The Iman Foundation

House of Commons: IMAN has a dinner discussion on challenging extremism

Sunday, 8 December 2013 10 more images

The Iman Foundation was delighted to host a dinner discussion with parliamentarians, religious leaders and community representatives at the House of Commons on the subject of "'Islamism, extremism and sectarianism; a threat to Middle East and world peace; what solutions?'

The event was hosted by Iman Foundation advisory board member, Andrew Rosindell MP, who has been an active supporter of the foundation since it's launch at the House of Commons back in 2011.

Speaking after the event Andrew said:

"I was delighted to host the Iman Foundation, it was an exceptional evening and everyone who attended clearly took a lot from the event.

The Middle East and North Africa face many challenges ahead in terms of combatting extremism and sectarianism and there will be no overnight solution - however at events like this, the opportunity to talk and exchange ideas with such a broad range of people gives me hope that together we can foster a new forward-looking approach to the region.

There are answers to these problems and the Iman Foundation is doing it's best to find them."

The foundation was also delighted to welcome His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, The Rt. Hon. Lord Kilclooney, The Rt. Hon. Lord Hamilton, Rabbi Hershel Gluck, Rabbi Maurice Michaels, The Very Rev. John Salter, Pastor Mary Afolabi, Pastor Jide Omotayo, David Abrahams, David Sasson, Ralph Land, Mrs Mili Gottlieb, Mrs Yasmin Allawi and renound political commentator Potkin Azarmehr amongst others.

Before the substantive discussion Ribal Al-Assad, Chairman of the Iman Foundation, addressed the group and gave the following speech:

Islamic extremism – how it spreads and what we can do …


Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen welcome.


I am well aware that the demands on your time are immense and that you are faced with many requests from worthy causes.

Please be assured that I am hugely grateful you have chosen to be here.


As you know, the IMAN foundation seeks to tackle extremism and its inevitably tragic consequences on civilians.


We have met religious and political leaders around the world in Parliaments, Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples from the Far East to the Middle East and Europe.

Our network is global, and so are our objectives.

Because conflict and violence are contagious and their tentacles are far-reaching.


Even the most cursory look at the news from last week’s bombings in Iraq and this summer’s massacres in Kenya and Nigeria to the ongoing acts of terrorism in Algeria and  Mali and the atrocities carried out against innocent civilians in Egypt demonstrates the ever-growing link between Islamism and violence.


From Lebanon to Libya through Chad and Northern Nigeria across Russian Chechnya and into China’s Xinjiang Province Islamism flourishes.


It may have attracted a wealthy minority but Militant Islamism preys mainly on the young, the poor and the disaffected.

It offers an  identity, a cause and eternal rewards.

But the means to this end is intolerance and violence leaving societies to live in fear.


Islamism comes in many forms.

You will have heard of Salafists and Wahabists.

You will also have heard of groups spreading Islamism in specific areas like Boko Haram, Al- Shabab, The Turkistan Islamic Party, Abu Sayyaf, Al Nusra and The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

Their modus operandi is clearly violent and direct.


The Muslim Brotherhood shares all the same values and goals.

But it is prepared to take a more subtle approach a form of ‘creeping’ Islamisation working within a democratic context.

This is a pragmatic ruse intended to allow the Brotherhood into mainstream politics before it unveils its true purpose.


But that purpose lurks just beneath the surface.

As Turkey’s President Erdogan put it in 1998 when he described democracy as “just the train we board to reach our destination”.

A year earlier he voiced a poem that read: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers;” 


And that destination was put into stark reality by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi long-recognised as a spiritual leader amongst followers of the Brotherhood who effectively served a death sentence on the entire Alawite sect by describing them as ‘‘more infidels than Christians and Jews’’. 

He also urged the Brotherhood to apply Sharia Law gradually which he defined as not cutting off hands within the first five years.

In Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, whose brief Presidency illustrated the Brotherhood's approach to power called on Egyptians in 2010 to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews.

He also described Jews as "Descendants of Apes and Pigs" 

As this petrifying quote attests the Brotherhood seeks a global Islamic state on its own terms.

In the words of its own Deputy Guide, Khairat al-Shater, this means:

“Restoring Islam and its all-encompassing conception; subjugating people to God; instituting the religion of God: the Islamization of life, empowering of God’s religion; establishing the Nahda of the Ummah on the basis of Islam".

These sentiments are illustrated in the raw symbolism of its flag, which includes:

The Quran (referencing Sharia Law) two swords (referencing Jihad) and the words “and prepare” (referencing a surat in the Quran: "And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows.").


Around this is written:

“Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; Qur’an is our law; Jihad is our way; Dying in the name of Allah is our greatest hope.”

This is an organisation that makes no secret of its plans for non-believers,  ‘apostates’ and ‘infidels’.

There is clearly nothing democratic, ethical or peaceful about this.

