Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thoughts on extremism - via Qasim Rashid

I just finished a new book by Qasim Rashid, The Wrong Kind of Muslim. And while Mr. Rashid urged his readers at the end to share the story with others, I would have written this brief essay regardless.

Mr. Rashid is an Ahmadi Muslim and he writes of the experiences both of himself as well as a brief history of the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, specifically in his birth nation of Pakistan. Frankly, prior to my reading of this book (which I found at the local library and picked up just because I found the title to be interesting), I knew of the two main sects of Islam (Sunni and Shia) and the battles that exist between them but not much more beyond that. I am familiar with the basics of Islamic teaching and have had very interesting conversations with several Muslim friends, including the Imam of a mosque in Georgia years ago, but this book was a bit of an eye-opener. And not in a particularly positive way - though Mr. Rashid strives to be as positive as he can in his personal outlook.

He details some of the horrific crimes - and they are indeed crimes regardless of how they may be viewed by Sunni Muslims in Pakistan - committed against not just Ahmadis but against any minority in Pakistan. The stories are particularly gripping and stay with the reader. The belief that perseverance against such oppression and aggression is a positive but it seems almost futile in some ways. He offers some comparison to the civil rights movement in America but I feel that is shallow and not entirely valid based on the differences between the two nations from political, cultural and religious viewpoints. I would like to believe that his positive faith in human nature will be rewarded but I fear that the more likely result is a worsening of the situation - perhaps something akin to Somalia in the 1990's - rather than a non-violent belief and push for improvement.

Something else to point out is a book should not be judged by its cover. While I found the title to be intriguing enough to pick it up and read it, I did attract some odd looks from people who saw me carrying the book. I live in the US and there is a pervasive negative view of Muslims (regardless of sect) among a segment of the population. On more than one occasion I tried to explain that while the issues may be specific to adherents of Islam, its lessons were not limited to just that. The key underlying point here lies in the understanding that extremism is not limited to any one religion, culture, nation or any other grouping. In this, Mr. Rashid is spot on and more can (and should!) learn from this point. In the US, we have extremists of many different varieties. I do not agree with most of them but I have the right to disagree (much the same way that they have the right to express those extremist views so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others) - something that is not enjoyed in Pakistan based on Mr. Rashid's observations and experience. But we must take advantage of the right to express that disagreement so that narrow-minded, extremist views do not pervade the responsible mainstream!

Knowledge is power - another key point of Mr. Rashid's and one with which I fully agree. The more we know, the better we can and will be. Extremism, unfortunately, often devolves to the lowest common denominator among its followers. It abhors knowledge outside of its own limited realm and therefore will work hard to punish, abuse, or demonize it so that it cannot take root. But when extremism is allowed to do so, the result will be as predictable as what Mr. Rashid has described in his book. I highly recommend you read it in order to gain a better understanding of what can become if we choose to continue to ignore it.

Random end of year musing

It's the end of another year and I have still tried to keep up with this blog. Granted, it's taken a bit of a hit lately as I've seemingly not had the desire to write here at the same times I've actually had the time to do so (that sounds redundant, doesn't it?). I actually have a blog post that I set aside back in October on something that struck my fancy but it is still sitting in my inbox doing nobody any good at this point. Hopefully I'll be able to finish it up and post it here soon. Fingers crossed, anyway...

For those who actually do read this blog, I should like to point out that I have not abandoned writing altogether at the end of this year. Indeed, I have actually done a fair amount of writing lately, just not here. But for the year (up until the end of October or so), I averaged at least a couple of posts between here and my professional blog - which is kept completely separate from  here for my own reasons. At the end of October, I was able to really kick onto paper the beginning of what I hope to be a decent book idea that I've been pushing around in my head, seeking the best way to open the story. It finally hit me and I was able to finally get it onto paper (thanks, in part, to a wonderful writing class I took around the same time). And when work and home life affords me the opportunity, I take a bit of time to add more to the story. The ideas still bounce around a great deal in my mind but the biggest key is getting them onto paper and, for that, I am most pleased with the progress. It's slow but it's a beginning. Each step simply takes me closer to the end of the story - or at least a decent stopping point.

I will try not to neglect this blog quite so much but we'll see how things progress. The one thing in its favor is my ADD tendencies to switch focus on different subjects at the drop of a hat - so switching gears from book to professional to personal blog will hopefully not be such a challenge. And, let's face it, the only way to ensure that I can improve my writing skills is to continue to use them. So hopefully there will be more here to say in the upcoming year.

I set no goals publicly, though. I have my own thoughts on what I hope to accomplish but I have to accept that life will throw things in the way and I cannot account for them so public goals will simply be subsumed to my personal goals in this regard. Hopefully I will be successful at them. Fingers crossed.