GEORGE TOWN: An international expert on the Middle East and Islamic politics warns of the danger of radicalisation in countries being further stoked and intensified due to the irresponsible actions of their leaders.
Dr Nader Hashemi said the problem of aggressive extremism becomes particularly acute when violence is legitimised by the leaders through a religious framework, such as Islam.
Hashemi is Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
“Radicalisation happens for many reasons, largely because people feel insecure, they feel vulnerable, and they feel fearful that the future is uncertain.
“But of course it takes on a new level and a much more different dimension when leaders, whether religious or political, legitimise the fear and insecurity that people have in terms of the use of violence,” he said.
As an example, Hashemi pointed to the upsurge in Islamophobia in the United States because of comments made by people like Donald Trump, who is vying to become president.
Hashemi was speaking at a public lecture entitled Countering Terrorism in a Globalised World: Lessons from the Isis Crisis, held at the Penang Institute here yesterday.
He is also the author of the book titled “Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies”.
Without mentioning any names, Hashemi cited the example of political leaders in different parts of the world who have suggested that the Islamic State (Isis) militant group should be valued for their members’ courage and heroism.
“So you get into a problem when it’s not just religious leaders but also political leaders who are indirectly, or coming very close to, saying that the Isis extremist religious cult has some value.
“So, this is a problem. Leaders legitimise and give a voice to this type of behaviour. Then it’s open season,” he said, adding that such actions can lead to serious threat of civil disorder and political breakdown.
Hashemi also expressed concern on the impact of the Wahabbi orthodox religious influence, saying that some preachers have penetrated societies through social networks.
He said one way to counter the spread of “this form of intolerant, ultra-conservative, puritanical Islam” is for Muslim clerics and imams, with relevant training that allows them to be considered proper honourable clerics, to offer humanistic interpretations of Islam.
“You need also, for lack of a better term, ethical imams, ethical preachers, who can also produce interpretations of Islam that are considered authentic and that could lead to a better vision for society in Malaysia that is inclusive, democratic and respects human rights,” he said.