a possible solution?
A recently diffused United States analysis on the Moslem world after the 11th September, gives food for thought about the moderate Islam. Although in the majority, the Moslem Liberal component finds little space for expression, which is mostly monopolized by the noisy proclamations of the radical ulema(s). However, this situation is changing also in Italy, where a web site, dedicated to the promotion of a new Arab intellectual elite, has been created by a group of Maghreb journalists, resident, for some time, in our country.
Angel Rabasa, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, and also an expert in Islamic politics, has recently circulated via internet, a document in which he analyzes, most concisely, an article published by Rand, entitled, “The Moslem World after the 11th of September” (1) .
The paper diffused on the web was a report given by the American scholar, to a branch of the United States Congress (2) .
In his report, Rabasa has first made a distinction between the extremely minority part, which is radical Islam and the decisively majority part, which is moderate Islam. Starting from a terminological viewpoint, the author underlines the often improper use of the two terms: “radical” and “moderate”.“..without going through a process of critical evaluation of what these two terms signify. In some cases, the word radical or militant is defined in terms of support to terrorism or other forms of violence. We think that this is an overly narrow focus, inasmuch as there is a large part of the fundamentalist universe or of the Salafia groups which need not practice violence themselves, but they propagate an ideology which creates the conditions for violence and which is subversive to the values of the democratic societies”.
In other words, Rabasa observes that the use or the justification of violence to reach a political objective, is not the only element that divides moderate Islam from radical Islam.
Within a large spectrum of positions, that which enters into the analysis of the different political currents are the following: the form of government preferred; (that is to say, a secular form of government is acceptable or only the application of the Shari’a is acceptable); the type of legislative orientation preferred; ( only the Shariah is acceptable or there is the desire to evaluate other sources of law); the kind of attitude towards women’s rights and religious minorities;(that is to say, women have equal participation in the social and political life, or not – women would have the right to equal education and promotion in the work structures and decision making bodies, or not), and finally, the right to liberty in the choice of faith.
With these questions posed as basic marker issues, it is possible to spread these various groups, movements and even single individuals throughout a grid map, according to their differently assumed positions, which starts at one end with moderate Islam, “which invokes democracy and tolerance and rejects violence as a means of obtaining political objectives, and at the other end of the grid map are the radicals which oppose the pluralistic and democratic values and embrace violence”.
Now, within this rather ample range, what would appear very evident is the absolute minority of the radical formations in the Islamic world.
In Indonesia, the Party which is explicitly Islamic, did not exceed the 20% of the consensus in the April elections, against the over 50% of the secular Parties. Even Pakistan, in the elections of 2002, the MMA (Islamic coalition party) reached 11% of the national vote, even though they had had a large following in the two provinces on the borders with Afghanistan.
Also the recent elections in Egypt, notwithstanding, the good results of the Moslem Brothers, around 20%, have not modified the situation.
However, picking up again, the reasoning of Rabasa, the real advantage that the radical groups have, compared to the moderate Islam, is that they “have developed an extensive network, which embraces the entire Moslem world and, sometimes, exceeds it. The moderate and liberal Moslems, although in the majority, have not created similar networks. The moderate Moslems feel exposed and isolated. Their voices are often drowned out, and on occasions quite violently, and even silenced. Even in Indonesia, the country with the greatest Moslem community of the world, where moderate Islam is the rule, starting from the last terrorist attack in Bali, in the course of the year, there has been an uncontrollable flood of violence and threats towards the Christian Churches, the small Moslem dissident sects and towards the Liberal Moslem organizations.”
This aspect of fear in the moderate and liberal Moslem world, is an element not to be underestimated in that “battle of ideas” which, of course, is the only way that can really defeat the long war against terrorism.
Quite often, in fact, the so-called moderate ulema are accused of not being strong enough to condemn, not only the killing of innocent people and brother Moslems, but the terrorism itself.
Behind so much reluctance, however, there is often the fear that the idea of Jihad, itself, could be undermined, which, after all, belongs to the Islamic culture and cannot be condemned tout court.
Consequently, the area in which they must be able to move is, on the one hand, the defence of the Islamic principles in the continuation of tradition, under pain of being accused of betrayal, on the other hand, the capacity to condemn terrorism itself.
It is certainly not an easy road to travel and it is strewn with obstacles. In fact, many are those who are forced to be silent in the Islamic world, if they raise their voices against the use of violence as a political tool, or against the improper use of the Islamic laws in ares which should be under the jurisdiction of a secular social culture. In addition, these “democratic” Moslems fear to be equated with the Western “infidels”, almost as if they were the “fifth columns” of the “Hebrews and Crusaders”.
All this must lead us to reflect and respect those who, without disowning their roots and their historical heritage have “crossed the Rubicon” of fear.
Among these, right here in Italy, is a group of journalists of Mahgreb origins, which has been working here for many years. These journalists, with admirable initiative, have built an internet site, called Arabiliberali.it, in order to promote “a new Arab intellectual elite”. In particular, a Moroccan Journalist of Rai-Med and an Italian-Moroccan collaborator of Il Foglio and of the Radio Radicale should be mentioned. Their declared ambition is to inform “the Italian public opinion of the existence of an ever growing number of liberal voices in the Middle East – which the West still ignores – and of their fight against the religious extremists. Arabiliberali.it also has the objective of helping the intellectuals in the Arab world to express their opinions through an alternative channel of communication, to overcome the restrictions on the freedom of the press, which is in force throughout the greater part of the Arab Countries.”
