It's Extremism, Dude

In a front-page feature this weekend, The New York Times Magazine profiled Yasir Qadhi, an important Islamic cleric, teacher and author – who is also a lifelong U.S. citizen.

Imagine an influential fundamentalist who rejects democracy -- specifically rejecting majority rule because majority votes might contradict scripture. This fundamentalist says voters don’t have the “right” to contradict scripture. You might be further concerned if this fundamentalist said the fact that we in are the 21st century is not relevant since ancient scriptural law is immutable.  You might be even more concerned if you learned that this fundamentalist said ancient scriptural “family law” must be obeyed -- and obedience to this ancient law includes the law of “punishment”. In this worldview women are subordinate, and homosexuality is criminal conduct.  Under this view, amputations are appropriate, indeed mandated, as a form of punishment.

Here’s a video of Mr. Qadhi expressing his views.

Five of Mr. Qadhi’s former students have allegedly been involved in terrorist activities or organizations, including the so-called “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The Times article starts with Mr. Qadhi’s apparently endearing trait of addressing students as “dude” and soon mentions the American-born Qadhi’s interest in Disney World. But The Times is not as specific regarding Mr. Qadhi’s extremism and his implicit acceptance of violence.

Now, let’s get some things out of the way:

I objected to Rep. Peter King’s recent and widely-publicized hearings on “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.”  And all this talk about Sharia law in the U.S. is political grandstanding. The only fundamentalist laws that I’m aware of passing in the U.S. come from Christians violating the separation of church and state – not Muslims.
We shouldn’t demonize the American-Muslim community.

But, having said that, we shouldn’t allow political correctness to impede legitimate and forceful discussion of real instances of dangerous extremism either.  

The Times implies in their profile that our government might consider Qadhi to be a counter-point, and potential ally, among fundamentalist Muslims in contrast to the even more extreme American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Rational people can make this case, but The Times piece subtly underplays the extreme nature of Mr. Qadhi’s views.

The Times piece portrays Qadhi as articulate and educated. Okay, but I’m more concerned about his substance than his style.  I wish the article had expressly catalogued, clearly and specifically, the very extreme views of the Salafi fundamentalist sect for which Mr. Qadhi is such a strong advocate. It goes on to describe the number of Qadhi students who have turned to violence as a “small fraction” –- despite that fact that if, say, a right-wing Republican professor had that many students who had turned to terrorism, it would be cause for concern, indeed great alarm, and legitimately so.

The article notes that Qadhi’s new online seminar about sex in Islamic marriage includes how, “I give explicit detail on how a man should give his wife an orgasm in a permissible manner.” (As opposed to the impermissible manner, I suppose).  This sounds very Dr. Ruth, but for all his soothing style, Mr. Qadhi advocates Sharia law. Read this link for a sense of the ways Sharia law constitutes a violation of women’s basic human rights.

Near the end of the article we read this quote:

“American Muslims, Qadhi told the audience, needed to abide by the laws of their country, understanding that had they been born in Palestine or Iraq, their ‘responsibilities would be different.’ He did not elaborate.”

Time and again, Qadhi renounces violence on the one hand, while implying foreigners and those who renounce citizenship may use violence – without coming right out and saying so.

Later in the profile we learn that Qadhi “hopes that the world will someday fully adhere to his faith.”  Qadhi views government as a place for his 7th Century views – and says so – and encourages his many students to share this view. In this context Qadhi’s qualified renunciation of violence is less comforting.

The Times does, near the end of the piece, add this: “In Europe, some policy makers argue that nonmilitant fundamentalists are the problem, not the solution, because their rigid interpretation of Islam fuels the very radicalization they profess to fight.” Ya think?

There are reasonable grounds for debate on how our government should relate to fundamentalist extremists. We at the Secular Coalition for America advocate a foreign policy that protects so-called blasphemers. We oppose laws, here and abroad, relying on scriptural edicts to impede the rights of women or sexual minorities.  Mr. Qadhi expressly seeks a Muslim theocratic state, in foreign lands and in the United States.

Because the reaction against the tactics of Congressman King are so understandly strong, and because liberals are now so wary of condoning prejudice against Muslims, I worry that many people, and potentially our government, bends over backwards to label extremists as “moderate.” Five students apparently turning to terrorism is a significant number and a basis for real concern.

Mr. Qadhi seeks to grow his fundamentalist movement in America. I suggest that liberals and conservative, without stigmatizing Muslims as a group, must face the stark reality that there is indeed a growing fundamentalist movement that specifically rejects the basic principles of our form of government as well as the basic human rights that we hold dear.  We’ve seen this from the Christian Fundamentalists for a long time. We should not hesitate to call this kind of extremism what it is: dangerous. It is no less dangerous because Mr. Qadhi speaks with an American accent, says dude, and has a platform at Yale. The media has an obligation to lay this reality on the table unflinchingly.

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Comments

I agree very much with the warnings contained in your blog ,Sean - It's Extremism, Dude. The fundamental problem (if you'll excuse the pun) is the dangerous-to-humanity realization that all - or almost all - religions contain elements of believers who can be fairly labeled Fundamentalists. Christianity has a particularly virulent brand of fundamentalism that is trying its best to take charge of US government policies, as has been widely noted. But Judaism, Hinduism, certainly Islam all possess their share of non-thinkers who believe so strongly in ancient, wrong ideas that they are willing to kill to "protect" their dangerous "faiths." For a wide-ranging view of Fundamentalism world-wide, I refer all readers to The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, by Karen Armstrong, Ballentine Books, 2000. My immediate fear is that at the heart of much of the unrest in the Arab world is driven by Muslim fundamentalists who see in the cry for "freedom" and "democracy" a sneaky way to reach their goal of converting these backward countries from brutal secular dictatorships to even more ignorant and brutal dictatorships of the "mullahs," ala Iran. I hope someone can persuasively rebut my fears of fundamentalism, but you're going to find me to be a hard sell. Herb Henderson

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