July 27, 2007

From radical to liberal Islam – Is intrinsic change possible?


Several years ago, I wrote a short piece whilst at University whose topic was ‘change’. Upon reading it once again recently, I got to thinking about how it might apply to personal change in relation to religious doctrine and beliefs, not just adaptation but rather, deep seated and cultural transformation among Muslims living for example, in the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

I refer to the tens of thousands of Muslims that form part of our communities and in particular, what proportion of them may harbour radical elements of their faith. Studies reveal that a small but significant segment not only sympathise with their radical colleagues but have a propensity to consider and carry out violent acts against westerners in spite of an entire lifetime living amongst and appearing to outwardly enjoy the benefits of the societies in which they reside. How could this be? I should add that the percentage of Islamists who pose a danger to their communities within for example, the United States would be very, very small, perhaps minuscule, but as we noted with the London bombings and the 9/11 attacks it does not take many to inflict harm on a massive scale.

I am specifically interested in those who have this radical susceptibility to which I refer and whether, through years of immersion within western culture, they can change in a fundamental sense, moving away from considerations of the extreme or moderately fanatical elements of Islamic thought - moving therefore, from radical to liberal Islam.

It poses a question, does ones external environment and the behavioural modifications and modes of personal conduct associated with such, lead to permanent change. I guess we need to consider the question of change as it relates to the common oxford definition, one that refers to a person 'making or becoming different', because of environmental factors. This obliges me to consider that age-old concept of modernism, in particular, the modernist concept of a 'true (constant) self'.

I am of the opinion that participation within our way of life does indeed involve being changed and changing oneself however, the change is not intrinsic, and accordingly, the modernism concept of a 'true self' is compelling.

I do not wish to delve into comprehensive considerations about “concepts of self”, as one could write a thesis in this area alone; it is easier then, to restrict the discussion to the more discernible elements of Muslims within our social order.

All societies have unique characteristics that provoke different thoughts and subsequent actions amongst it participants. They also all have there own grand and historical elements that present a multifaceted culture both as a whole and within its parts. Even as there are various consistencies and diffusion amongst different groups, disciplines, and sub-cultures, a person (in this case Muslim) may at least, be influenced by a society’s ‘different norms and values’ … ‘patterns of power and authority’ … ‘different standards’ … [and] ‘modes of expression’ (Kolb, David, 1981 p.233). The influence of a society is exacted circuitously upon individuals through the processes and norms of its institutions and this represents but one way that a culture, exacts change (the accepted social order) upon partakers. Whether this influence inhibits or promotes real change toward westernisation, depends on the person’s disposition and worldview (the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world), and we know how much this can vary between different cultures and religions. At another level, the extent of change, obligatory or otherwise, will contrast amongst individuals again depending on their worldview, (which also includes their deep seated beliefs), but also made subjective by their education, specifically the disciplines one may study. Incidentally, education of even the highest standards does not; in itself guarantee to purge ones deep-seated and fundamental beliefs.

Of course one can also mount a plausible contrasting argument on the belief that any modifications of behaviour as a result of environmental factors are in fact indicative of real and lasting change, arguing that humans are ‘fragmented’, ‘fluid’ and ‘constructed’; that ones experiences lend to the construction of self – classic post modernism, (this is in contrast to modernism views expressed and defined with terms such as, 'fixed' and having a 'true', 'unified', and essential self). Uncertainties in relation to which concept of self applies arise when one acknowledges the difference in human modes of conduct, in differing life roles. We may be one self as a mother, sister, or brother, a different self as an employee and different again depending on our roles. The different contexts create a problem, thus we mistakenly confuse behavioural changes and environmentally induced responses with concepts of self, believing that they are more representative of Post Modernism thinking. Here I cannot agree, imagine if you will moving to a strictly Muslim nation, behaviorally you may present differently but can you really expect to discard all that you have been, all that has been indoctrinated into your being through socialisation and guardians over time within your home culture? Will your fundamental worldview shift at all, let alone profoundly?

Like all humans, Muslims aspire to certain universal attributes of character and whilst these may differ amongst them, the majority (like all of us) seek to be content, happy, and good as based around an established worldview (and self) that minimally takes into account race, gender, class, geography and present and past cultures that they, may have experienced. There is a lot to take into account hence, this needs to be considered as part of our attempt to understand the inner beliefs and ruminations of the radical Islamist and the depth of hatred toward anyone whose beliefs run contrary.

