority and power, as a political ideology – presented as “unchanging,” “true,” “genuine” and “authoritative” by Islamists, and any Muslim questioning this “Islam” is considered a heretic or, worse, an apostate.

This is the Islam or Islamism of Maudoodi, al-Banna, Syed Qutb, Khomeini and their followers, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Egyptian- and Qatar-based exponent of Islamism.

Muslims opposing Islamism reject the Islamist view that Islam is unchanging, that the Qur’an is a closed book and not open to interpretation other than the Islamist version that builds upon, or extends, the interpretation made during the early centuries of Islam and turned authoritative by those in power.

Moreover, Muslims opposing Islamism are in many, if not all, instances anti-Sharia, and opposed to the political parties or movements associated with Maudoodi (the Jamaat-i-Islami in South Asia), with al-Banna and Syed Qutb (the Muslim Brotherhood in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa), with Khomeinism (the Shi’i version of Islamism in Iran and among Shi’i Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere), and with Wahhabi-Salafi version of Islamism espoused by the Saudi Arabs.

The anti-Islamist Muslims are, however, vulnerable to Islamists and persecuted within the Muslim world as they lack political power or some support from those in authority, while they are mostly alone outside the Muslim world.

This struggle between Islam and Islamism, between anti-Islamist Muslims and Islamist Muslims, is the core struggle among Muslims at the present time. It takes many different forms given the vast diversity inside the Muslim world. It is also the much postponed, or stalled, movement for reform of Islam and the Muslim world analogous in many ways to the long and complex conflicts waged within Christendom and spread over several centuries through Reformation and Counter-Reformation that eventually culminated in the making of the modern world.

From a longer historical perspective this struggle within Islam was unavoidable, inevitable and necessary as Muslims individually and collectively decide how to reconcile their faith with modernity. In this respect the present struggle raging among Muslims is not unique, since people of other faith-traditions – Christians were first – at different times struggled similarly.

The intensity of the struggle between Islam and Islamism can be assessed by observing the nature of Muslim against Muslim violence, and despite how beleaguered anti-Islamist Muslims are their resistance to Islamism is a compelling story of our time. The eventual outcome of this struggle, I believe, will have salutary effects for Muslims and non-Muslims in our increasingly interdependent world with the painstakingly difficult reform of Islam.

The struggle within Islam is obviously in our age not limited to the Muslim world, and its spill-over affects North America and the West in general. Islamist Muslims with their various organizations based in mosques, or in control of mosques, and funded from outside with petrodollars of oil-rich Middle Eastern states, have the dominant profile in North America. They receive the most attention in the media; they are regularly consulted by government bureaucracies, given prominence by universities and other non-governmental agencies, and invited to represent Islam and Muslims in public forums.

The most insidious result of this is, given the prominence of Islamists in North America, that their derisive dismissal of anti-Islamism as heresy or apostasy has influenced North Americans to view anti-Islamist Muslims as mostly irrelevant in understanding Islam and the future of Muslim countries.

It is only in the midst of freedom and democracy found in North America that anti-Islamist Muslims can make their case, give moral support to anti-Islamists in the Muslim world, expose the nature of politics that make for such deplorable and, ultimately, evil alliance as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and question the West’s support for governments in the Muslim world that are more or less opposed to the values of freedom, individual rights, women’s equality, equal rights for and protection of minorities, and the norms of democracy.

But the lack of support for anti-Islamist Muslims in the media, and by government and non-government agencies, has meant in a cruel twist of politics that the most virulently anti-Western Muslims, the Islamists, are mostly listened to and their views receive undue attention in the making of public policy in respect to the Muslim world or individual Muslim states, in reporting news about the Muslim world, and in the prevalent dominant narrative about Islam.

Hence, the irony that North American institutions, government and non-government, instead of assuming the positive role of assisting in some measure the reform of Islam through support for anti-Islamist Muslims have done just the opposite, and frequently, by amplifying the voices of Islamists in the free world.

Mauro: What do you think of the argument that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderating over time and can draw Muslims away from violent jihadism and towards peaceful political activism?

Mansur: Such an argument is unbelievably naïve, irresponsible and, worse, a betrayal of those Muslims struggling for freedom and democracy under great difficulties.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the face of Islamism in our time; its members are committed ideologues and practitioners of the view that Islam is a totalitarian ideology, that Sharia is the juridical expression of the unchanging, timeless and absolutist Islam, which binds all Muslims and dissent of any Muslim to this Islamist view is then treason that demands capital punishment.

The founders of the Muslim Brotherhood made jihad, in departing from traditional Islam, the sixth principle of Islam – in traditional Islam five principles are mentioned, namely, the creedal statement (kalima), prayers (salat), fast (sawm), pilgrimage (hajj), and charity (zakat). Engaging in jihad as a religious principle means for Islamists waging war against non-Muslims as infidels, and against Muslims vilified as apostates.

