Sunday, September 14, 2014

A 'Fatwa' Against Islamic Fundamentalism

Review by Bill Doughty

As the United States and other nations begin targeting the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS), why aren't others in the region – other Muslims – up in arms against religious fundamentalism and extremism?

A refreshing perspective by Karima Bennoune shows us many people of Muslim heritage are, in fact, renouncing intolerance and terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. Many yearn for freedom, love and peace over tyranny, hate and civil war. Bennoune, a professor of international law at the University of California-Davis School of Law, who is of Algerian descent, makes the case in 2013's "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism."
Woman in a camp for displaced Iraqis who fled militants, Aug. 6, 2014. AP photo, State Dept. blog.

She describes in heart-rending detail the fear and courage of people in countries and regions as diverse as Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Chechnya and Dagestan. She describes murder, maiming, stoning, rape and imprisonment in the name of the Qur'an and the fundamentalists' version of their religion. "Islam and Islamism are not the same thing ... The vast majority of Muslims are not fundamentalists, though of course too many are."

Much of Bennoune's perspective, understandably, comes from Algeria, where she grew up before emigrating to the United States. She balances her views with equal condemnation for those on the far left and extremists on the far right who fail to properly deal with the threats to equality, human rights and freedom. But most of this book shows the backlash against fundamentalists' interpretation of Sharia (so-called "God's law") and the danger of religion entering secular society and laws. About Muslim fundamentalism, Bennoune writes:
"At its very core it is a basic question of human rights for hundreds of millions of people who live in Muslim majority countries and populations around the world. In Algiers, Cherifa Bouatta tells me that Muslim fundamentalism 'is a deadly ideology which stands against choice, hope, change and humanity. It represents the breaking of our countries.' Franco-Algerian community organizer Mimouma Hadjam wants to remind Westerners, 'Islamism is a danger for the Muslim population. It is a danger for us.'"
Bennoune describes Islamist rejection of art, science, education and freedom of choice under a "cloak of divine legitimacy" by groups including the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, the ex-Islamic Salvation Front, Salafi groups, Jamaat-e-Islami, Taliban, Al Qaeda and Wahhabism, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Ennahda Party, among others.

A visit to Kabul's Ghazi Stadium with the author's guide Alem is recounted. It's a place for sports but was recently used for torture and amputation in the name of Sharia law:
"In addition to amputation of hands and feet while the Qur'an was recited nearby, people were lashed here for adultery in Taliban times, and women were stoned to death. Alem says the Talibs would go out into the city with loudspeakers and announce the punishments. People who had no TV, no radio, no entertainment, would come and watch. There are many different Muslim laws applied in many different ways, but from now on, whenever people talk about the 'application of the Sharia,' it is hard for me not to think about this place."
"Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here" was published before the rise of would-be caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, yet Bennoune remembers Danny Pearl and devotes a chapter, "To Speak Out and Die," to the murder of international journalists by Islamists. Just yesterday, IS issued a video of the beheading of British aid worker David Haines. The beginnings of the IS group can be traced back to 1999; it's the same group under a different name responsible for the beheading of Nick Berg in 2004.

"Your Fatwa" includes the poignant story of the throat-cutting murder of 22-year-old Algerian law student Amel Zenoune-Zouani by Islamist militants and the murder attempt against then 15-year-old student Malala Yousafzai by Pakistani Taliban. (Yousafzai's autobiography, "I am Malala," – also on CD with narration by Archie Panjabi – is another recommended read that shows how one can respect moderate Islam and condemn the violence of the fundamentalists. Despite being shot in the head and experiencing ongoing death threats, Malala continues her crusade for education, equality and tolerance.) 
Karima Bennoune
Bennoune writes: "Women's rights must be the nonnegotiable centerpiece of the struggle against fundamentalism." It's an idea shared by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also mentioned in "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here."

This weekend Secretary of State John Kerry said in Egypt that radical jihadists claim to be fighting on behalf of Islam but their actions are counter to the religion's teachings. Regarding the Islamic State, Kerry said, "its message of hate is rejected" by the majority of Muslims around the world.

The aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) is now operating in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations and launching air sorties against IS/ISIL.

Bennoune shows how that rejection of hate is personalized in her interviews with parents who have lost children, individuals who have lost homes and families, and women who have lost the freedom of expression and choice. Despite setbacks of fundamentalist election victories after the "great spring of 2011," the author finds hope:
"... It is no win for democracy when its processes are used to defeat its values. The actual political and social power of fundamentalists across the region means that the waters of social change have to be navigated with great care. This, however, is no excuse for a failure to respond to the entirely legitimate demands for democratization and justice, which remain imperative. Instead, those on the ground who champion human rights and substantive equality must fight on all fronts. There is still hope for the democratic struggle in Arab and Muslim majority countries unleashed in the spring of 2011, but the struggle against fundamentalism must be at its core."
Bennoune concludes with a call to combat the ideology of fundamentalism. She wants to replace the Islamist war on education with a war on their ignorance and superstition. Education will bring democracy and equality. Her book is deeply personal – from her own and her father's perspective. She hears the cough of an imam as "a very human reminder of the temporal" and with humility she applies that to her own search for the truth. And she presents poetic reflection of visiting cemeteries, literally and figuratively.

A "found (unintentional) haiku" in Bennoune's introduction to her book calls for tolerance even within the paradigm of Islam:
As the Qur'an says, 
"Unto you your religion 
and unto me mine"
I first heard Karima Bennoune speak about her book in a TED Talks podcast, which at the time I'm posting this just hit one million views. 

Her perspective is important to anyone in or out of the military who may wonder if there is international support for another mission to deal with rising Islamic fundamentalism that presents a real threat to freedom-loving people and freethinkers everywhere.

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