Host: The discourse of groups like ISIS/Daesh references the Quran and Hadith—today we complain about its impact on us. How are we meant to confront this discourse?
Habib Ali: In order to diagnose and describe ISIS properly, one part of the problem is that it relies on [referencing] scriptural texts and sources. Some of these texts are inviolable. Some are based on independent legal reasoning (ijtihad) that are open to change and reconsideration. And some are based on legal judgments that are wrong and were not recognised [by legal authorities]. This part of the problem is related to religious discourse and it is our (religious leadership’s) responsibility. We must admit our large shortcoming [in confronting this problem]. We need a larger dose of effort—not only to confront ISIS, and pay the price of that even if it be with our lives, but also to confront those followers and students [of religious leaders] who do not like to talk about religious renewal and many other issues which they think lead to ‘diluting’ the religion.
The other part of the problem, and what ISIS perpetrates, is rooted in the consequences of postmodernity. ISIS, Hitler, Stalin, and even George W. Bush who, at times in the name of the Lord and at others in the name of democracy, went to war in Iraq. All of them emerge from the same source, namely, that a ‘right’ becomes substituted by want and desire. As long as I am able to force my will on the present, then my ‘right’ becomes that present which I forced my will on. It might be dressed in the garb of Islam, jihad and khilafa, or the ‘right’ of Christians as the Serbs did in the Bosnian massacares, or the ‘right’ of Buddhists as we see in Burma and Myanmar, or the ‘right’ of Jews as seen in the occupied Palestinian territories, or human rights, democracy, nationalism, or even socialist justice. Whatever the garb that you dress your wants and desires in, it is easy to justify it through a text and associate it to some source. Of course, it is not appropriate to say that the principles and values of human rights, for example, approve of these tricks but on the ground it and other grand ideas and traditions have been exploited and employed.
The causative factor here is not restricted to the exploitative use of scripture and tradition. There is also a psychological and intellectual angle to the cause. It is a culture. This culture is no different to the culture of violent video games that children are raised on. There was a video that ISIS released in which young children were given weapons and told to go and find their targets in caves and kill them. There was no difference between the content of this video and the violent video games children play. It is also no different to the culture of violent action movies. This has now become part the cultural milieu of the age.