In the Islamist ideology there is no non-violent jihad; jihad is violent, and the corollary of jihad is the cult of death, or the celebration of death as martyrdom. This is the Muslim Brotherhood (and Jamaat-i-Islami) ideology, and in such an ideology there is no room for moderation in politics served as religion, or religion reduced to politics, except for the art of deception, of tactical accommodation with an adversary that for the moment may not be violently defeated in battle.

The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood can be moderate is pushed by its apologists in the West. If it does become moderate it will no longer be Muslim Brotherhood; it will no longer claim it alone represents “genuine” Islam; it will not insist that Sharia be implemented in its entirety and without exception, alteration or amendment; it will not preach the doctrine of jihad, nor instruct its followers on the righteousness of waging a “holy” war against Jews, Israel, and Christians as Crusaders; it will discount, if not abrogate, the principle of dhimmi-status for Jews and Christians as minorities among Muslims; and it will accept the principle of equal status for women and men by setting aside the Qur’anic principle that women are not equal to men. If it does any, or some, or all of this, then the Muslim Brotherhood will no longer be the party of Hasan al-Banna, Syed Qutb, Yusuf al-Qaradawi; it will no longer be the Muslim Brotherhood.

Any moderation for an ideologically driven movement or party is a slippery slope, and any such movement or party, as is the Muslim Brotherhood, may well have in its ranks individuals with a pragmatic outlook seeking moderation beyond tactical considerations.

 In the effort to gain political power such individuals may have considerable influence within the movement or party. But once such movement or party holds effective power, as does the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today, it will then strive to shape the political environment according to its ideological imperatives. It will impose its doctrinal values, it will coerce its opponents, it will resist pragmatism preached within its ranks, it will punish the moderates, its politics will invariably be inquisitorial and dogmatic internally, and when it comes to dealing with the outside world its prudence will be frequently mistaken for its moderation.

It should be noted that history is full of surprises, that individuals change as they adopt or abandon ideas when facing reality beyond their ability to alter it, that there are victories and defeats in politics, and that history of nations and cultures is not entirely pre-determined.

The ideology of Communist totalitarianism was eventually proven hollow, its ideologues turned cynical and abandoned belief in its doctrine, and the system ultimately disintegrated. But before the former Soviet Union collapsed as a communist power it pushed millions to their ruin and death. I believe the Islamist ideology is doomed given the reality of the modern world, the inescapable pace of change, the appeal of modern science and technology, and the demand for freedom and democracy that knows no boundary among people. Islamism is a totalitarian movement that looks to the past for its legitimacy, that denies life as a forward movement, that relies on coercion rather than persuasion to keep hold on the thinking of people, and it is ultimately dysfunctional and incapable of meeting the basic needs of the people it seeks to control.

But before Islamism is thoroughly discredited it will bring ruin and death to Muslims wherever it is ascendant, or in power. And during the interval there likely will be many members of the Muslim Brotherhood breaking ranks from the movement, abandoning its totalitarian politics, and embracing some measure of democracy.

It will be wrong, however, to confuse members irrespective of their numbers breaking away from the Muslim Brotherhood as evidence of the movement itself turning moderate. It will be quite right to encourage members to break ranks, but it will be greatly mistaken to support Muslim Brotherhood on the basis of it turning moderate. The ideology of Muslim Brotherhood is unapologetically Islamism, and since Islamism is doctrinally contrary to all aspects of modernity everything politically should be done, as was with the former Soviet Union, to bring about the collapse of Islamism so that Muslims may live in freedom and democracy without any fear.

Mauro: What type of reform is needed in the Islamic world and what is stopping it from happening?

Mansur: Reforms that support and advance freedom for people; reforms that empower individuals and protect fundamental freedoms that we in the West take for granted. And I do not believe one can qualify or quantify freedom, and then some authority decides, as in the former Soviet Union or present day China or Khomeinist Iran and Morsi’s Egypt, how much of freedom is to be distributed to the people under its rule and, therefore, how much of reform is to be permitted.

People instinctively know when freedom is lacking; it is only certain type of intellectuals who are confused and engage in arcane debates about the meaning of freedom. Elias Canetti, the wonderful Bulgarian writer and Nobel laureate in literature observed, “The origin of freedom lies in breathing.”

Canetti’s observation about freedom is so apt because it is so simply stated, and is so elegant and meaningful. History records, as Hegel noted, the march of freedom over time and through obstacles that men place in its way.

And from this perspective, it might be said that freedom is the measure of the fundamental differences among civilizations; and that between the Occident and the Orient the main difference is the extent of freedom as fundamental rights secured and protected in the former, and lacking in the latter.

The Muslim world is Oriental, and the culture of Islam is pre-modern. The transition from pre-modern culture to the culture of the modern world is neither smooth, nor without agony. There is no one magic key for reform that will ease and hasten the transition, and so any reform implemented to support this historic transition in the Muslim world deserves support from outside the Muslim world.

