“Can you do counterterrorism without theology?” Increasingly, critics are calling into question the Western strategy of supporting moderate and more “acceptable” forms of Islam throughout the world. In response to the question above, posted at The Guardian, Mehdi Hasan, a senior editor at the New Statesman, argues that “it is not the business of the state to back one or other interpretation of Islam – or any other faith.” Hasan goes on to explain:
I’ve long been opposed to government attempts to infuse counterterrorism and counterextremism programmes with so-called moderate Islamic theology – and not just because of the political drivers behind Muslim radicalisation and jihadist violence.
Why? First, it is not the business of a secular state to back one or other interpretation of Islam – or for that matter, of Judaism, Christianity or any other faith. It is for the believers to decide on the nature, origins and legitimacy of their beliefs. Governments should only enforce the law of the land and promote tolerance and dialogue.
He initially appeals to a respect for the rights of those that practice their religion, and for the secular (and, moreover, outsider) nature of Western governments, such as the U.K. and the U.S. He then continues with an argument based on pragmatic Realpolitik reasoning:
Second, as soon as western governments anoint a particular Islamic scholar, he or she becomes tainted in eyes of ordinary Muslims; it is the kiss of death. The same applies to western backing for any of the religious sects, schools of thought or theological interpretations with which Islam is riddled. It is one thing for Muslim countries like Indonesia or Saudi Arabia to promote scholar-led, Qur’an-based deradicalisation programmes, but quite another for non-Muslim countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. It just isn’t credible.
Hasan argues that it is not only illegitimate for Western governments to support particular sects, beliefs, religious leaders, etc., but that it is poor strategy. Western support, Hasan argues, taints the particular belief or spiritual leader in question, and actually delegitimizes the very thing it is trying to support.