Tarek Elgawhary, president of the Coexist Foundation; Susan Hayward, senior advisor for religion and inclusive societies at the United States Institute of Peace; and Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, discuss engaging religious communities in countering violent extremism, with Peter Mandaville, professor of international affairs at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, moderating. The event took place as part of CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Program.
MANDAVILLE: We thought it would be useful to convene an event that would bring together a panel of specialists who have actually been involved in the day-to-day work of trying to find constructive ways to engage religion and religious actors in the context of efforts to counter violent extremism. And so the discussion we’re going to have today is very much focused on the very practical work that they’ve been doing.
And I’ll briefly introduce each of them to you. There is a full bio for each of them available in the agenda and program that you picked up. But just starting immediately to my left, we have Humera Khan, who is the executive director of Muflehun, a nonprofit organization which for years has worked on a number of programs, run a number of programs that have focused on the various dimensions of the broad equation around violent extremism. Should also add, because this isn’t in her bio, that for the better part of the last year she’s been working at the United Nations in the counterterrorism directorate of the U.N. Security Council. So for those of you who may be interested in learning more about how these issues were approached in a multilateral context, we’ve got someone who can do that.
Next to Humera is Susan Hayward, who’s a senior advisor on religion and inclusive societies at the United States Institute of Peace, someone who has a deep and long track record of work at the interface of religion and peacebuilding in a wide variety of contexts around the world. And next to her is Tarek Elgawhary, who is the founder and president of the Coexist Foundation, which is also a nonprofit that works on issues around education, pluralism, and social innovation. In some of his other work as a community leader and as an expert on the interface of religion and CVE, he’s been involved in some very practical work around the role of institutions of religious education and religious scholarship and their contributions to CVE.
Couple of very brief procedural notes: First of all, I wanted to state that this conversation is on the record. So you’re welcome to make use of the information that you receive today. The format essentially will be as follows: It’s more of a moderated discussion rather than a series of presentations from our panelists. So I’ll begin by asking each of them a kind of fairly general question as a first round, and then we’ll to a second round of questions from me, kind of drilling down slightly on more specific points, but then opening the conversation very quickly thereafter to the rest of the table so that we can hear from you. And the format we’ll use there is one that I’m sure you’re all very familiar with. If you’d like to enter the conversation, please just elevate your name card thusly. If you want to come in very briefly with a small intervention or interjection of a point that’s currently in play, we’re happy to sort of recognize two-finger interventions. But I would ask you to please not use two-finger waving as a tactic in order to make a twenty-five minute speech. (Laughter.)
So let me begin by posing to you a sort of conundrum that Melissa [Nozell] and I opened our report with, which was the fact that it’s been our observation that everyone involved in countering or preventing violent extremism kind of operates with the assumption that religion is part of that equation somehow, either as a contributing factor towards violent extremism or potentially as part of the solutions that we might want to explore for preventing violent extremism. But rarely do we actually kind of fully explore our assumptions and some of the core ideas we have about the relationship between religion and violent extremism. So I just wanted to begin by asking each of you—beginning, perhaps, with Humera—how you think about the intersection of religion and violent extremism and what you think is most important for us to bear in mind when engaging this topic.
KHAN: Thank you, Peter. And also thank you to CFR for actually hosting this discussion. I think I am definitely in the camp which feels that religion is necessarily a part of any sort of prevention and countering violent extremism, necessarily, right? It’s just like—so, when you look at the PVE and CVE spectrum of solutions which are needed, or the strategies which are needed, every part of civil society has to be engaged. This is not an either/or thing which is necessarily—it has to necessarily be led by governments and law enforcement. But every part of civil society, including faith-based actors—and the spectrum of faith-based actors have to be involved. And it’s not just the leadership and the clergy. And so we have to create space and safe spaces for the involvement.
But if you take it a step into—you know, and so we talk about things—of the involvement in prevention and intervention. But I think you also have to look at why are people joining violent extremist organizations. And this is now the spectrum of extremist organizations, whether you look at the al-Qaida and the Daesh-related ones, or you look at the language which is used by the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists. And the issues which they are talking about, the people who have joined, they talk about they’re looking for belonging. They’re looking for identity. They’re looking for a sense of purpose—significance in different ways. And extremist organizations are providing them an avenue to actualize those through action.
And this is a place where instead of, you know, extremist organizations providing that channel, this is—this is a place where you would expect that religious communities would actually—are a better place to help people with their identity figure out a sense of purpose. We know, for example, just about every faith tradition feels very strongly about social justice, right? They feel strongly about service. These are avenues which actually help meet the needs of people and what they’re looking for. So having religious communities be involved in the prevention space, necessarily.
But when you start talking about people who have been indoctrinated in some context—right, big or small, but it’s there—at that point in time you have to deal with the ideology. And what is—what is interesting is that the starting point for people who are recruited into extremism is almost never ideology. There is various other grievances on the ground which actually create the vulnerability. And if you tackle it at that stage, prevention—you know, you can do it in different ways. But once a person has been indoctrinated, at that point in time you must deal with the ideology.
And that’s a special place, actually, for religious communities because, you know, we know that straight counternarratives do not work. If you just disagree with the person it doesn’t change their mind, unless there is moral authority behind it. And clergy and religious actors are one of those few spaces, right, in which there is moral authority. And we need to make sure that the institutions are independent enough, right, and not coopted by various stakeholders, and they have the trust to actually—to be—you know, be part of that solution set.
MANDAVILLE: Thanks for that. I think it’s a very interesting point that you make about the idea that religious leaders may at some point necessarily become involved in discussions about theology, once that dimension of the issue rears its head. But that often that’s not always the best starting point for thinking about the role of religious leaders. Their sole purpose is not just to provide theological antidotes, but that as, you know, their role as broader leaders in society with respect to, you know, a desire for the pursuit of justice, serving the community, means that they have other roles and purposes that they can play. And I think that when we get around with Tarek in the second round we’ll hear in more detail about specifically the kinds of roles that figures of religious authority might be able to play.
Susie, can I ask how you kind of see this issue at its—at its broadest register?
HAYWARD: Thank you, Peter and Irina. And it’s wonderful to be on a panel with Humera and Tarek, and to see a lot of familiar faces around the table.
So, you know, this debate about what religion has to do with it is a debate that’s been going on for some thirty years in the field of religion, violence, and peacebuilding. And there’s a lot of ways in which I hear echoes of this debate as it—as it refers to violent extremist movements now of this larger debate. And I think the answer is that religion has something to do with it, but not everything to do with it, but not nothing to do with it. (Laughs.)
We often hear—you know, it kind of varies between two different extremes in answering this question. People either argue that religion is just a veneer for political and economic issues, and politicians or extremist actors are just instrumentalizing religion, which in this case would mean that a lot of those—a lot of the community members are kind of presented as folks who don’t have agency or autonomy and are just being manipulated along a chessboard by those who are wielding religion in order to manipulate them. Or, on the other side, there’s a lot of emphasis on some of the theological narratives, the arguments being made within religious law to justify certain violent act or exclusionary positions or tactics. And then that means that the antidote to it is then just replacing bad religion with good religion, and that that will solve the problem and people won’t move towards extremism.
