Religious tolerance is the new old treatment against hate and the only means for sects to co-exist and cooperate within the same country instead of tearing it apart by fighting. Despite this simple truth and the plenty of demands urging preachers and clerics to adopt a religious rhetoric that’s more moderate and harmonious with modern life and reality, the final outcome has mostly been disappointing.
Calls to strengthen the spirit and values of tolerance did not achieve any positive results. On the contrary, extremists’ rhetoric worsened in the past few decades and moderates ended up flattering them in order not to anger them. As calls for moderation increased, extremists’ behavior further brutalized. Takfirist fatwas were immediately followed by bloodier ones. I think there are logical explanations to all these opposite results.
It’s pointless to ask figures who adopt a strict religious rhetoric to be moderate because even if they issue moderate fatwas they will immediately go back to their original rhetoric. For example, a preacher would issue a fatwa saying music is permissible and later he would wish to stone liberals if he could! In this case, the only one who benefits is the extremist preacher himself as he made a self-evident fatwa, which he will take back later, without harming the basis of extremist rhetoric that continues to revive and expand.
Extremist rhetoric has not changed at all despite all calls due to social and economic reasons. If this rhetoric dominates in Arab societies, it will gain supporters with a high social status who will provide donations and help fund its programs. This perhaps explains the large number of extremists that continues to increase as they quickly become popular figures whom people love and respect. They therefore become rich celebrities. These figures are innately intelligent and seek to serve their own interests first and foremost. This is why they give people what they want and do not produce anything that promotes moderation, reform and tolerance.
All calls for moderation failed and the situation only further deteriorated as more people were killed in terror attacks and ISIS took violence one step further with its practices of burning people alive and drowning them in cages.
Asking the wrong people to reform
The mistake here is that we asked the wrong people to reform and forgot that great leaders and historical figures are the ones who are in fact capable of altering the formula, making significant reforms on the level of economy, politics and ideas and changing how the society looks at itself and at the world around it.
This was seen in Islamic history when the enlightening vision of Al-Ma'mun contributed to building a strong civilization that developed science and blended cultures and ideas. In Europe, people still remember King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, who protected thinkers thus helping their ideas spread eventually contributing to the rise of Europe’s civilization. Major political figures played such roles and changed the course of history.
Destroying hate speech and intolerance is a huge and noble task that only historical and exceptional figures are capable of.Mamdouh AlMuhaini
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to St Mark’s Cathedral and his conversation with Coptic Pope Tawadros II are one of these historical moments that aim to save the entire region from the dilemma of extremism and terrorism which we’re stuck in as individuals, societies and governments.
The crown prince’s visit to the church is the biggest message that supports moderation and religious tolerance and rejects extremist thought. This is what yields real change that produces more moderate and tolerant religious figures who positively respond to these major transformations.
Saudi Arabia is witnessing intellectual openness thanks to its reforms. More moderate voices that are more harmonious with social and economic changes emerged while those of famous extremists, who were social media celebrities, declined. They were quickly forgotten and they ended up working in advertisement and public relations.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the church is a brave step that carries a clear and strong message which goes beyond Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It’s a message to all Arab and Muslim countries which suffer from extremists’ evils and which thwart terrorists’ attacks on a daily basis. The disease is extremism and its treatment is solidifying moderation and religious tolerance which will provide societies with the right opportunity to get rid of sectarian hatred that’s tearing them apart and destroying their children. Countries will thus focus on developing the economy and improving their livelihood situation so their societies rise and contribute to building the future with the rest of the world. This is why NEOM is significant as it’s much more than an economic project – it symbolizes the desire to exit the past and enter the future.
Destroying hate speech and intolerance is a huge and noble task that only historical and exceptional figures are capable of – figures who chose to take unexpected brave measures while bearing attacks and harm to help millions build a promising future and a happy life that they can never attain as long as the hyenas of extremism besiege them.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain
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