By Hussain Nadim
July 30, 2015
Muslim community leaders in Australia are rarely on the same page – except for when it comes to criticising the government's counter-radicalisation efforts.
All stand united against the government for its lack of understanding the issue of radicalisation and not "consulting" them with important policy decisions on the subject. Yet, when you talk to most of these Muslim community leaders on identifying the problem and proposing tangible solutions one can't help but notice their rudimentary understanding of the subject offering little beyond textbook prescription to focus more on "socio-economic" issues and conducting "true consultations" with the Muslim community leaders.
For a start, the overwhelming claim by Muslim community leaders that "research" suggests socio-economic and political issues drive radicalisation is not only erroneous but reveals a primitive understanding of the debate on the subject.
Extensive research work by Alan Krueger, Jitka Maleckova, Christine Fair and many others has demonstrated there is no causal link between terrorism, radicalisation and socio-economic conditions. Most of the notorious terrorists including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed come from educated, middle- or upper-class backgrounds. Yet arguing otherwise takes the burden of blame away from issues of religion and identity – the very narrative peddled by Muslim community leaders throughout the world.
Moreover, the idea that the "problem lies not with Islam, nor even with some of the Muslims but with the environment Muslims are currently in" has no legs, since Sikhs and numerous other migrant communities are in equal if not lower socio-economic and political conditions than Muslims all over the world but without the radicalisation and terrorism prevalent in their communities.
This tendency amongst the Muslim community leaders to remain in denial about the problem with religion is what is driving the identity crisis which is leading to radicalisation among Muslim youth. Why is it so hard to accept that there is in fact a problem with Islam – the way it is being used? Especially, when the trend of abusing and misusing Islam is nothing new, nor is radicalisation. Almost a thousand years back al-Ma'arri (circa 1010), a Muslim poet, criticised what he then saw as hate and radicalisation preached at mosques, arguing that nearer to God are those people that keep a distance from such preaching.
Similarly, notable Islamic scholars like al-Afghani, Dr Muhammad Iqbal, Syed Ahmad Khan, Ali Shariati and others have been pointing out since 18th and 19th century that the Muslim world and Islamic thought needs to be reformed. Such voices, however, have mostly been silenced by forces of status quo within the Islamic world.
Today, Muslim community leaders may be playing that very role of the same old status quo forces that have a very baseline understanding of the major Islamic political and theological issues and lack historical context. Most of the community leaders even lack the background in the complex field of Islamic political history and radicalisation to understand and offer serious solutions to the government. Yet, there is a tendency by the Muslim community leaders to be "consulted" as experts in all things Islam and radicalisation.
There is nothing wrong consulting the community, but who is the government supposed to "consult"? The reality is, that there is no "one" Islam, or its representative. Should the government consult with Sunni, Shiite, Barelvi, Deobandi, or Ahmadi Muslims – all of whom consider each other Kafirs (non-Muslims)?
Even, if the government navigates the sectarian divide, what about the racial divide? There is a cosmic difference between Turkish, Lebanese and Pakistani Muslims each with their own mosques and imams. Naturally, their understanding about Islam and their solutions to the problems of radicalisation are also different.
The uneasy fact is that Islam is in desperate need of internal reforms that have been delayed to this point where the religion is being damaged from within causing serious identity crisis amongst the Muslim youth. And it is this very identity crisis that is at the core of radicalisation problem leading young Muslims to fall prey to terrorist propaganda joining Islamic State and other militant groups. As long as those at the helms of power in the Muslim community remain in constant denial blaming the government, the "environment" and anything else while ignoring the real issues, deradicalisation will not prove easy.
Hussain Nadim is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney where he is also the co-ordinator of South Asia Study Group.