POMED Notes: Transforming Terrorism and Radicalism with Muslim Nonviolent Alternatives
The United States Institute of Peace hosted an event Tuesday (10/16) entitled “Transforming Terrorism and Radicalism with Muslim Nonviolent Alternatives.” The event aimed to examine the ethos of pluralism, peace building activities, and the culture of sustainable peace in conflict zones in Muslim-majority countries. The panel was moderated by Qamar al-Huda of USIP and included Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand, professor at Thammasat University, and Dr. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University. The panel sought to explore the following questions: Has the rise of extremist voices weakened principles of nonviolence and moderation in Muslim communities? Are moderate Muslims capable of defeating extremism with nonviolent practices of tolerance, social justice, and education?
For full notes continue reading, or click here for a PDF.
Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand began by asking, “How do we understand terrorism?” He said that there are 109 definitions for terrorism since the 1930’s. In light of this, Satha-Anand suggested that the appropriate question is, “How does terrorism work?” He said terrorism is important because it “cuts the link between the target of violence and the reason for violence.” Additionally, terrorism is not “about” violence, it is about fear. Terrorism destroys the sense of normalcy, which is the most precious part of society, and compromises the state’s ability to protect its citizens. He also posed the question “Why do Muslims use terrorism?” Satha-Anand offered the story of a Palestinian colleague who cited the experience of living day-to-day under Israeli occupation as an example of why many turn to terrorism. Satha-Anand discussed the response of the ‘ulama to the use of terrorism in the name of Islam. He offered the opinion of a Saudi sheikh who said that the use of suicide bombing is wrong because suicide is unacceptable in Islam. Additionally, Islam will not benefit because the killing of others could bring harm to the religion. Satha-Anand noted that non-violent resistance and terrorism do have some similarities. They both share the notion that death has a meaning and purpose. Meanwhile, terrorism dehumanizes the other and becomes an instrument which controls the user. Muslims believe that they are created by God with purpose, and the process of dehumanization robs the victims of the characteristics given by God. On the other hand, the non-violent platform allows the user to fight injustice through alternatives approved by Islam. Satha-Anand concluded that the use of violence will undermine the platform of resistance.
Dr. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana asked “Is there a difference between violence and terrorism?” or “Is there legitimate form of violence?” She said Muslims feel that theirs is the only religion which must prove itself to be non-violent. Satha-Anand said Islam is the most action-oriented of the world faiths. The belief system is structured around the basis that God created man, and that man is obliged to change the world and to stop injustice. He pointed out that Islam says fighting under some circumstances is permitted, but not everything is allowed. However, contemporary non-violent literature must work to reapply the limits under which struggle is permitted. He said that non-violent action is important because the possibility for reconciliation is greatly increased once the struggle comes to a close. Satha-Anand was adamant that revolutionaries must understand the limits of non-violent strategies. He said non-violence is not always effective and that one cannot expect the opposition to respond with nonviolence as well. However, he proclaimed that “non-violent resistance is the natural weapon of ordinary people and societies.”
During the Q&A session, Satha-Anand said trying to understand terrorism does not mean condoning it, and simply condemning terrorism does not solve the problem. He said subjecting Islam to a monolithic idea is a distortion of reality. The global community is full of variety and nuanced approaches to the faith. He said “religion does not cause conflict, but it does justify certain forms of violence.” Satha-Anand pointed out that this is a fact of which all religions are guilty. He said the proliferation of hate-speech and antithetical peace teachings is dangerous. Scholars should be vigilant in combating the threat, yet “censorship would be an inappropriate measure.” He said there is a need to rediscover non-violence in Islam in order to combat the ideas that non-violence has simply become a meddling tool of foreign actors. When asked “Who speaks for Islam?” Satha-Anand responded by saying, “There are many voices, including some we may not like. It is impossible to distinguish every voice, and therefore inappropriate for one central authority to represent them all.” Kadayifci-Orellana weighed in saying, “The lack of one authoritative figure could be a strength.” She added that the Quran and the Hadith offer an unmistakable foundation of non-violence in Islam. She continued saying, “Groups like the Taliban are ignorant of the real teachings of Islam. Imams from different contexts should be brought together to form a critical mass that can stand up to terrorism using the Quran and the Hadith. Without understanding social-rationalization for the use of terrorism we cannot change the proponents of violence.” Satah-Anand concluded the session by saying, “People in different societies must create their own forms of non-violent revolution and their ideas must spring up from the soil.”