And maybe it’s the fact that I studied Buddhism in my PhD program, but I think there’s a middle way to that. I think there is a way in which there are religions, not just a veneer. Certainly, there are political and economic and larger social drivers that are also feeding into it, but there’s also religious needs and interests. And some of those are related to doctrine, but some of those, like Humera was saying, are also about being a part of a community, having a sense of meaning, addressing with issues of trauma after experiencing violence or loss, a pursuit of justice and concern about situations of injustice around the world. And religion is also speaking to some of those needs or those interests. And that’s drawing people towards religious extremism.
But, again, it’s intersecting with these political and economic issues. So the solution to it, when you then turn to, OK, so what—if religion has something to do with what’s driving it, what does religion have to do with then trying to transform some of those drivers. And there, I think too we need to not just see engagements of religious communities or religious actors as being about transforming those religious drivers but see—as has already been said—to see religious actors as being able to address some of the larger drivers that intersect and mutually feed one another.
So we did—I worked with Melissa, and we did an exercise a couple years ago where we brought religious actors from around the world who are engaging with violent extremists in trying to prevent or counter violent extremist movements. And we had them lay out what are all the drivers of violent extremism that you see in your communities? And you had the usual baskets, right? You had economic issues, psychological issues. You had—you had political grievances and so on. And then we said to them, what are—which are the drivers that you are addressing, yourself, already, or that you think religious actors are well-positioned to address?
And the big ones that they look—that they address—I mean, yes, counternarratives, more constructive, inclusive theologies were in there. But there were also things like poverty. A lot of religious communities are working on issues of economic injustice or economic marginalization, finding jobs, helping with jobs skills building, education, trying to improve education systems, provide education to particularly poor communities who don’t have access to good education. And then some of those issues of being able to provide community, belonging, means to address issues of perceived justice through constructive nonviolent means is also a mechanism.
So that opened up for us, and I think for also some policymakers, a broader sense of how religious actors are positioned within their societies to address not just these religious drivers, but some of these other political and economic drivers as well, in ways that can also be mutually reinforcing, right? So if you have religious actors in communities addressing some of these political and economic issues by virtue of the ways in which they talk about those issues and address those issues, they are also getting at some of those religious narratives, religious senses of belonging, and community, and purpose, and meaning as well.
MANDAVILLE: So I already sense this sort of emerging theme around the idea of religious leaders and actors as being relevant beyond just the pure articulation of theology, but to kind of talking about a broader range of social inequalities.
HAYWARD: Yeah, but not to dismiss theology and narratives as well. Just to broaden it beyond that.
MANDAVILLE: Oh, no, no. But—and, right. And one can have the theologically informed engagement on that broader set of social issues, absolutely.
So, Tarek, can I invite you to enlighten us on your views on the subject?
ELGAWHARY: Thank you for CFR and for all of you and the panelists for inviting me.
One of the things I think you notice in the Muslim world is that religion in general is much more of a factor and much more of an influencing factor in day-to-day life than it is in the West, whether it be—whether, you know, Western Europe or in North America. And that goes for whether it’s Islam, the dominant religion, or, you know, branches of Christianity. People are just more attuned to religion in general. And if you look at religious programming on the TV, if you look at the amount of books that are published, recently we had the, you know, annual book fair in Cairo. If you just look at the sheer volume of output of religion—and not all of it good, I’m saying. Just religion in general, that which is in the name of religion, it’s a lot more than it is—than we might be used to. So religion is a force—is a force of influence.
The Egyptian national fatwa office, for example, is issuing tens of thousands of fatwas a week. That means there are tens of thousands of people asking religious questions to the muftis in this one office in this one nation every single week. So religion is a force—is an influencing force. And therefore, it would go to reason—stand to reason that when it comes to the issue of violence and extremism, it’s also an influencing force. And the people that we’ve trained—the Somalis that we’ve trained, the Nigerians that we’ve trained, or ISIS fighters that have been captured, religion, the theology, the misconception of what Islam says about this or what Islam says about statecraft, what Islam says about religious minorities, about Shia, Sunnis, all of that is definitely front and center of the conversation.
So in the recruiting of—you know, when Shabaab—when Al-Shabaab recruits, when Boko Haram recruits, when ISIS recruits, theology is used as a front and center type of piece. However, when you—when you scratch beneath the surface, there are many more root causes. So, Boko Haram, for example, they use drugs. They actually drug children, and that’s how they recruit—you know, mechanically that’s what they’re recruiting. Now, the speech and the videos and stuff is all the veneer of religion. I personally believe that the, you know, socioeconomic divide is one of the problems, which is why through the foundation and our social enterprise, the Coexist Campaign, you know, we’re working with coffee farmers in sub-Saharan African to try to find another mechanism to get people out of poverty and out of conflict.
But when we’re dealing with flash areas like Nigeria, Somalia, and the regions that were under ISIS control, it’s very clear that religion, the theology, the narrative is there. And, look, you have to understand, one of the things that I’ve been trying to advocate for some time now is that there’s a spectrum of extremist thought within the family of Islam. And maybe later we can talk about that. But for—if you look at, like, the formation of these Islamist groups in the 1920s, you know, starting with the Muslim Brotherhood and moving forward—to which I argue that what we have today is somehow an heir to these organizations—for this project, it has been a colossal failure since the 1920s. Yet, it keeps going.
So, what’s going to keep somebody failing decade after decade? It’s got to be much more than guns and money and glory. It’s got to be some sort of ideology that’s going to keep this type of mentality going. And you find this mentality—when you isolate these people, when you talk to them, it’s definitely front and center. And therefore, engaging religious leaders is a necessity, not only—it’s not the only solution, but it is a necessity that they have a type of influence and recruiting power that a government’s definitely not going to have, that NGOs are not going to have.
In Egypt, for example, one of the figures in the south, Sheikh Idrisil Idrisiyya, who’s a Sufi leader of the South, he holds his gatherings in the stadium. I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of people there. The government would never—the Egyptian government would never be able to organize people to something like that. So the government realized this, and uses him and his influence to help sort of reconcile tribal differences in the Sinai and in the western part of Egypt. So these figures can be used, should be used, should be leveraged in the right area of influence. And maybe we can talk a little bit about that.
MANDAVILLE: OK, great. Thanks very much, Tarek.
I wanted to now ask each of you a question with a little bit more of a precise focus to it. Humera, one of the ongoing areas of discussion and debate around this issue is the question of where gender fits into all of this this. There are some who have argued that there are specific roles that women may have in efforts to counter, prevent violent extremism. There are those who have pointed out, such as Melissa and I do in our report, that often when one thinks about religious leaders one tends to think of those who hold titles and positions within formal hierarchies of religion, who tend to be men, but who are not always necessarily the most relevant voices to engage. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you’ve thought about and integrated the issue of gender into the work that you’ve done.