The aspect which attracts major attention is the fact that in opposition to the integralist network cited by Rabasa, there is an attempt being made to create a liberal and moderate alternative network, which is able to give voice or speak to those caught in the grip of fear, or who are simply disinterested, but who are, nevertheless, against the use of violence as a political means, and although belonging to the vast gamma of “non-integralists”, have, in fact, left the field open to the “yelling voices” of the Shaykh extremists.
Thus, it is in the intentions of the authors to constitute a ‘conveyor belt’ of transmission of discussions, exchanges and reflections between the Arab world –with all its problems, but with also its richness – and the Western world, particularly, Italy.
In this way the debate within the Middle East and in particular, in the Arab-reformist field, will enter our homes, allowing us to know, appreciate and support those who, amidst a thousand difficulties, oppressed by the fear of an Islamic reawakening of the integralist stamp and a consequential illiberal regime – even if pro-western, strive for deep reforms within the Arab-Moslem world.
The quality of the site is illustrated by the fact that many articles, translated from Arab, English and French, have appeared on the front pages of some of the most important Middle East newspapers, as well as accepting articles written purposely for the portal.
Among many of remarkable interest is the interview granted to Arabiliberali.it by Shaker al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian writer, presently residing in the U.S., who was the protagonist of a petition presented to the to the United Nations, in October of last year (3) .
During the course of the interview, Al-Nabulsi defined people like Al_Qaradhawi as “clergy of the massacre” and evaluated the idea of the petition to the United nations as an attempt to try to“stop them and their psychotic fatwe”. Yet, the most interesting thing has been the fact that, after throwing the stone into the pond, Al-Nabulsi has had the support of thousands of writers, businessmen, medical doctors and men of culture from all over the Arab world, particularly from the Countries of the Gulf and Iraq.
His critics, instead, rather than entering into the merit of the fatwa at the origin of the petition, preferred to criticize the “method” used by Al-Nabulsi.
Thus, for example, reminding him that “dirty linen is not washed in public”, and that he had given a “wrong picture of Islam” and that he had touched on some “sacred icons” of Islam. The line of criticism continued in wanting to know why he had not spoken about “the American terrorism in Iraq or of the Jewish terrorism in the Palestinian territories”.
It is satisfying to underline the fact that with regard to the fatwa of Al-Qaradhawi, no-one had any objections to the protests of Al-Nabulsi.
The analysis of this interview permits us to recognize how, once again, the predominance of the “quietist” culture, which is typically Islamic-Sunnite, with regard to the political/religious powers, almost inhibits those forces which have the desire to say “no” to a system in which they do not share any expectations. The reason lies in the fact that the “political/religious system should not and cannot be criticized, unless one wishes to be accused of “betraying Islam”.
So reducing it to the absurd, it would be necessary to make the same change in the Islamic world of today that Maududi and Qutb (fathers of the modern Islamic terrorism) alas, made to the Islamic culture – exploiting the religion and declaring it possible to define, also a Moslem, as an “apostate”, takfir - that is to say, breaking that political quietism that had always shielded the Islamic governments (4) .
In fact, the situation of today, in the name of the self-same quietism, denies to any Moslem, the right to criticize an Islamic “religious man” without running the risk of being defined impious himself.
Consequently, taking the path in the opposite direction of religious integralism, the Moslem liberals who criticize the ulema and jurists, run the same risks – which led Qutb to his death – at least, until the time when this “iron curtain”, firmly held in the hands of the Islamic law experts, is destroyed and the same dignity is given to dissent, also in the ambit of religion.
(1) The RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, has many of its associates who cooperate with American legislative commissions, at both a local and state or federal level, or again, with non-government organizations. The opinions of the single representatives do not necessarily reflect those of the RAND, nor of American government agencies.
(2)It was the "Committee on Armed Services Defence Review: Terrorism and Radical Islam Gap Panel",House of Representative.
(3) Together with the Tunisian intellectual, Lafif Lahdhar and the Iraqi former-minister, Jawad Haschem, Al-Nabulsi had asked , in fact, that not only the terrorist organizations and their adherent be pursued, but also the religious exponents who, with their speeches, incite the population to make attacks. At the root of Al-Nabulsi’s petition was the fatwa (religious legal opinion) expressed in September of last year by the “Preacher Sheik”, Yousef Al-Qaradhawi – one of the most authoritative figures of the Sunnite world, as well as being one of the spiritual leaders of the Moslem Brothers – with which it permits the kidnapping and killing of civilians, as well as, American soldiers, with the scope of making the allied army leave Iraq. Moreover, the diffusion of this fatwa was maximal, insofar as, the Egyptian Sheik, who resides in Qatar, had expressed these considerations from the Al Jazeera antennas, where he directs, with assiduous regularity, a religious programme, which has a very high index of listeners.
(4) Because it would have been impious, he, indeed, who would have made an attempt on the life of the Sovereign, without an express religious fatwa .