Dhaka massacre and the half understood Regensburg lecture
by Bernardo Cervellera

After years of the good life, “derailed youth” converted to radical Islam. Moderate Islam must condemn fundamentalist Islam. Muslims blame uncultured imams who sow hatred and contempt. The West should read again Benedict XVI’s lecture and rethink its marginalisation of religion as irrational. Fundamentalist Islam and the godless West mirror each other.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Dismay and disbelief have not yet abated in Bangladesh and Italy over the carnage at the Holey Artisan Bakery Café, in Dhaka’s posh Gulshan district, where nine Italians (ten considering that one, Ms Simona Monti, was pregnant), seven Japanese, four Bangladeshis, one American and one Indian were tortured and killed.

The dismay comes from the sudden realisation that Bangladeshi Islam, seen hitherto as friendly and open-minded, showed another side, one that was cruel, cynical and fundamentalist.

Disbelief comes from the discovery that at least three of the attackers were young men in their 20s from good families, educated at international schools, far from the image of Muslims oppressed by misery and poverty, indoctrinated at fundamentalist madrassahs.

According to Dhaka police, it appears that only one of the attackers, Khairul Islam, fits the traditional portrait. The others are, to quote the police, “derailed youths”: Imtiaz Rohan, son of a politician with the ruling secularist Awami League; Nibras Islam and Andaleeb Ahmed who had attended the Kuala Lumpur campus of an Australian university; and Meer Saameh Mubasheer and Raiyan Minhaj who had studied at some of Dhaka’s best schools.

After years of leisure, fun, selfies, and love - as gleaned from their Facebook and Twitter accounts, they left their families and disappeared.

According to a retired security general, Sakhawat Hossain, at least 150 (possibly 200) young Bangladeshis are missing, thought to be Syria and Iraq fighting alongside Daesh.

If we move from dismay and disbelief to action, the first issue to address is the relationship between moderate and fundamentalist Islam.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina slammed the massacre on one of the most important days of Ramadan, the last Friday of the fasting month, saying that "This is not Islam." She said it because her main opposition party is inspired by fundamentalist Islam. However, criticising that kind of Islam is likely to produce more recruits to her political enemies.

The same thing is happening in Italy and Europe, where Muslims are silent over this and other massacres and Muslim associations wash their hands immediately saying "This is not Islam."

Yet these "derailed” youths, before killing, called on their victims to recite Qur‘anic verses, as Daesh (Islamic State) does. A certain interpretation of Islam leads to violence and some young people, who eagerly and impatiently seek quick solutions, are fascinated and bewitched by it.

There are imams and preachers who instill contempt for other religions, for the West, for heretics (Shias or Ahmadis) and, in order to purify Dar el Islam, the House of Islam, some are prepare to destroy everyone, even themselves.

Is it not time for the Islamic world to denounce violent interpretation of the Qur‘an? Shouldn’t those imams who fuel contempt and hatred for other religions not be condemned and denounced? Shouldn’t Muslims start reinterpreting the Muslim faith in light of modernity, as well as human and women’s rights?

Among my Facebook friends, I came across one, a Muslim, who did engage in some self-examination and accused his fellow Muslims of hypocrisy for supporting Sharia and at the same time saying that "Daesh does not represent us."

"Either we join Daesh, and stop the comedy, or we reform our vision of Islam and remove the old crust, i.e. Sharia and jurisprudence invented by ulemas (Qur‘anic scholars)."

In another comment, he stated, "Imams, who by and large lack a broad culture, have never cared to teach tolerance to the faithful." Quoting Islamist “theorists” who use books and TV stations, he accuses them of "teaching hatred, contempt and rejection towards others".

Let us really hope that such lucidity will spread among our Muslim friends and that our governments will be cautious in their liberalism and not allow anyone to preach or fundamentalist countries to finance such imams as criticised above.

Looking at the connection between Islam and violence brings back Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg, where he suggested to the Muslim world that violence is not worthy of God, who is reason.

Recently, many official and unofficial commentators cited the pope’s address even though it might not have been fully understood. In fact, many cite Pope Benedict just for that page that refers to Islam (with the erudite quotation from Manuel II Palaeologus), but they forget the other (at least 12) pages dedicated to the West and its contempt for religion, deemed "irrational".

In fact, if the Islamic world needs to undergo some self-examination, so does the Western world. That well-educated young Bangladeshis exposed to globalised modernity choose to sacrifice themselves for Islam undermines our model whose ideal is based on skills, success and affluence without any reference to God.

“Derailed” young people in Dhaka are very similar to those who attacked Paris, Brussels, London, . . . They are like young Westerners who decide to go and fight in Syria or Iraq alongside Daesh after living a sheltered life.

Dunia Bouzard, a French Muslim scholar who has studied the issue, shows, perhaps unwittingly, how these young people come from secularised families who had no explicit and convincing religious reference.

So, when the question of meaning in young people’s lives becomes urgent, they fall prey to the first on-line preacher, unable to separate what is true from what is false in his religious discourse, since they never had the opportunity of meeting witnesses of faith.

We are not talking about the poor victims of Dhaka. Indeed, some of them were known for their faith and their charity. We are talking about Western society and states that despise religion, and consider them irrational, unworthy of man, something to marginalise, privatise and perhaps stifle to prevent it from harming society that would function better without it.

For some scholars, violent fundamentalism in some religions is the other side of the coin of a West without God that mocks religion.

If we want to re-examine fully the Regensburg lecture, it is important for Muslims to break away from violence, but also for the West to come back to an idea of ​​reason that also embraces the religious dimension.

Without that – as Benedict XVI warned – the West too (like fundamentalist Islam) will fail to understand other cultures and cause violence, which will seem more and more irrational, but is not.