But it is clear that we currently live in a climate where these groups are growing in size and influence.


A full summary would take all night but the metamorphosis of the Arab ‘Spring’ into something much more sinister demonstrates what can happen when militant Islamists are funded, encouraged and set loose.


In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood initially sided with the regime then switched sides when revolution looked inevitable and grasped power.

The realisation of what this meant in practise and the speed at which the Morsi regime revealed its true intentions led to further change.


I have already quoted President Erdogan – a politicial leader and Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi – a spiritual leader.

They have not spoken in isolation.

Their sentiments have been echoed by the the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia – its highest Islamic authority who called on Muslims to burn churches and Sheikh Saleh Al-Luhaidan, Saudi’s former Chief of Justice, who called for Jihad against the Alawites even if one third of the population died in the process.

This was a man who, after the Twin Towers fell in 2001 commented:

“Islam does not condone murder except (to punish) those who kill or who attack Muslims, and therefore, such crimes which do not differentiate between a baby, woman or elderly person…are considered one of the greatest crimes.”

And, it doesn’t stop there. 

Sheikh Al-Luhaidan has spoken out against public demonstrations, making it clear of the repercussions that would follow.

He described demonstrations as “demagogic” and authorities were duty-bound to “stand up firmly” to such activities.

For the record, Al-Luhaidan’s views include the belief that women driving cars cause clinical defects in their children!

In short, these individuals have held different positions and use different words but are effectively communicating the same brutal message.


In this environment of state-sponsored bigotry it is no surprise that liberal causes have been hijacked by extremists across Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya, Tunisia and, of course, in my native Syria where the initial protests were by liberal Syrians who ignored the 'Day of Rage' Facebook page set-up by extremists and who simultaneously chanted for peace and against the Muslim Brotherhood.


But the Islamist hijack of their revolution led first to a civil war between the tyrannical regime and an extremist opposition

which is now striving to impose Islam on the country.


The external Syrian opposition was commandeered by the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is exceptionally well organised, well funded and able to move fast and with help from Turkey and Qatar, filled the Syrian National Council with it own members ensuring that 80% of the Council were members of the Brotherhood from the very start.


On the ground, rebel Salafist groups have been funded and armed largely by Saudi Arabia other extremist Islamist groups have been supported by Qatar (which was eventually chastised by the US) with the logistical support of Turkey which provided safe passage.

It is estimated that US$3.5bn has reached rebel groups in this way.


Saudi Arabia and Qatar have long been the puppet-masters of extremism.

Although they have their differences, their ideologies remain consistently anti-democratic.

Domestically, they demonstrate extraordinary high levels of repression and they have constantly failed to carry out their promises to the Human Rights Council.

The prospect of a liberal uprising across the region terrified them and they have exported funds and arms to extremist groups who have an equal loathing of pluralism.

They both fear a ‘domino effect’ of democracy as witnessed in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


I have already mentioned the stream of Jihadist invective stemming from some senior Islamist clerics and certain Imams have also helped to fund terror on the ground.

The Zakat – one of the five pillars of Islam – and intended as a charitable contribution to good causes has been siphoned-off to fund terrorism.

This is not a practise restricted to Muslim nations .

In Dallas, five officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development were sentenced to more than 145 years in prison for funnelling more than $12m to Hamas.

But the misuse of Zakat has greater resonance within totalitarian regimes where political gatherings are banned where secular movements are unmanageable where organised opposition is only viable within religious places of worship at the whim of those clerics whose modus operandi is irreligious and whose collections for ‘charity’ are clearly being distributed the wrong way.


Some Islamic Charities are also being used for this sinister purpose helping to explain how Islamism is being funded and how it is spreading.

But it does not explain why so many people remain sympathetic to its cause.


There is an age-old truth that rebellions are caused by poverty and discontent.

This is not exclusively a Middle Eastern or North African problem.

Nor a new one.

The 'Arab Spring' did not happen because people suddenly realised they were living under despotic regimes.

It was a result of the global  economic situation magnified by the appalling economic mismanagement of its rulers.


The global economic crisis created issues in almost every corner of the planet but in democratic countries, it met with democratic reactions.

In Greece, for example, the crisis was extreme the reaction was public and hostile and in 2012 the government fell in a democratic election.


But under the dictatorships of the Middle East and Northern Africa tough times simply led to tougher measures.

Political parties and funding were banned mass gatherings were forbidden as always.


And the situation for the  bulk of the population who had suffered when times were good was now made unbearable.

In fact, 60% of the Arab World is under the age of thirty.

A huge number are unemployed, and the majority live in poverty.

But they had no democratic institution through which to air their basic grievances.


It is important to remember that the entire wave of uprisings that triggered the Arab Spring was not sparked by a political movement but by the economic crisis affecting a Tunisian vegetable peddler frustrated about injustice and his inability to do anything about it specifically the restrictions on his ability to trade who set himself alight after a confrontation with the police.


