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The Rights Track Sound evidence on human rights

Islam and the West: questions of human rights


In Episode 5 of Series 2 Todd talks to Islamic expert and former Pakistan High Commissioner to the UK, Professor Akbar Ahmed from the American University in Washington DC. They discuss the post 9/11 myths that have built up around Islam, the growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and society and the implications for people’s religious freedoms and human rights.

0.00-8.20

  • Myth-busting - Todd asks Akbar about the myth that has grown post 9/11 that Islam as a faith is somehow more inherently violent than other religions
  • Akbar says he understands where the idea has come from but how, as a Muslim, he is baffled by it because the themes of mercy and compassion are so central to Islam. He mentions the term Ilm, a key Islamic term that denotes the inclusiveness of the religion
  • Akbar goes on to talk more about Ilm - explaining that it is the place where Islam interacts with other religions. He reflects on his studies as a young man of poets such as Tennyson and quotes lines from Ulysses and the shared quest for knowledge shared by different cultures and religions. He stresses that knowledge is key and his belief that knowledge is being replaced by fake news and how it creates misperceptions and misrepresentations of individuals and groups of individuals and leads to violence.
  • Akbar mentions the case of a Hindu shot dead in the US apparently the victim of a hate crime. Todd mentions the rise in anti-semitism in the US including a recent attack in his home town of Harrisburg
  • Akbar explains how these attacks have extended to Muslims and reflects on the dangers of moving towards what he describes as a Hobbesian society

8.20-14.45

  • Todd asks Akbar about the idea that Islam is somehow incompatible with democracy reflecting on his own experiences of travelling to Islamic countries where democracy functions well.
  • Akbar talks about his work, Jinnah Quartet in which he sets out to illustrate the compatibility of Islam and democracy within the context of a modern state
  • Akbar acknowledges that he can see why the current leadership of the Muslim world may lead the West and others to be doubt that Islam promotes democracy but says this does not mean that the majority of Muslims do not want democracy not that Islam rejects it.
  • Akbar mentions the annual Muslim Haj pilgrimage where people from all backgrounds are treated the same, thus showing how egalitarian and democratic Islam is.
  • The discussion moves to human rights and how Islam deals with individual versus group/collective rights
  • Akbar says human rights, especially caring for the vulnerable, is at the heart of Islam - he gives a number of examples of how this works in practice and says that historically this was extended to people of other religions too.

14.45-end

  • The discussion moves to Akbar’s book, The Thistle and the Drone, which received high profile endorsements both from famous intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and also the CIA
  • The importance of tribal groups in tensions within and outside the Islamic world. Akbar exlpains how he uses the metaphor of the Thistle for the tribe and how it comes from Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad
  • Violence and Islam and the language around terrorism under a Trump presidency compared with an Obama presidency
  • Discussion of Trump’s pledge to “wipe radical Islam from the face of the earth”
  • Akbar makes the point that the majority of ISIS victims are in fact Muslims themselves and says that the Trump administration is alienating and humiliating those who are his potential allies in tackling ISIS
  • Todd mentions his own work in this area before moving on to ask about the implications of the US travel ban
  • Akbar says the travel ban detracts from the need to tackle ISIS and not the way to go about it. He believes there is a need for the rhetoric to stop so that the younger generation are not adversely influenced by it and that the focus needs to be on “healing a fractured world”

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