Thursday, February 26, 2015

Theodicy and Jihad

Ziya Meral tackles tough issues in his latest article The Question of Theodicy and Jihad, which tries to make sense out of Islamic violence and terror. I will reproduce a few of his core paragraphs (call them bullets if you must) here and try to analyze each separately later. Regardless, it is a good read.

When a state fails, when its promise to deliver a fair society does not actualize, and all other offers of a solution remain too feeble, religious networks, imaginations, solidarities, and mobilizations emerge as the most powerful, and often the only alternative, to address the question of theodicy and recreate a moral order.

Although this is not entirely wrong, from where I stand, I see a tendency towards violence, a lack of tolerance for others equally in affluent societies and prospering zones as well. Also, in some cases, the so called failure of the state is closely related to the actions and/or non-actions of the West.

In a context where violence is already present indiscriminately, it is easily seen as a regular and legitimate political option. Deployment of violence becomes a radical attempt to tame, control and re-order a universe that seems to be in decay and evil. Thus, it is not nihilistic as it is often thought, but a Nietzschean attempt to move ‘beyond good and evil’, to establish a new moral order as an answer to the question of theodicy.

Again, I beg to differ, at least partially. Deployment of violence is common in the Muslim world, but I agree that it is seen as an attempt to correct the wrong and the evil. Plus, Meral simply ignores the role of education and indoctrination of children.

An understanding of religious violence deployed by Muslim extremism through the question of theodicy rather than jihad has countless direct implications: from our aid and development programs to long-term counter-terror strategies at home and in theaters of conflict.

Most obviously, this means that we should stop efforts to have other Muslims “condemn violence in the name of Islam” or push for programs that promote theologies that challenge the use of violence. Such programs help to a certain extent, but often lead to a lot of counter-productive pressure on Muslims.

We agree. Creating a platonic Islam that is beautiful and ever good and condemning the problematic one as a fake does not take us anywhere, nor has it created a desired reaction from moderate Muslims (sic) so far.

The main theological challenge that lies before us is not whether or not a Muslim can commit acts of terror, but rather, how can there be theologies of hope and social change that channel deep grievances and deprivations into non-destructive activism. This means that our efforts to offer counter-narratives and break cycles of radicalization should not go through arguments on jihad and violence, but projects and messaging that offers a hopeful reading of the world and how deeply religious believers can work to improve, heal and restore a broken world.

Although this part nails it, in most areas of the world it is simply not possible and I cannot shake the feeling it addresses one problem only: keeping the violence away!