Tackling militant Islamism means also confronting its non-violent forms

Sept 11

By Elham Manea

#Islamism #Extremism #HopeNotHate #Radicalisation #GMABlog

The call is often from a worried teacher. They are noticing changes in students from immigrant backgrounds. Before, they defined themselves by nationality, as Kosovars, Bosnians or Turks, now they say they are Muslims. Before, they took part in art classes, now they insist their religion prohibits art. Then there’s a second change: these young men and women start to talk of a war against Islam that targets Muslims – targets them.

When I listen, I remember myself as a 16-year-old, the daughter of a diplomat from a secular family, coming back to my home country, Yemen, after four years in Morocco. It was 1982 – a period that saw the mushrooming of Islamist ideology in North Yemen. I was fascinated by a religious group led by a charismatic young woman of 17. The group met in the schoolyard. I would later learn it was part of a strong Islamist movement that saw Salafists work hand-in-hand with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The sessions were fascinating. Our leader explained about the love of God. The moment we enter into Islam, she said, all our sins are washed away and we become equal. The fate of those who are not Muslims was never mentioned. She told us that we could be better people if only we embraced the message of Islam – the true Islam, not the corrupted form of our society. For a teenage girl, lacking direction, the message was mesmerising, and I embraced it wholeheartedly.

The changes in me were gradual. It started with language. Instead of greeting others with ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’, I used only the salute of Islam: ‘assalamu alaikum’, peace be upon you. Later I would learn that this salute is only reserved for Muslims. “Do not use it with non-Muslims,” I was told.

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No laughing matter: Souad Al-Shammary and the Saudi clergy

Saudi

By Elham Manea

She made a joke about a beard and the medieval clergy went berserk; apparently they do not have a sense of humour.

Now she is in prison charged with, and I am not making this up, ‘publicly calling for the liberation of Saudi women and the separation of religion from the government’.

Are these the accusations of a just, modern, functioning society?

Another charge was added to the list: ‘denial of holiness of clergy’. The last charge gives an indication of the type of theocratic system we are talking about.

No matter. Now she is awaiting trial just as her famous blogger friend Raif Badawi did – for apostasy. Now the same clergy, who think they are holy, will judge her.

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Reporters Without Borders award Raif Badawi the Netizen Prize for 2014

In 2012, 30-year-old Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was arrested for starting a progressive website that called for, among other things, religious tolerance and women’s rights. That was insulting to Islam, said his critics. In May 2014 Mr. Badawi was sentenced 10 years and was also sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals ($266,000; £133,000). At present, Mr Badawi is in a cell in a Jeddah prison, six months into his ten-year jail sentence. He is awaiting the first of his floggings. The thousand lashes are due to be dealt to him in batches of fifty, every Friday, in a public square. Reporters Without Borders awards the annual Netizen Prize in recognition to an Internet user, blogger, cyber-dissident, or group who has made a notable contribution to the defense of online freedom of expression.

Raif BadawiThis is the speech of Dr. Elham Manea after receiving the prize on Raif Badawi’s behalf.
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