Proud to be “extremist” – the West’s label for Muslim dissidents

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Shawwal 09, 1427 2006-11-01

Perspectives

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Perspectives, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 9, Shawwal, 1427)

We at Crescent routinely criticise “extremists” of various kinds within the Islamic movement, whether they be sectarian extremists, or militant extremists, who regard military jihad as the be-all and end-all of the struggle of the Islamic movement; or religious extremists, who reduce Islam to nothing more than personal or spiritual religiosity. I suppose the logical flipside of this – although I don’t think we have ever claimed this before – is that we at Crescent are the “moderates” of the Islamic movement; the ones within the movement who seek to balance the various elements of the Islamic movement, rather than focusing on any one at the expense of the others; and who try to be “progressive” and forward-looking without losing touch with our roots and traditions, while also being traditional without being conservative or backward. But actually the term “moderate” has become so tainted that I don’t think we want to claim it, however it is defined.

The problem with all these terms is, of course, of definition. A position that may appear moderate to some will be regarded as extremist by others. Much also depends on the starting point from which one defines these positions. We all basically regard ourselves as “moderate” and everyone else as more or less extreme in one way or another relative to our own position. Thus we at Crescent are regarded as extremists by many whom we regard as moderates, and entirely too moderate by those we criticise as extremist. The difference, of course, is that our understanding of moderation is correct while others’ understandings are misguided! Or perhaps, more seriously, that we, sitting in the middle, take a broad view of the movement as a whole, including all within it, however misguided they may be, while others tend to define the movement more narrowly, excluding those that they regard as extremists.

All this is, of course, argued from within the Islamic movement. Different issues arise when these terms are used as labels for Muslims, particularly in non-Muslim discourses about the Islamic movement. In this context, “moderate” and “extremist” are simply a couple of the many labels used to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Muslims from the Western point of view; or acceptable and unacceptable ones; or tolerable and intolerable ones. These are not new labels, of course, but they come in and out of favour in general usage as the discourse shifts. With Condoleezza Rice having spoken of the US supporting “emerging moderate forces” in the Middle East (as opposed to the democratization of the region), and the British government and cultural establishment having launched a war on ‘extremism’ in Britain in recent months (see p. 20), they seem to be back in vogue. And it is in this context that we at Crescent, and indeed all Muslims everywhere, however we may position ourselves in the Islamic movement, should be prepared to be counted as extremists.

For what does it mean, in this context, to be extremist? It means that we believe that Islam represents more than personal religiosity, but extends also to collective morality; it means that Islam stands for asserting the rights of the weak and the dispossessed against the powerful and arrogant, rather than turning the other cheek; it means that we reject the West’s claims to represent universal values and to have the right to impose those values on others; it means that we reject that West’s right, via spurious international bodies such as the UN, to allocate the sovereignty over Muslim lands to ideologically-driven European groups such as the zionists; it means that we support the right of oppressed peoples to resist imperialism, in any of its many forms; it means that we support the right of resistance movements to use force against imperialists where necessary and appropriate, for example where the imperialists show no compunction in using force to assert their own interests.

The reasons that such extremism must be unacceptable to the powers-that-be in the West are clear enough, of course. But Muslims, particularly those in the West, must not be browbeaten into silence or submission by such labels or tactics. We have every right to dissent from Western policies, and the duty as Muslims in the West to do what we can to protect our fellow Western citizens from making these mistakes, as well of course as the victims of these policies. If that makes us extremists in the eyes of some, so be it; in that context, all Muslims should indeed be proud to say that we are extremists.

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