Those con­victed of ex­trem­ism should not be fur­ther de­monised, but in­stead, be taught to rein­te­grate back into so­ci­ety

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The au­thor is a free­lance writer, a blog­ger at www.dearsa­ and is study­ing Ara­bic. She is a mil­lenial try­ing to make a dif­fer­ence, start­ing with her­self

ISPEAK on be­half of the vast ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims when I say: I dread see­ing the words “Is­lamist”, “ter­ror­ist” and “at­tack” plas­tered across the tele­vi­sion screen. When­ever that oc­curs, I find my­self feel­ing frus­trated, dis­ap­pointed and ex­cep­tion­ally per­plexed, es­pe­cially when the at­tack is per­formed by a reg­u­lar ci­ti­zen.

When I first be­gan writ­ing this ar­ti­cle, I was re­lieved that it had been a while since a ter­ror­ist at­tack dom­i­nated the news for days on end. I spoke too soon: last week, Khalid Ma­sood, a Bri­tish Mus­lim con­vert, ploughed into pedes­tri­ans near the Bri­tish par­lia­ment and pro­ceeded to stab a po­lice­man.

The at­tacker was de­scribed by his friends as a “friendly guy”. Yet, a deeper look into his back­ground story re­veals a his­tory of vi­o­lence along­side prison sen­tences long be­fore his con­ver­sion to Is­lam.

As I write this, Ma­sood’s mo­ti­va­tions have not been made clear by Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties, and, if it was re­li­gious rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion that prompted his sense­less at­tack, it is not yet con­firmed that his rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion took place while he was in prison. None­the­less, the 52-year-old had all the “right” con­di­tions to de­velop ex­trem­ist ten­den­cies.

What fac­tors come into play for some­one to aban­don his fam­ily and all sense of ra­tio­nal­ity to trod down the path of vi­o­lent re­li­gious ex­trem­ism? Al­though I have al­ways sim­ply con­cluded that re­li­gious ex­trem­ists are in­nately vi­o­lent and pos­sess warped-up rea­son­ing to be­gin with, I re­cently learnt that the mak­ing of an Is­lamist ter­ror­ist is not that straight­for­ward.

Ear­lier this month, I had the priv­i­lege of at­tend­ing the Re­viv­ing the Is­lamic Spirit (RIS) Con­ven­tion in Putrajaya. One of the many es­teemed speak­ers was Amer­i­can Mus­lim scholar Shaykh Dr Umar F. Abd-Al­lah. In his talk, he men­tioned that there were three el­e­ments cru­cial to our un­der­stand­ing of what trig­gered rad­i­cal Is­lamist think­ing — geopo­lit­i­cal, so­cio-psy­cho­log­i­cal, and ide­o­log­i­cal con­texts.

From a geo-po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive, vi­o­lent Is­lamist rad­i­cals are fu­elled by rage. Is­lamic State (IS) mem­bers and sym­pa­this­ers have of­ten wit­nessed how Western for­eign poli­cies have de­stroyed their coun­tries or other Mus­lim coun­tries. It is no sur­prise that the con­tents of IS pro­pa­ganda are cun­ningly cre­ated to fur­ther aggravate geopo­lit­i­cally rooted sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

Next comes the so­cio-psy­cho­log­i­cal con­text: IS largely tar­gets psy­cho­log­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als, such as marginalised youths, es­pe­cially those with a his­tory of men­tal health is­sues. It is also worth not­ing that many vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists and their likes come from abu­sive homes.

IS func­tions like a cult; po­ten­tial re­cruits are of­ten iso­lated from their re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, fam­i­lies and even so­ci­ety as a whole, so that they can be brain­washed with­out any ex­ter­nal op­po­si­tion.

Third is the ide­o­log­i­cal con­text: Is­lamist ex­trem­ists prac­tise a ver­sion of Is­lam that is in de­fi­ance to tra­di­tional Is­lamic teach­ings. This is fur­ther backed up by the count­less fat­was (re­li­gious rul­ings) against ter­ror­ism, re­leased by Mus­lim schol­ars glob­ally.

Datuk Dr Afifi Al-Ak­iti, Ox­ford Fel­low in Is­lamic Stud­ies, re­leased a fatwa en­ti­tled “De­fend­ing The Trans­gressed By Cen­sur­ing The Reck­less Against The Killing of Civil­ians”, which clearly ex­plains Is­lam’s firm po­si­tion against ter­ror­ism and the tar­get­ing of in­no­cents.

As of last Novem­ber, 60 Malaysians were re­ported to have joined IS to fight in the war in Syria. The re­cruits formed a di­verse group con­sist­ing of both men and women from dif­fer­ent so­cial classes, pro­fes­sions, age groups and mar­i­tal sta­tus.

How did a bunch of our own peo­ple slip un­der our noses to fly across the world to fight in a bat­tle that is not even theirs? But, the big­ger ques­tion now is: how do we put an end to this?

To re­phrase Dr Umar, there is no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion to com­bat Is­lamist ex­trem­ism, but in­stead, we need “cre­ative, mul­ti­lay­ered strate­gies” that are “short, medium and long term”. Al­though our gov­ern­ment cer­tainly has a crit­i­cal role in curb­ing this dilemma, so do we.

Is­lam puts great em­pha­sis on com­mu­nal val­ues; the wel­fare of our community is our re­spon­si­bil­ity. Just as no one should go hun­gry, no one should go astray ei­ther. While it is true that no one bears the sins of an­other, Mus­lims have to be proac­tive in work­ing to­gether to en­sure that our broth­ers and sis­ters are not sus­cep­ti­ble to Is­lamist ex­trem­ism by be­ing aware of the el­e­ments that fuel rad­i­cal think­ing.

Dr Umar also added that even those con­victed of ex­trem­ism should not be fur­ther de­monised, but in­stead re­ha­bil­i­tated and taught to rein­te­grate back into so­ci­ety.

A fine ex­am­ple of this ap­proach, is that of Sen­sei Imanul Hakim. Sen­sei Hakim is an aikido prac­ti­tioner of 25 years and the founder of Aikikenkyukai Aikido Dojo, In­done­sia. He has had suc­cess in us­ing the spir­i­tual di­men­sion of the mar­tial arts to re­ha­bil­i­tate youth rad­i­calised by ter­ror­ism by ap­peal­ing to their hearts.

I would like to end this ar­ti­cle with an au­then­tic which I learnt at the RIS con­ven­tion that per­fectly sums up why ex­trem­ism should be avoided by all Mus­lims. Ibn Ab­bas nar­rated that the Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH) said: “Be­ware of ex­trem­ism in re­li­gion, for the only thing that de­stroyed those be­fore you was ex­trem­ism in re­li­gion.”

Mus­lim men hold­ing flow­ers as they stand in line on West­min­ster Bridge dur­ing an event to mark one week since the ter­ror at­tack by Khalid Ma­sood in Lon­don.

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