01/08/2015, 00.00
FRANCE - ISLAM
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Fr Samir: There is a war within Islam and Western politicians do not defend European culture

by Samir Khalil Samir
As Sunnis try to regain the power they lost in Iraq, in Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere, the hatred that divides them from Shias is getting worse. Islam should address in depth the issue of modernity - through an exhaustive interpretation of the Qur'an, non-violence, freedom of conscience - yet nobody dares to do so. In the West, immigrants should be asked to take part the existing economic, political, and social system. Mosques should be controlled as they are in Muslim countries.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Immediately after the attack in Paris against Charlie Hebdo, France's Muslim communities issued a very balanced and reasonable statement. Yet, their words betray a certain embarrassment, indicating that it is not enough to say, "This has nothing to do with Islam". Because facts contradict them. At least 80 per cent of all terrorist attacks in the world are carried out in the name of Islam, to defend the faith, or the prophet. And this is growing more and more, even in the West.

I spoke yesterday with a Paris-based imam who told me that a school for imams just opened in the French capital. More than a thousand people have signed up. The school plans to help imams integrate and teach them about Western culture.

This is important news because in Islam, everything begins with the imams. In Europe, imams and mosque preachers are paid by their country of origin. Now they want to create a French Islam that can assimilate the country's Western values (see Document).

However, this goes against what most Muslim activists believe, namely that the West is the enemy, and that Islam is a system that must spread, by violence if need be. Indeed, in the Middle East and Europe, they are at loggerheads over how to view Islam.

If we look at the Middle East and beyond, we realise how much opposition and violence there is between Sunnis and Shias.

I met an imam from Mosul. He is Shia and Sunni fundamentalists killed his family. He moved to Najaf, where the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani built a village to accommodate Shias and Christians who fled Mosul.

The hatred between Sunnis and Shias is growing, especially by Sunnis against Shias who they deem to be apostates. Minorities like the Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, etc. are caught in between. This is a struggle by Sunnis to regain what they lost: Shia-ruled Iraq; Alawi-ruled Syria; Hizbollah-dominated Lebanon where the Shia group is more powerful than the country's regular army. Sunnis, who claim to embody the true form of Islam, want to win back lost territory.

Thus, this is first and foremost a struggle within Islam, with collateral damages inflicted on minorities and the West. The latter has sponsored Israel, become secularised, etc.; yet, this enemy is far away. The most burning issue is the internal struggle over who is propagating the truest Islam.

Even in Lebanon, tensions are running high. For this reason, both Muslim communities are asking Christians to remain to serve as a buffer. Without Christians, Lebanon would already be plunged in a war between Sunnis and Shias.

Islam should address in depth the issue of modernity - through an exhaustive interpretation of the Qur'an, non-violence, freedom of conscience - yet nobody dares to do so.

Non-violence

The first thing that everybody should accept is the principle of non-violence. All Muslims claim that "Islam is peace", that it is not violent, etc.

Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, for example, are an old thing, going back a few months. I agree that they are ironic, sarcastic, even outrageous, but why should you Muslims react to them with violence? Why not fight the pen with a pen?

In the past (in 2006), Charlie Hebdo printed a cartoon depicting Muhammad with a bomb instead of a turban. My question to my Muslim friends is: How do you depict Muhammad? With a sword. An Istanbul museum has even two swords thought to have belonged to the Prophet. What does Saudi Arabia, the country that guards the holy places of Islam, have on its flag? Two swords! So I tell you: all the people at Charlie Hebdo did was simply update Muhammad's image. Once there were swords; today, there are bombs!

As long as Islam fights against others - apostates, Christians, the West, atheists - and does not engage in self-criticism and recognises that its problem is within, we all lose. Without it, Islamic countries will be increasingly involved in wars among themselves.

Even the fighting taking place in Africa, in Arab countries bordering the Mediterranean, and in the Sahara Desert are conflicts within Islam.

Let me tell my Muslim friends: Engage in self-criticism, imagine another Islam for today's world, reinterpret the words of the prophet. Even in the Bible, there are verses that glorify war. But we all understand the need to reinterpret them and not take them literally.

Everyone has to take into account the fact that we are already living in the 21st century. Ordinary, defenceless people, minorities, pay the price for these wars. 

Saudi Arabia

The Sunni-Shia divide is reflected in the fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Here, religion is part of a broader economic, strategic, and geopolitical power struggle.

Saudi Arabia must be told that this is the 21st century. How is it possible, for example, to deny women the right to drive a car on their own? Or that women do not yet have the right to vote at the national level?

Now, those who responsible for these things - Saudi Arabia - do so as true interpreters of Islam, in the name of Islam. And that disgusts everyone, Muslims included.

If you do these things in the name of religion, then you cannot complain if I attack your religion, which makes you humiliate so much other human beings.

If you speak with Muslims, they will say: Yes, of course, Saudi Arabia is a reactionary, backward country . . . but since the Saudis offer billion to various countries, in the end all of them say, "God bless Saudi Arabia."

The West does not know what to do

What about the West? The relationship with Muslims is a problem because a lot of them do not want to integrate, because Islam is a system, not just a religion. Many, a majority, try to fit in, but they do so slowly. In France, Algerians were better integrated 50 years ago that immigrants today.

Now, in France, almost all supermarkets across the country sell halal products. Now schools and supermarkets often sell only halal products, which even non-Muslims can buy.

This leads some to see Muslims as a threat, one that could undermine Western values ​​(including the right to eat pork). Seeing Muslims organised in activist groups, Westerners organise into anti-Islamic groups.

At the same time, European politicians have never really dealt with the problem. They ought to tell migrants: You are welcome. We welcome you as brothers and sisters because that is part of our Christian tradition. If you want, you can stay here, but you need to integrate. You can practice the religion of your choice, or you can be an atheist, but you must become part of the existing system, integrate at the economic, political, and social levels.

Unfortunately, politicians prefer not to stick their nose in; they choose instead to preach some vague notion of acceptance, pushing European culture into the private sphere.

In general, what I see is that in many parts of Europe, migrants are met with great openness. Muslims, too, do the same. However, there is a core group of Muslims who reject integration and fight it instead.

In order to monitor this situation, mosques need to be controlled. At first glance, this is contrary to our European spirit, whereby state and religion are distinct. However, in Islam mosques are not just a place of worship. They are also places of indoctrination and political guidance, sometimes in ways that are even harmful to the community. This is why European states should monitor them, as is done in all Muslim countries. In the Islamic world, mosques are the first entities that are controlled.

Unfortunately, this example shows that the certainties claimed by organised Islamic groups are confronted by the Western world's many uncertainties.

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