Foreign Policy Blogs

Extremist Tolerance?

Christopher Hitchens, on Slate.com, has written a piece on Guantanamo Bay and the current Presidential policies that has made me re-consider my understanding of tolerance (at least for a time). After much consideration, though, I have to say that this Hitchens article is not very compelling. He basically argues that the Guantanamo Bay Prison Camps are madrassahs in disguise because they are “dedicated to the fervent practice of the most extreme version of just one religion.”

Obama’s administration is supposedly “taking the extreme as the norm.” The reason given by Hitchens is that Obama is referring to the idea of the Muslim world as a whole – a complete entity. Hitchens reminds us that it is the extremists who are fighting for this concept of a new Muslim world. He says it is precisely the aim of the jihadists to bring it all under one rulership. I highly doubt, though, that Obama was referring to the Umma in the same way, for example, that a group such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir does. Perhaps we need to differentiate between the Umma of the radicals and extremists and the world of the vast majority of Muslims, who certainly do not first and foremost reject the concepts of citizenship and good governance by secular and democratic authorities. In being tolerant of certain practices among Muslims, such as hejab for women, Obama is certainly not adopting the reactionary policies of extremists and rejecting the secular concepts behind democracy.

I recently discussed this article with a colleague from the Institute for the Science of Religion (Central Asian Studies) in Switzerland. He didn’t reject the Hitchens thesis in this article but instead said that Obama was taking the same approach as the most extremist Muslims by quoting the Quran the way he did. If the President accepts that the basis for authority and decision-making must be based on the Quran then he is waging the battle with the extremists in a literary and text-based manner. He says that it is the most fundamentalist Muslims who only rely on the words of the Quran (while most Muslims only know small fragments of the text), and therefore, the President should have been making more logical arguments based on conflict resolution and peace-building tactics.

 

Author

Karin Esposito

Karin Esposito is blogging on religion and politics from her base in Central Asia. Currently, she is the Project Manager for the Tajikistan Dialogue Project in Dushanbe. The Project is run through the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies with the support of PDIV of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The aim of the project is to establish practical mechanisms for co-existence and peaceful conflict resolution between Islamic and secular representatives in Tajikistan. After receiving a Juris Doctorate from Boston University School of Law in 2007, she worked in Tajikistan for the Bureau of Human Rights and later as a Visting Professor of Politics and Law at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP). Ms. Esposito also holds a Master's in Contemporary Iranian Politics (2007) from the School of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran and a Master's in International Relations (2003) from the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (GIIDS) in Switzerland.

Areas of Focus:
Islam; Christianity; Secularism;

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