The expectation non-violent Muslims should condemn radical Islamic terrorists is not only obscene, it also makes efforts to counter terrorist narratives even harder.

Monday night's Q&A on abc asked "whether it was fair for moderate Muslims to be asked to publicly condemn radical Islamist terrorists"? What is your answer to this question? Do you agree that the question has the bias to persuade the viewer that there is terrorism in Islam when they divide the Muslims into moderates and radicals?

 

The expectation non-violent Muslims should condemn radical Islamic terrorists is not only obscene, it also makes efforts to counter terrorist narratives even harder. Asking Muslims to condemn the actions of ISIS, for instance, implies there is something fundamentally wrong with 'their' culture - and it's up to 'them' to fix their culture, rather than for all of us to address the socio-economic-political issues that are at the root of Islamic terrorism. When cultural entrepreneurs (Islamophobes) and right wing politicians converge to paint Islam, and therefore Muslims, responsible for the violent political acts of a tiny few, ISIS recruiters are in a position to propagate the idea that Muslims are not wanted in the West. 

 

Muslim communities have been our most important counter-terrorism partner. Most foiled plots have come as a result of Muslims reporting suspicious activities to law enforcement agencies. When we hold non-violent Muslims collectively responsible for Islamic terrorism, we alienate Muslim communities. Thus handing ISIS and whoever else an important operational victory.

 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist, claimed in the show that "it is becoming increasingly difficult to criticise Islam and Muslims in western countries such as Australia"; what's your take?

 

Hirsi Ali's claim is a red herring. How can she say it's difficult to criticize Islam and Muslims in Western countries given she, alongside many of her contemporaries, has achieved fame and fortune from criticizing Islam and Muslims in Western countries? 

 

The broader point here is that cultural entrepreneurs, like her, don't confine their criticisms to Islam or extremist Muslims. They engage in gross generalizations, debunked anti-Muslim conspiracies (Eurabia and Sharia law conspiracies), and anti-immigration policies - thus empowering both xenophobes and Islamic terrorist groups. For instance, Hirsi Ali called for a ban on Muslim schools in the US, which not only runs counter to the US Constitution, but also aids ISIS recruitment efforts by sending the message to three Million peaceful Muslims living in the US that they are unwanted.

 

Is it more difficult to criticise divine religions or atheism?

 

Whether you criticize religion or atheism, you tend to offend the same group of people: fundamentalists. And fundamentalists can be both hyper-religious or hyper-secular. When I published a book that criticized the Bible, I offended only those who might identity with the Christian Right. When I published a book criticizing strident atheism, I offended only those who might identify with the post-9/11 atheist movement. 

 

How do you analyze the dominance of atheism in Western media and among policy makers?

 

I'm not sure this is correct. Of more than 500 US congressmen and senators, not one is an out of the closet atheist, and the Republican Party is very much steered by the politics of the Christian Right. While Australian politics is mostly bereft of religious overtures, atheism is still largely an unmentioned identity.

 

Australian police have charged five men of planning to to join ISIS in Syria. What's the motive behind Western citizens joining ISIS? How do you analyze Australia's policies toward the crisis in Syria?

 

For those who join ISIS from Western countries, personal grievances associated with socio-economic-political-secular aspects of Western society are seen to be the main drivers. Online ISIS recruiters are adept at not only exploiting these grievances, but they also exploit their target's ignorance of Islam. Thus explaining why the number selling book for Western recruits traveling to Syria is Islam for Dummies. Beyond that, ISIS propaganda is very slick - and does a great job at romanticizing military adventurism, ultra-violence, and group belonging. For Muslims facing unemployment, underemployment, racism, alienation, and harassment from law enforcement, one can see how an ISIS propaganda video might be highly seductive.

 

Interview realized by Ali Ali