KHAN: So we approach this from the perspective that, well, women have agency. We have to recognize that, and that’s what we’re working towards. But also recognizing that when we are working on preventing and countering violent extremism, our objective is around reducing—dissuading people from the violent pieces. And the objective of any of this programming is not women’s empowerment. So in certain contexts, women’s empowerment might be the way to reach your end, but in and of itself it’s a different objective. So we have to be very clear that we do not instrumentalize any gender initiative by saying—by making it about PVE and CVE.
I completely agree with the approach that Melissa and you have taken in that when we’re talking about religion, we have to separate out religious actors. And they are not just your formal clergy, who very often exclude women, right? If you’re talking about religious influencers, right, and you talk about even religious instruction, it is not just coming through the clergy. It is coming through many, many other channels. And women are necessarily a part of it. We also have to think about youth. We have to think about peer instruction and peer learning, because that’s certainly a dynamic which has—the world has shifted towards. And so programing is necessarily inclusive, but just because everything else should be as well.
So when we have run programs, we necessarily have a gender balance, because that’s the world we should be living in. It’s not about this is specifically only about women or not. Having said that, we have done, for example, training of teachers at women’s madrasas, right? And that’s a very specific role because of how they are educating young people, right? So we have to—we have to—you know, again, when we talk about the values of how we want an inclusive society, right, and we want one where there is respect across the spectrum and we don’t want societies to go towards extremism, it also means that the process by which we get there should reflect those values, right? So any sort of PVE and CVE programming should necessarily be inclusive. The policymaking process has to reflect that.
And so, you know, gender is, right? Women are a part of society, and we have to deal with that. And so programming is necessarily going to include them. I think the concern, thought, and the challenge, actually, in this space, is that there are so many PVE and CVE programming which is very politicized. Which means that—and the label, CVE and PVE, has been misused for all types of other agendas. And so even the label of some of these programs is so tainted and so contaminated that there is reluctance from civil society actors, right, including women, to actually engage in a space which has been, in many cases, coopted by governments and military interests.
And so we have to ensure that we are not playing into that space, we are not playing into the stereotypes about women are only these protective factors, or we can instrumentalize women and any sort of women’s initiative or gender initiatives, actually, in this—in this larger PVE/CVE space.
MANDAVILLE: OK. Susie, give the centrality of—in sort of national security discussions these days of issues such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida, and various other Salafi jihadi groups, it’s very easy to have a conversation like the one we’re having today and never get beyond Islam or the Muslim world. But, you know, if you look out there, you see plenty of other contexts where religion seems to have some—be playing some role in the context of extremism and violent extremism. Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, a case I know you’re familiar with, the ways in which there’s some interpolation of Christianity within the white supremacist movement here in the United States. So I wanted to ask you, you know, do the kind of general operating principles that we’ve been talking about with respect to how you think about and engage religion in the context of preventing and countering violent extremism, do they apply in those other contexts? Or do we need to kind of think differently?
HAYWARD: Yeah, so I think a lot of the movements that you see—like the Buddhist nationalist movement in Myanmar and to a lesser extent now in Sri Lanka as well as Thailand, and then some of these Christian white supremacist movements in Europe and the U.S. There are similar narratives and drivers that fuel them, right? There’s a lot of language of existential threat. There’s a lot of ambivalence towards modernity, both concern about globalization, corporatization, the influence of international organizations and foreign powers in one’s country, and a sense of kind of insecurity and helplessness that comes from that.
There are some similarities in some of the gendered narratives within these various movements, and a desire to reestablish what they see as traditional gender norms, to reestablish traditional norms and institutions generally, and to protect that. But an ambivalence towards modernity, in that they’re using a lot of the tools of modernity in order to advance their causes, whether that be social media and Facebook or even, in the case of Myanmar, democratic processes of legislative activism in order to advance their exclusionary policies. And, you know, some of these narratives and concerns as well about identity and belonging with a particular antagonistic bent towards the other, whether that be a religious or ethnic other.
So, in that sense, yes, there are similarities. And of course, there’s going to be similarities with respect to the principles of how you engage within the religious spaces and with religious actors—Buddhist and Christian—as you do Muslim. But of course, it’s going to look different not just based on the different religious traditions and how those traditions operate and how—the role that doctrine plays, the role of religious authority, how gender plays out with respect to religious authority in those spaces, as well as just the contextual differences in what the violence looks like there, who it’s impacting, how it’s manifesting within states and across states. I mean, there are, to be frank, differences of degree, right?
With Daesh, for example, you have a real transnational movement that has a great deal of people coming together across this banner. And there’s less of that when you look at—there’s some of that, but less of that when you look at some of these Christian and Buddhist movements. And then you’ll have differences, for example, in—within Myanmar. I often hear some frustration on the part of some of my USG colleagues about we’re not seeing Buddhist monks calling out other Buddhist monks when they’re advancing some of these anti-Muslim or anti-women narratives. And they say, well, you know, that’s not really how the Buddhist Sangha works, the monastic community. It’s really considered a sin—to use a Christian term—a sin to call out your fellow monastic in public.
That doesn’t mean those conversations aren’t happening. They are happening behind the scenes. There’s a lot of Buddhist monks who are reaching out to and having these internal discussions within the monastic community that is pushing against some of these narratives and some of these beliefs and some of the ways in which these groups are mobilizing for particular legislation or to offer religious mandate and support to the military campaign against the Rohingya, for example. But it’s going to look different. And you’re not necessarily going to be—you’re not necessarily going to see and hear it in the same way that you would, perhaps, within the Christian community, where we do a better job of calling out each other in public—(laughs)—criticizing each other in public, to an extent.
So understanding how religious authority and how religious pushback and discussion happens within the Buddhist community, for example, is going to mean the kind of programs you support within the religious space and what you expect to see—to see it operate is going to be a little bit different. And so we have to—we have to bear that in mind. You can’t just take a program that works within the Muslim community or that works within, you know, counter-radicalization here in the U.S. amongst white Christian supremacist groups and supplant it into Myanmar and expect it to operate in the same way.
MANDAVILLE: Great, great. Thank you. And thank you to keeping us attuned to those broader contexts and settings.
Tarek, you’ve spoken with great conviction and from experience about the important role that religious institutions, institutions of religious learning, and figures of formal religious authority can have in efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism. And we’ve seen a trend in recent years where a number of governments, particularly in the Middle East, have come forward saying that religious institutions based in their country will play a prominent role, either in generating moderate approaches to religion or, in a sense, volunteering religious institutions in their country to lead the role in sort of tackling extremist religious discourse. But then of course, there’s the challenge that many of these institutions often are affiliated with the state, or perceived by the citizens of those countries as, mouthpieces of governments that populations are often very critical of.
