Reza Aslan on Extremism.

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image Lots of interesting stuff to chew on from last nights talk by Reza Aslan at Simon Fraser University. The talk was entitled “Wrath of God” and was about violence and extremism in religion. He talked about violent extremism in several religions that are often much less reported on particularly in the West. Like Jewish extremist that have been harassing and killing Muslims and Christians in Isreal and are growing. Hindu Nationalists in India linked to the current government that want India to be an exclusively Hindu state. Christian Nationalist in America (around 100 million Americans self identify as this and want the constitution changed to make the U.S a Christian country). And the recent Christian pastor from Tennessee caught by the FBI in the final planning stages of a violent attack (already had guns, machettes, and plans laid out) to travel to New York to kill as many Muslim men, women and children as possible. He was charged with non terrorism related offences…and last week released by a judge to await trail in the comfort of his own home because it couldn’t be demonstrated that he was a threat to the community (seriously..). But Reza did focus primarily on Islamic extremism in his talk.

He pointed out that by a massive margin, by literally tens of thousands per month, the victims of these groups are fellow Muslims that don’t want anything to do with their extremist views. He really stressed the importance of realizing that there are broadly speaking two main types of Islamic extremist groups in the world today. Although the media, and politicians a like, and he did single out Stephen Harper as one of them, like to lump them all in the same category. They are in fact very different from one another. As such need to be addressed very differently.

There are Islamists, that are Islamic nationalists, like Hamas for example, that are interested exclusively with land and/or political power within their own region.. FOr example Hamas focussing on what they believe is rightfully Palestine. They have no interest in anything beyond this and will only cooperate with other extremist groups if it helps further their own specific goals. The other is Jihadists, groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Their goals are global. And although it may appear on the surface that they are interested in land or political power, they aren’t. Their interest is “cosmic.” They believe that they are fighting a cosmic battle between good and evil (they, of course are the good guys, everyone else that doesn’t subscribe to there particular view of religious purity are the bad guys). They don’t want land or political power. They want a world that follows their particular view of Islam. And they’ll happily kill anyone that disagrees. So dealing with these two types of extremists need to be done differently.

Islamists, although often very violent, since their ambitions are regional and political, they can often be dealt with through negotiations and engaging in the democratic process by allowing them to enter the political arena and be voted on democratically by the local population. Which often forces the group to substantially moderate their position, or they get overwhelmingly defeated in the elections. Either outcome is generally a good thing. Especially if it lessens the violence envolved in dealing with the group through force alone.

The Jihadists however have no political ambitions outside of enforcing their views on literally the whole world. I was somewhat surprised, but Reza was adamant that he believes Jihadists like ISIS are impossible to negotiate with, their position is simple convert or die. There is no room for a compromise. So the only way to deal with them, in a conflict zone at least, is through violence. He believes they have to be physically stopped through military violence, as they will not be stopped otherwise. He did discuss his thoughts around specifically dealing with homegrown extremism of all kinds (in the U.S the biggest threat comes from the mainstream Christian Nationalists).. But I’ll tackle that one later…