Sunday, 31 January 2016
No, Maajid Nawaz: Islam Is Not "Native" To The West
I have written of my skepticism about the "Muslim reformer" Maajid Nawaz before. On top of that, it is also worth reading this piece over at Gates of Vienna, dissecting some of the claims made about Islam by Nawaz in his much-publicized book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, which he co-authored with atheist Sam Harris. Please note that I do not personally agree with all of the author's conclusions about Nawaz and his motivations, but I do think it is a useful overview of how deceptive - willfully or otherwise - he can be when he discusses specific elements of Islamic theology and law.
All of that can then serve as illuminating background for Nawaz's latest musings about Islamic reform, from a talk he gave in Sydney this weekend.
After answering a range of questions at an event at Sydney University, including on his former membership to extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and how to prevent radicalisation in young people, Nawaz told the largely Caucasian crowd to "own" the problem of Islamic extremism.
"When we finally realise that Muslims are here to stay, that they are native to the west, their version of Islam is native to the west, we will own that conversation on equal terms," he said. "When we look at it like that, we stop 'other-ising' and we will feel like we own the problem and therefore own the conversation, as we do with Christianity. No one sees Christianity as alien to the west. They feel like they own the debate because Christianity is viewed as native to the west."
What on earth is Nawaz talking about? Islam is not "native to the West". Muslims are not "native to the West". Islam only has a significant presence in the West at all because of immigration, and because marauding Muslim armies brutally invaded Spain and the south of France in the eighth century, subjugating and persecuting the indigenous peoples.
Ultimately it is ridiculous to say that any religion is "native" to anywhere, since no religion has existed forever, but if anyone has the impression that Christianity is native to the West, that would be because it has been present here for all of modern history, and because it has shaped and cultivated so much of our culture and traditions. In a very real sense, it created the West. It did not spread throughout the Western world by violent conquest, as Islam did, and Western culture has not been directly shaped by Islam at all, despite propaganda aimed at convincing us to the contrary.
So Nawaz's formulation here is based on an utterly absurd supremacist lie, that Islam is "native" to Western civilisation. But more than that, his suggestion just makes absolutely no sense as any part of a solution. How will Westerners accepting that Islam is native to the West facilitate Islamic reform? If we stop "otherising" Muslims and Islam, will the likes of ISIS respond by beating their guns into plowshares and reinterpreting the verses of the Qur'an that they use to justify their atrocities? Once we "own" the debate on extremism, will Muslim clerics be convinced that the Qur'an should not be taken literally and that Muhammad's example is not an acceptable model to follow in the modern world?
Maajid Nawaz's "wisdom" here is just pure pretentious nonsense. He has been around for years now, and despite all his talk of deradicalisation, and his otherwise sensible suggestion that Muslims should desist from taking the Qur'an completely literally, I have still never seen any evidence that he actually has any kind of cohesive plan for Islamic reform, or understands the steps that would be required in moving Muslims away from Qur'anic literalism. I cannot possibly claim to know his true thoughts or motivations, but it seems to me that he is simply a terrible reformer, at best.
And at the same time, while I don't personally subscribe to this view, Nawaz's tendency to serenade us with ridiculous nonsense like this - and his failure to answer important questions about his methods - gives me some sympathy with those who see him as something in fact much worse than an incompetent reformer: as a stealth jihadist, waging an incredibly sophisticated campaign of deception in service of insidious ends.