In light of yet another wave of terrorism here in the UK, today’s Radio 4 PM programme (03/07/07) carried an interesting discussion in which it was suggested that theology was as important a factor in the radicalization of young Muslims as British foreign policy. The argument put forward seemed to be suggesting that an Islamic theology, which espouses Islamism (the intertwining of religion with the establishment of a state of Islam and the understanding of Jihad as violent overthrow) was simply being ignored, marginalized or banned rather than engaged with on theological grounds. For a liberal, secular nation that would prefer to keep religion out of the public square, that’s a challenging assertion. But surely it’s an obvious, if often overlooked factor in the radicalization process.Obviously, I’m coming from a Christian theological position rather than an Islamic one, and therefore it’s not for me to pass comment on Islam or it’s theology, but it must be self evident from the history of religion that the interpretation of sacred texts can radicalize followers and shape their ideologies in ways that lead to extreme acts of inhumanity and violence – even genocide.
What’s also important to note, however, especially in regards to this suggested solution, is that it’s extremely difficult to dialoague with those who hold radicalized or fundamentalist theological views. Such people are not the best at engaging in open and generous dialogue.
That said, if theology is proven to be a significant factor in radicalization, then it shouldn’t be ignored as a tool in the fight against terrorism just because it is a theological solution and not a political one (if the two can truly be separated). Government policy may not allow for negotiation with terrorists, or a giving in to their demands. But what about an open, public theological engagement with those already radicalized (or those vulnerable to radicalization) and those of more moderate theological position? Surely anything is worth trying, even theology!
NB: Today (4th July), the fantastic news came through that the BBC journalist Alan Johnston has finally been released by those holding him hostage. While it’s clear that Hamas played a major factor in his release, I was also interested to hear reports that a respected Muslim leader had told Alan’s captors, The Army of Islam, that his imprisonment was un-Islamic and contrary to the teachings of the Koran. However, as a face-saving theological out, it was made clear that the act of releasing him would constitute an act worthy of Islam.