And so I wanted to kind of ask you: How, you know, should we think about ways of finding a constructive and productive role for formal institutions of religious learning in that kind of context, that sort of—that challenge of kind of state-affiliated religious leaders and institutions. But then also the broader point that Humera raised, which is I think very importantly pointing out that, like many domains today, religion is not immune from this trend whereby we’re moving away from a kind of top-down articulation of truth and authority, to more of a horizontal peer-to-peer learning type of model. And so, you know, to what extent does that perhaps challenge the ongoing relevance of figures that kind of hold formal positions of religious authority?
ELGAWHARY: So on the last point, I think it just—it just makes it more difficult. You know, my kids are probably going to listen to their friends more than they’re going to listen, you know, to me. But, you know, when the stuff hits the fan, they’re always going to come back and ask me, right? Or, I hope, you know. To a certain age, I guess. So that’s what we see. When things are serious, life and death, inheritance, divorce, custody of children, they’ll go to the mufti. But when it’s, like, day-to-day stuff, you know, they’re just going to, you know, peruse online and social media, satellite TV, you know, and whatever is sent to their inbox or to their phone, and stuff like that.
So we’ve moved from a deference society to a reference society, where we’re just going to—if my friends say, you know, something then I’m going to be more inclined to believe it. And that’s how we market products and things like that. And that’s just—that’s not just the Muslim problem. I think that’s just the way the world is now. So, yes, that has to be taken into consideration. But I just wanted to address something about the state—I get that a lot because of al-Azhar. You know, that’s my Hogwarts alma mater. (Laughter.) And I get that a lot. But in Islam we have this—an important thing. And I think a lot of Muslims need to also understand this, that if we do not have a state-affiliated religious institution, then the religious institution is not legitimate and the state is not legitimate.
So the mufti has to be appointed by the state, just like a judge has to be appointed. By the state, I mean that in the abstract. You know, whatever—some municipality or whatever—because the fatwa that’s going to come out from a Dar al-Ifta—from a fatwa office, that’s going to be used as evidence in a court. So if I have dispute of land or if I have a dispute on inheritance or something like that, or if somebody comes to me and the woman says my husband divorced me, but the man says no I didn’t, and stuff like that, and then the mufti issues a fatwa, that piece of paper, that document, that—while it’s not legally binding, because a fatwa’s a nonbinding legal opinion, that’s going to be taken to the court. So I can’t just have some average guy sitting on this curb on the street in Cairo just issuing fatwas.
So—and Muslims don’t like to hear that. But that’s really how it’s always been, from the prophetic time until our time. So something like al-Azhar, because that’s what I’m most familiar with, it has to be somehow state affiliated. And that doesn’t—for me, that’s not, like, a bad word. If it’s not, then it’s not going to be the real thing. Being a mouthpiece for the state and stuff like that, I mean, when I worked at Dar al-Ifta I never once saw the state ask the mufti to issue a fatwa. So I think this is also, like, one of these things that we just say, but no one’s really verified. I would love somebody to show me in Dar al-Ifta’s history, since 1895 till now, one time that the state, whether the khadiwi or the sultan or the king or the president or the head of the SCAF—asked the mufti to issue a fatwa on something. And if—and if that happened, you know, statistically over the whatever squillion number of fatwas we have, what is the percentage of that.
So I think that that’s one of those—not that you’re advocating this. Maybe you do. But I hear this a lot. But the religious establishment is definitely going to be supportive of national-level, you know, stuff. If the country is falling apart, yes, we’re going to rally behind the armed forces. We’re going to rally behind the state. We’re going to—you know, for sure. But when that—when those things subside, usually the religious institution sort of, like, takes a backseat. And look, government sucks, all the time, everywhere, anywhere. (Laughter.) So the religious establishment knows that.
And the religious establishment’s job is not to run the government. The religious establishment’s job is to interpret Islam in a contemporary way. We have the text of the divine origin, if you’re a believer, like I am. Understanding the text and applying the text, that’s the process that we’re after. So how can we make sense of this hadith or this verse or, you know, one time I remember we got a question: What’s the ruling of Egypt exporting natural gas to Israel at Dar al-Ifta, you know? People ask those type of questions. And we found a clever way of answering it. I mean, I didn’t, but the mufti did at the time.
And religious minorities, Daesh, nuclear weapons, proliferation, all the way—those kind of things to, like, you know, I’m commuting. Can I combine my prayers? And, you know, things like that. That’s the job of the religious establishment in an Islamic context, Islamic societies, to help interpret, make these principles be implemented in a copacetic way for the contemporary moment. So I think that the religious institution’s job is that. It’s not to police. It’s not to—it’s not law enforcement. The religious establishment can say, for example, we have to protect the religious minority. But it’s not the Azhar’s job to make sure that churches aren’t being bombed in Egypt. That’s the police or the army or whatever.
So I think we also have to understand what we’re getting from them. So, for example, I trade in coffee. So if I take you to where the coffee is grown, you know, coffee is a cherry. That’s not this. A lot of things have to happen first to get this. Look at the cherry and the coffee farmers as, like, the religious institution. They’re providing you with the fruit, with the raw material. Then we have to take the raw material, as civil society, as religious leaders, as organizers, and find a way to implement that, you know, and actuate that. You don’t expect to go to the coffee tree and put your cup like this and get a cup of coffee from it. It has to be dried, and shucked, and milled, and transported, and customs, and then roasted, and then ground, and then brewed. And then you get your cup of coffee.
So it’s the same way. So if the religious establishment is going to issue us a principle, a concept, we don’t believe in usury. Bank interest is not usury because it’s fiat currency. It’s not gold and silver. This is a principle that we’ve inherited in the modern period. OK, so my job is to take that and implement it in a way that it’s not their job to do that. So I think that oftentimes we look at the religious institution to do something that it’s not meant to do, that it’s not setup to do. And we criticize it for being—now, yes, of course, I am definitely going to defend the establishment, the religious establishment. I come from that establishment. But I defend it not blindly. I mean, there are inefficacies, there are deficiencies. Not everyone in the institution is of the same understanding. But overall, the job of the religious institution is to help interpret Islam, as I said, but also to help keep the national unity in times of crisis. And if that means getting involved in politics at that level, absolutely we will get involved in politics at that level, without shame, without concern for criticism.
MANDAVILLE: OK, great. Thank you very much.
So we have about thirty minutes available to us now for a discussion with the wider table. So if you’d like to put your tent cards up, those of you who want to get in the conversation. And I’ll just ask that as you begin your question or comment, please just briefly introduce yourselves so that we know who you are.
But, Melissa [Nozell], you’ve been so central in kind of shaping the contours of this discussion. I wanted to, first, see if there’s anything that you wanted to add to the discussion.
NOZELL: Thank you, Peter. And thank you, Irina, CFR, for this event today.
