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.

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