The young in the Muslim world today are far more aware than their elders of the extent to which, compared to people in other cultures, they are denied freedom. They want to think for themselves, to experience the fullness of life as they imagine the potential life holds for them, to make their own choices, and not live in fear. This is the upheaval inside the Muslim world, and this upheaval is in so many ways a reminder to those who have forgotten, or never learned, how immense was the cost of transition in the West from the pre-modern to the modern age.

Freedom is on the march in the Muslim world even if it has come late, and we should not confuse the existing chaos there with freedom and the Muslim yearning for it. The chaos is the price the Muslim world is paying, as any pre-modern society is compelled to pay, in adjusting to the new reality of the modern world based on individual rights, freedom and democracy.

Muslims will learn from their errors as they push for the reform of their society. They will move forward by often appearing to be sliding backwards or sideways, and insist upon getting it right on the basis of Islam as if Islam is outside of history, and then eventually enough will understand that freedom for oneself can only be meaningful when there is equal recognition and respect for the Other.

And when this understanding about the meaning and nature of freedom becomes part of the majority consensus among Muslims, the Muslim world or parts of it will then have made its exit from the pre-modern to the modern age.

The important question for the people in the West is do they comprehend, through reference to their own history, the significance of the upheaval inside the Muslim world they are observing from a distance. For if they do then they will be supportive of Muslims who, in their own way and in their own circumstances, are struggling for freedom despite tremendous odds. And this struggle, I believe, is no less consequential and epochal as were once the American and French revolutions.

Ryan Mauro: What do you think of American groups that were created by Muslim Brotherhood/Jamaat-e-Islami members like CAIR, ISNA, ICNA and MPAC?

Mansur: These are organizations without exceptions, and there are others, such as MAC (Muslim Association of Canada), that in another time in modern history would have been considered treasonous to the values and security of a liberal democratic state, such as the United States and Canada.

The West over the past half-century has made multiculturalism, I believe mistakenly, its defining code of conduct, and since in the doctrine of multiculturalism all cultures are equal, truth is relative, and politics is identity politics, the idea of treason has become obsolete.

I have written about the insidious effects of multiculturalism subverting liberal democracy in my book Delectable Lie: a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism (Mantua Books, 2011) with special reference to Canada.

These organizations sponsored and administered by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami are schools for indoctrinating young Muslims in North America with the ideology of Islamism. Their program is to push in various ways in the public arena the demand for Sharia principles to be accommodated by governments and non-government agencies so that, in effect, there will be one set of regulations for Muslims and another for the rest of the society.

This is the stealth jihad that, for instance, Andrew McCarthy, has written about in great detail. The push for Sharia by these front organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami means, if successful, gradually turning free and democratic societies here in North America into a system of apartheid, that is a society segregated on the basis of religion instead of race or ethnicity as was the case of South Africa under white minority rule.

Since the vast majority of North Americans are ignorant of these organizations and their working principle, their overall ideology of Islamism and the politics of their parent organizations, they have been able to make considerable inroads with the support of opportunist politicians in the United States and Canada.

Mauro: Is it possible that these groups were founded by Muslim Brotherhood ideologues but have now moderated into groups supportive of secular democracy?

Mansur: I have indicated above how naïve and irresponsible is the view that Muslim Brotherhood is, or might be, moderating its ideology to support secular democracy. The same holds true about these groups sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood.

But in terms of multiculturalism, ironically, anything is possible. We are not to judge, for any judgment based on the principles of liberal democracy would be considered discriminatory towards those adhering to the values of their non-liberal democratic cultures. So the practice, for instance, of gender segregation rigidly imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood and all of its sponsored organizations in public space according to Sharia principles may not be questioned on the basis of multiculturalism; and since this practice has been more or less conceded, it is a concession that makes precedent for other concessions that will be and are demanded.

In Canada the matter of Muslim women wearing full covering (niqab) or veiling in public, even in courts, have been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court with the decision given leaving the matter still unsettled. In Ontario, Canada’s largest province, these organizations have made coordinated efforts to get the provincial government adopt Sharia-based arbitration councils; and though such efforts have been resisted for the time being due to the opposition of the majority opinion in the province, it is quite likely the logic of multiculturalism will eventually dilute the opposition sufficiently so that the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood gets adopted.

We might very well have our parliaments and courts sufficiently contort the meaning of secular democracy as they accommodate Sharia principles in our society. We have already gone a great distance to limit free speech under the dubious heading of “hate speech” in accordance with the wishes of the Muslim Brotherhood and its sponsored organizations, since they are offended with any critical discussion of Islam, its prophet and its sacred text.

The question you pose, whether these organizations have moderated into groups supportive of secular democracy, should be reversed. We should be asking instead how far have the United States and Canada turned around to accommodate the non-liberal and non-secular values of the Muslim Brotherhood and these organizations (CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MPAC), and how far are we prepared to go supinely in appeasing them to turn North America into some version of Sharia-based apartheid states?

This is the big and urgent question for North Americans. And I am afraid, given the present leadership or its absence in both the United States and Canada, that irreparable damage is being done to what until now have been the most free, open and democratic societies in history by these Islamist groups in our midst.