I have a brief comment and a question that I’ll throw out there, not necessarily expecting it to be answered right away. That comment would be that, as is clear, we’ve been working in this space. There have been so many conversations about religion and CVE over the past several years. And that’s really where this report that Peter and I authored was born from, the realization that many of us had been talking about religion and CVE, talking to religious actors on the ground about what their role means in violent extremism. And this report is intended to capture many of these conversations that have been happening. Something that I’ve been thinking very much of lately is what is next then for this space? We understand that we need to be engaging inclusively, and we need to be engaging often, and early. But how can we take these lessons that we’re very cognizant of now and then move forward as a field? Thank you.
MANDAVILLE: Do any of you want to respond to that, or should we just take some others and then maybe come back to it in the context?
ELGAWHARY: Maybe like a cluster of questions?
MANDAVILLE: OK. Good. We’ll do that.
So let’s start with David Robinson.
ROBINSON: Dave Robinson. I’m a practitioner in Christian-Muslim relations and peacebuilding. A couple decades with World Vision.
I was recently in CAR, in Bangui, in a project with CRS and Islamic Relief. I’d like to ask the panel, what do you see the role of an interreligious action in this space of working with religious communities? What’s the role? Is there any catalytic role of partnership between different religious communities and actors, in your experience? We’d be fascinated to learn from you on that.
MANDAVILLE: Great. Would any of you like to take that one, the question of the role of interfaith work? Please.
HAYWARD: I think it’s important, David. And thank you for asking that question. And there has been a lot of—I think that’s one of the programmatic foci of the religious and CVE work has been supporting interfaith collaboration, interfaith relationship building, as a means also to try to counter and prevent some of this exclusionary attitudes and narratives that drive either the political exclusion of religious minorities, if not violence against them—or the religious other, not even necessarily minorities, in a place like CAR where it’s—you know, there’s not necessarily a huge majority-minority relationship there.
At the same time, I think we need to—that sometimes that interfaith work hasn’t always been strategic. And I think this is a problem within the field of religious peacebuilding at large, that there has been sometimes—especially those activities that are organized by international organizations and the international community, somebody’s, like, putting out declarations, having big, high-profile events, that I think have a place. They have a symbolic importance, they get a lot of visibility and that’s important. But that’s, of course, just one component of it, right? It also needs to get back to addressing some of these drivers of trying to inform advocacy and policy that can address discrimination by the state against some minorities, or that can address some of these political grievances, and so on.
And then the other thing I would want to say is that—and we say this, again, generally with the field of religious peacebuilding, but I think it is so crucial for this work, is the intrareligious because that’s—you know, you’re going to get—you’re going to get a lot of the more progressive-oriented folks to come to an interfaith table, who are already open to engaging with the other. You’re not going to get some of those actors who are the ones who are involved in some of these violent extremist movements, or at least sympathetic to some of these violent extremist movements. They’re not going to come to an interfaith gathering and light candles and hold hands with people of other faiths.
And so how do we reach those people? And that’s where the intra—that’s where the intra work comes in. So, like those monks who I’m talking about in Myanmar, who are engaged in interfaith work, have created the incredible interfaith committees that help with when tensions are rising, when rumors are flaring, they go in and they mobilize with the communities. They mediate between the communities in order to reduce the violence. They are advocating for the passage of a law right now that I have mixed feelings about—but that’s for another—that’s for another time. But they’re advocating for legislation for this religious harmony bill that would try to mitigate some of the religious hate speech that’s going on.
But I think some of the most crucial work they’re doing is when these monks are reaching out to monks who are either sympathetic to the anti-Muslim activities that are taking place in this movement, who are directly participating in it, or sympathetic to it. And they have what they call leadership trainings. They’re not saying a training on peacebuilding or a training on interfaith coexistence. They call it a leadership training, where they’re doing lessons and courses in different aspects of effectively leading as community leaders and as religious leaders. But then they’re able to integrate into that opportunities for discussion about what Buddhism has to say about the religious other, or about issues of peace and so on.
And so if the interfaith work can also ensure that those who are engaged in it and sympathetic to are simultaneously reaching out to the more extremist actors within their own communities, then I think it’ll be much more effective.
MANDAVILLE: Humera, did you want to add something to this? And then Tarek as well.
KHAN: Yes, thank you. So I think—and I’ll talk about the prevention space, right, because, again, various roles. But especially in the prevention space, before someone is actually indoctrinated towards ideology, right, that’s a place where you’re working on prevention. Doing good—doing any of those efforts absolutely transcends faith lines. So doing it together actually is something which can help bring communities together also. So it has—you know, it has—it can actually be very effective in multiple ways. But the other thing, and this is a very practical issue here, is that given the way this space has been politicized, and so many—and programming in many, many countries is entirely profiling particular faiths, actually working on the PVE side of it, on the preventative side, across faith lines actually helps reduce the demonization and the profiling of specific faith communities. And I think that’s something that—we should just keep that in mind.
MANDAVILLE: Tarek, please.
ELGAWHARY: So, in countries where there is religious diversity, it’s fundamental. So a country like Nigeria, which depending on who you talk to majority Christian population—obviously, the Muslims say the opposite—but it’s very, very important because one of the main, you know, pressure points that Boko Haram—yeah, Boko Haram works on is, you know, this Christian population and also Shias. So intrareligious is also very important.
In a country like Somalia, you know, you ask a Somalian what’s the percentage—we’re 110 percent Muslim, you know, in Somalia. So that doesn’t really work there, because it’s, you know, homogeneous. But in places like Nigeria, Egypt, Jordan, you know, Syria—if there’s still a place called Syria—that’s very important. A fundamental part of our training that we do with the Egyptian peace center is to—is for people to understand the prophetic model of coexistence. And I talk about how in every mode of the Prophet Mohammad’s life, peace be upon him, there was this coexisting with others, whether it be coexisting with polytheists, coexisting with enemies, coexisting with religious minorities, et cetera.
And the reason I think the interfaith work is very important is because we have to really come back to this concept of citizenship. You know, we’re Nigerian. You know, this is—one of the things that Boko Haram—that Shekau criticizes is the Nigerian national pledge. So I make everyone, you know, stand up and, you know, recite the national pledge to me, just—I just want to make sure there’s no Boko Haram here, or something like that. And they get a joke out of it. But I said, you know, you’re pledging your allegiance to something bigger than just your faith. For Muslim communities, they also need to understand that all of these religious communities predated Islam to start out with. So Islam has coexisted with these religious communities from the beginning—or, the other way around, I guess—from the very beginning.
One of the problems, though, that I would say, the downside, is that oftentimes, and I have witnessed it, that this interfaith work, especially as it comes—as it’s exported from America, really becomes a cover for the discussion of proselytization. And that is something that, please, we don’t need, because we’re dealing with something that’s much more critical. These Muslim governments are not—are not stupid. They understand. And this lessens the genuine, you know, nature of what we’re trying to do. And so that’s—I have witnessed this myself. And I have witnessed, you know, very duplicitous efforts. And it’s rubbed people—it rubs people the wrong way. My mother always says, you know, I might have an accent, but my thinking doesn’t have an accent. So just because these people are not conversant in English, doesn’t mean that they don’t understand what’s happening.