The process of being changed and changing as a person lends to the exploration of feelings of, and about life goals and purpose. Thus membership and participation in our, or indeed any society/culture facilitates and contributes to a process whereby, 'the meaning of … personal directions' is explored thus guiding the person toward that which is the essential, already constructed self, so as to move toward, ' … that self which one already is' (Rogers, Carl R. 1967). Therefore, it goes that in spite of all life experiences and the resulting outward change exhibited by Islamists, age-old questions linger. It is as if there is inherent within, a quest to move toward the 'true self'; that self which has always been. As Carl Roger's states, an ‘individual moves toward being, knowingly and acceptingly, the process which he inwardly and actually is … listening to the deepest recesses of his … being'. As an example, I vividly recall a conversation with a group of young (twenty something) Bosnian Serbs as we discussed news reports about Bosnian Serb soldiers systematically executing as many as 2,000 Muslim prisoners after taking the UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica. To my disbelief, the young Australian born Serbs completely condoned the actions of their compatriots overseas. Probing for explanations one of them simply said, “I don’t know, I just feel it here,” pointing to the centre of his chest, added another, “It’s in the blood”.
Accordingly, it is my belief that we can never discount the possibility that radical Muslims or simply those susceptible to elements of such will remain a threat to our way of life, not merely those from aboard but unfortunately and most alarmingly, the home grown variety.
We humans have a central 'true self' that remains intact throughout our lives in spite of society’s dominant contemporary and historical permanence, its institutional processes, values, ideology, culture and sub-cultures.
If I am right, even partially so, what is the most constructive way to deal with our local Muslim populations? Wouldn't any attempt to indoctrinate them in terms of western values be an exercise in futility? Is acceptance and tolerance the answer? Perhaps as a way of teaching them the values of mutual respect for all cultures and race.
What do you think?
References:
Rogers, Carl R. 1967, 'To be that self which one truly is': A therapist's view of personal goals', On Becoming a Person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy, Constable, London, pp. 163-182.

Kolb, David A. 1981, 'Learning styles and disciplinary differences' in Chickerine, Arthur W. & Associates, The Modern American College, Jossey Bass, San Francisco, pp. 232 - 235 and 251 - 252.

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7 comments:

WomanHonorThyself said...

Brilliant and hopeful essay however until the day these alleged moderates are willing to RALLY en masse to denounce terrorism and anti semitism I dont believe a word..........

Donald Douglas said...

Hi Ottavio! Thanks for commenting over on my page. I'll give this post here a careful read in the morning - I'm heading to bed.

Have a great day, or night, whatever the case may be!

American Interests said...

womanh'thyself: Once again thanks for your comments. I realise that my stance was negative but we must not delude ourselves into thinking that we're safe within our own borders. Oh, and I plan to visit your site..

ddouglas: Thank you Donald, I look forward to your take, even if only brief...

WomanHonorThyself said...

please drop by often..u are most welcome!!!

Incognito said...

Interesting what the Serbs said about "it's in the blood". It's in the blood because those hatreds have been passed down through the generations. Hatred, racism etc. is a learned emotion (I posted about that). Children aren't born to hate.. at least the majority of normal kids. Their parents teach them to have prejudices.

Anything is possible if you *choose* to change or accept or love others different from yourself. The fundamental problem with Islam is that it so forcefully tells its adherents that non-Muslims are infidels and we know what they say about infidels. They would have to totally re-interpret the Koran to make any substantial progress towards acceptance of western norms. This isn't going to happen, at least any time soon. And as I have mentioned, there is, in fact, a growing trend towards conservatism. so, I don't think there's much hope for them at all.
sadly.

American Interests said...

Incog: Like Me, you are not that hopeful. There are many, even in our own societies who would censure us for this. Nevertheless, are we excessively negative or exceedingly realistic? The evidence would suggest the latter. Thanks, I welcome your observations.

Incognito said...

Realistic. What I see and observe makes me so.

Don't get me wrong, I am a very hopeful person and I hope things turn around, but that would take a lot of effort on the part of the Muslim people, and I don't see that happening ..any time soon.