This led to calls against oppression for a voice and for representation.

But extremists saw an opportunity to strike.

And with no infrastructure supporting democratic parties or liberals or even the quiet peaceful majority the brilliantly organised champions of Islamism took control.


Saudi and Qatar poured money into the promotion of Islamist groups whose core objective was not democracy, but it’s diametric opposite.

And the result has been the ongoing sponsorship of Islamism and the magnetic attraction of the disaffected to its sinister cause.


So what can we do to stem the tide?

It is all very well abhorring extremism but if we are to counter it, we must attack its very core.


Our work must be fourfold.

At home, we can encourage every form of cultural diplomacy and assimilation where different groups can gather through shared interests including sport, music and art.

We should also ensure that those who wish to benefit from our democracies by living here are effectively screened to ensure that they will contribute positively rather than become enemies within.

They must understand that democracy, freedom and pluralism are positive, constructive ideals and not an excuse to incite violence and hatred.

Diplomatically we must cease to accept the world being run on double standards.

When terror hits our own shores, our leaders speak of the core principles of freedom and human rights.

But when trouble is far from home, there is a tendency to allow vested interests to hold sway.

And so we condone the regime in North Korea whilst ignoring the human rights violations in Saudi and Qatar when oil, arms and other financial benefits are involved.


We must also cease to view Islamism as a danger in a faraway land.

It is already amongst us and not only on TV dramas like Spooks and Homeland!

Mike Morrell, the recently retired Deputy Head of the CIA believes that the extremism in Syria presents the biggest threat to U.S National Security.

And its geography means that threat can be multiplied in Europe.

And just today The European Union’s anti-terrorism chief was telling the EU interior ministers about the “major security threat” that the increase of foreign fighters in Syria poses.


But this is an age of technology.

And the ideology of hate can spread via social media.

It is practiced and encouraged by a collection of disparate groups and individuals impossible to identify and never in the same place at the same time.

It does not have a city to attack an army to fight or an Ambassador to threaten.


As I have said on many occasions in recent years:

Dictatorships breed corruption.

Corruption breeds resentment.

Resentment breeds extremism.

Understanding this means that we can only successfully counter it at source.


We must continue to encourage Democracy and Freedom in all places, and promote our universal values without taking a selective approach.

We must do all we can to stimulate an environment that engages and inspires our young people.

The key is to create a platform within which they can aspire to live better lives.

They must have the freedom to express themselves the freedom to trade and the freedom to live independently.


There are precedents for this.

Economic growth provided a platform for many countries like Argentina, Chile, in South America and Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia to cast-off the shackles of dictatorship.


Even here in Europe in the 1970’s the West helped provide an economic and social context enabling democratic transition in Greece, Portugal, and Spain.

This was repeated in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


If the international community could throw itself with equal gusto into the countries affected by the Arab uprisings of 2011 then change for the better would be a more likely prospect.


This does not mean the impersonal lavishing of riches on political groups aligned with the West but investment in the grass roots of society hands-on involvement involving the training of individuals not just in specific trades but in the ways to build a peaceful, democratic and civil society.

An infrastructure facilitating hope can move mountains.

But we cannot stop there.


History tells us that the countries of the Middle East and North Africa were, for centuries, dependent on colonial governments.

They achieved independence but have become lost and we must help them find their way towards a self-dependency.

We must help build schools, universities, hospitals and factories that provide the genesis of hope.


Financial investment that creates the means for self-sufficiency will produce spectacular returns.

It will cease the incessant flight from poverty.

It will create a demand for our own exports.

It will breed healthy cynicism in the face of preachers of hate.

In essence, it will provide the foundations for a better future for the people of the Middle East and North Africa a future in which the lure of extremists will be annulled and the immigration crisis will abate as people cease to run from violence and poverty.

It also goes without saying that in an environment of peace and prosperity tourism will thrive once more.

Ultimately, we will all become measurably safer as a result.


On the flip-side if we do not fill the void then the disaffected will continue to be taken advantage of by countries like Saudi and Qatar who spread money to Islamist groups run by leaders whose words are orders and who preach the message that life on earth is simply a passage to the riches of paradise.

This may seem laughable to us but there is currently little alternative for so many young, disaffected people around the world.


IMAN has mighty ambitions.

And at this time, we are limited in the impact it can create directly.

But our network is vast and our influence is growing.

Your collective  interest and enthusiasm is another step along the way.

Each of us is connected to lawmakers and governments.

We have the opportunity to lobby and cajole to point to examples of best practise and to implore those who wish to achieve all that is good for the world to condemn and undermine the individuals, groups, organisations and governments who promote and propagate extremism and who utilise religion as a tool of hatred around the world.


Thank you.

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