So that’s something that I would—I would caution against. But particularly in the Arab world, the protection of Christian religious minorities is a fundamental part of what we’re trying to do with preventing violence and extremism. And the exodus of Christian communities or any religious community—Yazidis or any community—from Muslim-majority countries, as far as I’m concerned, is a tragedy. It’s a failure of Islam and a failure—or, rather, a failure of Muslims. And this is something that it’s a—the flipside of the same coin. So it’s a fundamental part of what we’re trying to do.
MANDAVILLE: Susie, you wanted to add one—
HAYWARD: One quick thing. USIP did a study in Kenya a couple years ago that looked at resilience, places in Kenya where communities proved resilient to recruitment and participation of violent extremist groups, versus those where there was heavy recruiting that was happening. And one of the things they found, yes, the exploitation across religious divides. But actually, in the places where there was—where there was—places where there were a lot of divisions within the Muslim community were also much more vulnerable, because the extremist groups were playing off on those divisions within the Muslim community as well. As well as the biggest divide that they were exploiting was the generational divide. So where there were—there were stronger connections between older generations and younger generations, that also proved more—they proved more resilient.
MANDAVILLE: Clearly, a lot to discuss here. And thanks, Dave, for raising it. So we’ll continue around the table now, going to Victoria Alvarado.
ALVARADO: Yeah, I just got back from presenting at a very small meeting that was hosted by Wilton Park. As you know, everything is not attributable. It’s all Chatham House rules. But you can share sort of the themes that were discussed.
KHAN: Well, if you want to such a meeting, what would you have heard? (Laughter.) If hypothetically—
ALVARADO: You can talk about what you—sort of the essence, and that’s what I wanted to share, because it’s so much of what’s being discussed now, and also in these reports. And basically, the general conclusions were that definitions and terms matter. And there’s still a lot of outstanding debate about some of the crucial terms that we use all the time, and sometimes have different interpretations, even in the same paragraph. Sustainability of these interreligious efforts, how do you put bricks and mortar to them? And this is something personally I’ve been interested in, is finding a way to convince governments to commit to a certain portion of their humanitarian and development assistance to support religious communities and actors. And I mean more broadly, not just the so-called traditional leaders, but youth and women, to help build communities that are mixed, instead of destroying them. And this is, I think, something we really do need to do. And it was something discussed, as I said, in this conference or meeting.
The context matters—context, context, context. You can’t, you know, export things even within a country, or even a region. Citizenship, the right to participate fully as equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities. Education at all levels, and more research. And these things, and many other things, take a long time. We have to be patient. We have to look at the long haul of these issues. Youth, women, and the people in the middle matter. It’s important to find a way for government officials and religious actors to maintain their respective integrity while they can work together. Some people call this the 1.5 track approach. The challenges of dealing with today’s world, the social media challenge, how we can make use of it to be positive and combat the negative use. This was something that many people were grappling with. And the need for a common platform. There’s a lot of information out there. There’s a lot of research. There are a lot of people doing things. But how can we put together communication platforms, so people can work across these boundaries?
So these were some of the things that were raised at this meeting. And I think it’s very much in line with what you’re saying. I would just like to emphasize again, to me, I’m really interested in finding a way, how do we sustain these things? It’s great to chat. It’s good to have these discussions. But how can we actually make these things operable and sustainable?
MANDAVILLE: Great. Thank you very much for that very helpful report out from the Wilton Park discussion. And I’ll invite our panelists to kind of comment on any of those issues that you raised. But—
ALVARADO: The other thing, I did mention the USIP report. I shared the link.
MANDAVILLE: OK. Thank you. Thank you for that. (Laughter.)
Since we’re at T minus fifteen minutes though, I think it’s a good idea to kind of start pairing the questions just to make sure that we get to hear all the voices. So why don’t we go to Ramesh.
JAIPAL: Thank you, Peter. I’m Ramesh Jaipal, human rights activist from Pakistan. And currently I’m a Hubert Humphrey fellow and professional affiliated with the Hindu American Foundation.
I closely work for the minorities in my country and directly deal with the—directly with the countering of violent extremism toward my community. And we are the Indian community in my country. I belong from a Hindu community. I work for the rescuing of the minorities girls, and mostly minorities girls are minor girls. And every year in Pakistan more than 1,000 girls are forcefully converted in Pakistan. And my question is that here is how can the international community assist us to counter forced conversion of minorities in Pakistan and how do they support? Because the most influence in the conversion in my country is the Gulf countries—from the Gulf countries—is influence of Gulf countries. The conversions happen in my country, in Pakistan. So minorities are very—the condition of the minorities that are going day by day is very rough.
MANDAVILLE: OK. Thank you very much. Would any of you like to respond to either any of the points—either the specific question that Ramesh has just raised, or any of the issues that Victoria reported out of the Wilton Park conference? Yeah, and so Humera and Tarek as well.
KHAN: Yes. So this is—I mean, there’s a larger space, right, of an international community. Forced conversions are unacceptable by any standards that you take from religious freedom. So any of your human rights standards in terms—you know, that’s not OK. But I think this is where my ideal sort of wish list comes out. And I would like the actual—the hierarchy, right, the actual religious clergy across the board to actually stand up for their values, loudly, forcefully, and actually be ready and willing to critique when it’s also—when there are injustices, and extremism is coming from within their own faith communities, right? And I think that becomes really important.
The question is, how do we mobilize, right, not just the international communities, but it’s also about necessarily the local communities who have a lot of sway, right, and perhaps use that international community to mobilize the local communities to protect minorities, because protecting minorities is essential. I mean, there’s no way around it. So—and I think this is a larger—this is a larger space of is—are the religious actors able to stand up against injustice across the board, right? To be able to critique government activity, to be able to critique when government neglects the injustice, to point out when the governments themselves are party to that injustice as well, and not just for particular strains of extremism, which are, you know, the—acceptable to talk about in the communities.
MANDAVILLE: Tarek, did you want to—
ELGAWHARY: Yes. This is one of those examples where I think the theology is important. We deal with this issue in Nigeria a lot because there is conversion—you know, Muslims converting to Christianity. And this is one of the issues that people like Boko Haram use. And I mean, not—I’m not negating anything that Humera said. That’s important. But, like, wearing the hat of the, you know, I guess theologian, or whatever the right word is, is that this—the problem stems from an internal sort of Muslim conversation, you know, that for too long Muslims are like, well, there’s us and then there’s everybody else. They’re all kafir, you know, they’re all heathens and, you know, that kind of—and we just sort of let these things slide, you know, decade after decade after decade. And then—and then it comes to a boil, where we have this situation where now people—kids are being—you know, kids who, from a legal point of view, Islamically, are not—are not morally obligated, you know, mukallaf, and then—and we’re forcing them to convert, taking them away from their families, and things like that. Which, of course, the sharia does not allow.
