This House believes that political Islam is a threat to the West
Sunday January 18 2009
MOTION REJECTED by 49% to 51%
A motion expressing concern that the politicisation of Islam is threatening the West was defeated by the narrowest of margins recorded at the Doha Debates, now in their fifth year.
The motion 'This House believes that political Islam is a threat to the West' was defeated by 51% to 49%, reflecting serious divisions on the issue throughout the Middle East.
Arguing against the motion, Shadi Hamid, a Fellow at Stanford University and an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, insisted that some of the world’s most prominent Islamist groups had renounced violence and were committed to the democratic process.
Challenged by Tim Sebastian, Chairman of the Doha Debates, to explain the apparent commitment to violence of Hamas and Hezbollah, Mr Hamid, who is also Director of Research at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said he did not believe either organisation posed a substantive or significant threat to the West.
"There was no way either could ultimately defeat Israel. They are not representative of political Islam at large since their raison d’etre is a military one."
Sarah Joseph, Editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel and a consultant on Muslim affairs to the British Home Office, said political Islam was about the rights of Muslims to “self-determine” what the political systems in their countries should be.
Denying that Iran’s desire to become a nuclear power posed any threat to the West she insisted that that there was no such thing as a separation between politics and religion.
“If you don’t understand that religion and politics are connected you don’t understand religion," she said.
Speaking in support of the motion, Maajid Nawaz, a former leader of the UK branch of the Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned in some countries, said that while Islam itself as not a threat to the West, it was its politicisation that constituted a danger.
Mr Nawaz, who renounced his extremist political views after being jailed for four years in Egypt for his activities, said he was against those who “engaged in politics with a fixed agenda using the religious scriptures to back a political stand".
He cited Hamas as a classic illustration of this danger. “Just before Israel went into Gaza, Hamas had instituted a penal code where adulterers would be stoned to death, lashes would be given to those who drank and hands would be chopped off.
“We are not saying that there aren’t moderates or extremists, but that the ideology of political Islam gave birth to jihadism."
Yahya Pallavicini, an Italian Imam and government adviser, said the activities of those who misused religion for political purposes were harmful and a threat to the West because they “were brainwashing new generations with their utopian visions”.
“To promote Shariah law out of its context by such things as forcing women to wear burkhas and not allowing them to have an education is a misleading use of religion.”
He said it included the use of religion to “legitimise violence”.