So this is where I think theology or the narrative is important, that we can help, you know, people that are preaching and teaching and things like that, they can have—they can emphasize these points. So despite all of the negativity that brought us around the table, I actually think that this is the greatest opportunity in my lifetime, at least, because this is now an opportunity that people in my own faith community can now articulate these issues. Because one of the problems with Islam is that we have suffered from sort of empire mentality for centuries. Islam was so big and so widespread all over the place, all of these empires, and for hundreds and hundreds of years. So what happens is when you have that perspective you don’t really pay attention to minorities, you don’t pay attention to, you know, this idea of faith and conversion. Who’s going to convert outside of Islam? No one would have thought that, you know, for the last, like, 900 years or so.
But now, the situation is different. Not only is the empire issue not true, but now we are—you know, in our name, all of this commotion has been happening around the world. So actually the opportunity is to revisit these issues, to rearticulate, to double down on orthodox normative teachings and things like that. So, despite the negativity, I actually think it’s a good opportunity. But this is an example, I think, where the theology is important.
MANDAVILLE: And Susie.
HAYWARD: Conversion is such a sensitive and ever-present issue in so many of these movements in so many places around the world where I operate. In Sri Lanka, for example, there’s a great deal of anxiety among the Buddhist majority about the ways in which some organizations, development, humanitarian aid organizations—particularly after the tsunami, for example—operated in ways that they said were coercively trying to induce conversion to the Christian faith. So the whole, you know, we’ll give you development aid in exchange for a Bible. And it created, in a post-colonial context that had experienced a lot of aggressive forms of Christian missionizing during the colonial era, it created a great deal of anxiety, particularly when it was felt that their religious tradition was being excoriated in some of these narratives.
And so—and I think also what this question highlights is the ways these kind of cross-border—actual, literal borders, or cross-religious borders, narratives also kind of end up fueling one another in a certain way. One thing that I would encourage you—a couple things. One, I would point to is that there were a lot of Pakistani government and religious leaders who participated in the Marrakesh Declaration, which was convened by Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, and put forward a declaration about protection of religious freedom and religious minorities in Muslim-majority contexts. And so I would encourage you to take a look at the Marrakesh Declaration and to take a look at who were some of the Pakistani leaders who were involved in that, who might make great partners for you.
And that gets to the second point, which is given the dynamics between India and Pakistan, and between the—Islam and Hinduism in the subcontinent, I think it would be incredibly important for you to work with Muslim organizations in Pakistan in addressing this issue, and having that kind of interfaith approach in this could go a long way in ensuring that you’re not inflaring concerns or a defensiveness—inflaming concerns or a defensiveness on the part of those on the ground who are addressing these issues. There’s plenty of them.
MANDAVILLE: OK, great. So we’ve got about six, seven minutes left. So I think what I’d like to do is to ask the three people who have tent cards up, we’ll take that as a cluster of questions. So we’ll hear from Marina, Mongi, and—is it Nathan? I can’t read so well past mid-table. I forgot my glasses. So we’ll take all three of your questions and then go back to the panel for a round of response. I also realized I never gave you the chance to respond to each other, if at all you’d like to do that. So please feel free to do so in your final round. So, Marina, to you.
BUHLER-MIKO: OK. I’ll try to talk quickly. I’m Marina Buhler-Miko. And I’m here as a member of a religious community, St. Alban’s Church, on the cathedral grounds, OK?
And the topic, as I see it, is engaging religious communities in countering extremism. But nothing has been talked about—and in looking at next steps, I’m wondering what’s going on in terms of—it’s a horrible word—but we used to talk about detox. If you remember the cult movements of the Seventies, you got back these children and you had to try to figure out how to bring them back. And some kinds of training for members of religious community on how you work with people who’ve been extremized—whatever you want to call it—and how do you get them back? And is there an effort to provide that kind of training for religious community leaders? That’s my question.
MANDAVILLE: OK. Thank you. Mongi, to you.
DHAOUADI: Mongi Dhaouadi from the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy in D.C.
I’ll be very quick. My question, and something I didn’t hear on the panel when you talked about some of the challenges that you’re facing in this kind of work, is talking about governments. And specifically, when we talk about oppressive governments, dictatorship, closing space. And especially if you could relate that to the issue of authenticity and authentic voices. When you’re trying to reach out to the kind of vulnerable segments of our communities for recruitment, you need to use authentic voices. You can’t use appointed imams and appointed mufti, you know, to talk to people who have grievances with the government.
And so—and I’m not trying a little bit to push maybe against one of the point that Dr. Tarek mentioned, is that appointed muftis since the prophetic times. I mean, if I talk about Imam Malik and Hanbali and Shafi’i, these were not appointed by any kind of government. These are well-established voices that earn the credibility, authenticity within the Muslim community. And those are the ones that have millions and millions of followers.
MANDAVILLE: Thank you. And finally, Nathan, the last question is yours.
HOSLER: Hello. I’m Nathan [Hosler] with the Church of the Brethren. I direct our denominal office on peacebuilding and policy, but also I’m a local pastor.
We work extensively with the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, in the northeast. And so some of the questions and concerns around integration or strategy around particularly international actors engaging in local engagement feel like we should spend more time thinking about that coordination between multilevel engagement or multiple levels of engagement and how those intersect with the local religious communities, but also international organizations coming in. So I don’t have an exact question, and we don’t have much time to comment or discuss the strategic point, but maybe the question would be how—who or how do we work towards that coordination, given the coordination is probably not what’s going to get funded and requires a very high level but also a very local knowledge? Like, what is or who is possibly engage in that sort of mediating or networking or connecting between multiple actors, both religious local but also international?
MANDAVILLE: Great. Thank you.
So about a minute for each of you to respond to all of that and to each other if you’d like to. (Laughter.) Humera, do you want to kick us off?
KHAN: Sure. So I thought when I used the language about religious actors being coopted by governments and the instrumentalization of groups and the advancing of other agendas under the label of PVE and CVE was pretty much raising the issue of how you’re going to deal with governments, who are the dominant players in this space. And absolutely becomes an issue of who has authenticity and whose voice actually is going to be heard. And so it’s—there is, again, and Peter also raised the issue of being the mouthpiece of the government. If the individuals are actually against government, right, that’s one thing. But you also have the issue of political opposition, which actually gets labeled as being terrorist or extremist when they’re just political opposition groups.
So absolutely, there is no way of disengaging, of pulling out the role of government in this space when it is dominated by that. We have to deal with the realities, you know, the life as we have it. And the context is going to really make a difference, which is—also goes back to Susie’s point on you cannot just take one program from one place and just plop it into another. You have to design—the design of programs have to be local. And that’s the only way they are going to work. And you have to work across the spectrum with not just the clergy, but also who are the religious influencers. And those are many. They include the laypeople. They include so many other actors in that space.
I think to conclude, like, faith-based communities, the leaders, the people, everyone—(inaudible)—and a necessary part of dealing with PVE and CVE. But we have to make sure that we give them a safe environment where they can be independent and they can actually stand up for the values. Because most communities consider the religious community to help provide us with a moral compass, right? And that’s the role of religious values, is a moral compass for our lives. And so we have to let them do what they are there for, right, and give them the space to do that. Because if you take out extremism from this equation entirely, if religious actors could just teach the values of religion, right, without the hate, without the politics, et cetera, we would be really miles ahead towards having resilient inclusive societies. So we really do have to create that space so that they are a part of the solution, not instrumentalize them, but really give them the space so we can have these inclusive societies. Thanks.
HAYWARD: I’ll take the rehabilitation one. So, yes, there are a lot of programs. I think especially in Europe there’s been a lot of programs that have worked with religious leadership and rehabilitation of foreign fighters who are coming home. You also see some of that in the U.S. Particularly, though, with former extremist actors themselves working with those who are—who are now part of supremacist groups and so on.
BUHLER-MIKO: And that’s just local groups.
HAYWARD: Yeah. And then we also—when we did that exercise that I was talking about with religious actors who are doing this work, recognizing the particular roles that they can be playing, and we had a similar—we had a follow-up gathering in Mombasa, Kenya about this. This was also something that religious leaders themselves said: We have some skills for this kind of support to folks who are coming home and doing rehabilitation for the, but also in integrating them back into the communities—sometimes communities that they themselves terrorized. And the other side of that is working with former victims or survivors who have been traumatized by some of these groups. And in particular, those who have survived sexual violence, forced marriage, et cetera.
And of course, the big example in the religious space for this is often Baba Sheikh, the Yazidi leader in Iraq, who has done a great deal of work and who has provided a lot of leadership in welcoming home some of these women and girls, in particular, who had forced enslavement, who were—who were raped, and transforming some of the religious—what had previously been religious stigma on women and girls who were seen to have sex outside of marriage. And in this case, he’s transforming that. He’s welcoming them back in. He’s, you know, lifting them up as sacred figures who need to be embraced by the community. And so he provides a great example of the kind of support that can be given to survivors of sexual violence. But there’s other examples too, particularly—and this is where women religious leaders have been playing a frontline role in addressing some of these issues—in northern Uganda and elsewhere.
Oh, there’s so much I want to say. The question of working with ministries of religion is, I think, a challenging one in particular for USG policy people and Americans, because we are the extreme in the world of the disestablishment between the religious authority and government authority. Not to say that there’s not a lot of back and forth that happens and engagement that happens, but in terms of the political structures, of course. And I know we have Ambassador Saperstein here, who addressed in some of the religious freedom reports over the last couple years, when he was ambassador at large for international religious freedom, the concern that some of the CT/CVE activities were eager to partner with ministries of religion, but were doing so in a way that might endorse or further entrench exerting greater control—using CT and CVE as the means by which to exert greater control over religious expression and practices in ways that might be counterproductive too to peace and inclusive societies, and so on.
I think the way in which to do it is to be pragmatic and sensitive about it, recognizing that this is the way that it is. In most countries around the world, including in Europe and so on, where there’s an organized, you know, church, an organized religion. But there’s ways in which we can engage with the ministries, recognizing that, one, not all the clerics who are a part of the ministry, who are on the ministry’s payrolls constitute all the clerics in the country, recognizing that religious interpretation and motivation is shaped in much more complex ways than through formal religious leadership, whether that formal religious leadership is endorsed by the ministry or not. And then also being able to work with ministries of religion or quasi-government religious authorities in ways that stay true to some of the, at least, American principles—democratic principles and human rights.
And then the final word I say would actually kind of echo Humera’s, but one of the concerns that I have in—particularly in government policymakers, whether U.S. or otherwise, in engaging with religious leaders in this kind of work is that you might love them to death. And so I think it’s important that we not, in working with them, seek to make them into peace technocrats or peace bureaucrats who are doing—you kind of—you need to allow religious actors to be religious actors, which means they’re not going to look like the peacebuilding technocrats that we know and love. And we expect the specific kinds of outcomes and so on. They’re going to sometimes operate in messier ways, but ways that are incredibly important because it brings up these questions of spiritual values and transformation. I’ll stop. (Laughs.)
MANDAVILLE: No. No, it’s great. Thanks, Susie.
Tarek, the final word will be yours.
ELGAWHARY: So on reintegration, all of the countries that we operate in and we do the training, reintegration is a key part. But it’s very confidential because of the sensitive nature, so I’m not really at liberty to discuss details. But all of these groups, whether they be Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISIS, in Egypt, you know, (inaudible) and stuff like that, they’re going to have to come back to society at some point. So it’s on everyone’s mind. And the programs are working. But making the programs public and these figures public is counterproductive. That’s the general thinking. So that’s happening, and you kind of just have to take my word for it. (Laughter.) But I think what she said is better.
Mongi, you have to make a distinction between private law and public law. The law of people like Shafi’i and Malik, Hanifa, this is the realm of private law. And this is how the sharia as a pure legal enterprise has evolved and continues to evolve. But when it comes to matters of public law, (inaudible), and if the ifta is part of the (inaudible), then that has—that deals with the state. If the ifta is private, if someone is studying with me Shafi’i, and they’re studying with me Shafi’i and I give them opinion from the madhab, that’s private. But when it comes to issues that are public, that has to do with the issue of the state. So Muslims sometimes in the contemporary period, they’re not able to make this distinction between private law and public law.
So, from the prophetic time, the public law and the interpretation of the sharia is a matter of the state. In the (inaudible) Medina, the prophet—(inaudible)—when he made the peace with the Jewish tribes, he said: If there’s a—(speaks in Arabic). So that means that the establishment of the source of legislation. I’m all for—I agree as well about authentic voices. I’m not advocating at all that a mufti of a particular country or a khaldi is the authentic voice to help people that are on the fringe. We have to empower people. And that’s where I think if you think of the coffee example that I gave, you need somebody to take that fruit and process it. It’s not going to—the mufti is not going to be considered an authentic voice.
And the last thing I wanted to say about that is that normative Sunni theory of statecraft tolerates an unjust government as long as the government is legitimate. And this is one of the things that is very hard for people, especially with our type of liberal sensibilities, have to grapple with. That there is a toleration of an injustice or a dictatorship or something, as long as it is considered legitimate from the sharia point of view. And that is why probably a lot of these people would not be considered legitimate on the street level and why we have to empower other people. But that is part of normative Sunni statecraft theory. And unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for the brother of—the Nigeria. I just don’t know, so.
MANDAVILLE: Thank you. So it just remains for me to invite all of you to thank our panelists, Irina, and CFR for hosting us, and all of you for your contribution to the discussions. (Applause.)