September 19, 2008

Prof Defines Effects of ‘Religionization’ on Islam

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Prof. Bassam Tibi, international relations at the University of Göttingen and Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large, lectured yesterday afternoon at the Plant Sciences Building on anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in the Islamic world.
“Perceptions of Islamic Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism” was part of a public affairs seminar series, the CIPA Colloquium. The lecture, sponsored by the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs as part of the 2008-09 Colloquium Series, focused on how “religionization” of political issues has caused these sentiments in the Islamic world.
After distinguishing the religion of Islam from Islamism, a set of political ideologies derived from Islam, Tibi said there is no Islamic anti-Semitism, only Islamist anti-Semitism.
Islamists today, he said, often “religionize” political issues to create the image of an American and Jewish conspiracy against Muslims.
“I’m a faithful Muslim. But when I have problems, I need to put Islam aside and recognize that the issues are social and political,” Tibi said. “Muslims always religionize the issue and have gotten us into a lot trouble … The Iraq War is a political issue. It has nothing to do with religion.”
Islamists believe an alliance existed between the Jews and Christians during the Crusades, when in fact the Jews had fought side by side with the Muslims to defend Jerusalem. Misconceptions such as this are the root cause of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in the Islamic world, Tibi explained.
“Islam is not only a religion. It was established as a civilization,” Tibi said.
But that civilization began to decline in the late eighteenth century, and Islamists concluded that Islam was under siege and that all necessary steps must be taken to protect their religion.[img_assist|nid=31913|title=Taking the middle ground|desc=Prof. Bassam Tibi, international relations at the University of Gottingen and A.D. White Professor at Large, spoke in the Plant Science Building on Islamic Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism yesterday. The event was part of the Cornell Institute for Publi|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Again emphasizing that the real problem is not Islam but religionization, Tibi concluded, “It’s very important for Muslims to say we’re against racism … If you religionize the problems, you close the door.”
Following the lecture, a member of the audience asked Tibi why terrorism is linked to Islam. He answered by differentiating jihad and jihadism. Jihad contains the concept of qital, the use of force. However, there are clear rules governing this use of force. For example, warning the target beforehand is imperative. Conversely, followers of jihadism do not believe in peaceful methods and instead assert violence is the only way to defend Islam.
Another question addressed the connection between religionization and “ethnicization.” In countries such as China, people are “ethinicizing” religions, meaning that different ethnic groups are interpreting the same religion in different ways. This creates conflict because it breaks the universality of a religion.
Peter Luthy grad was one of many non-CIPA students who attended the lecture. “I liked how he engaged with the audience, especially because it’s easy to get too specific on issues such as this. He engaged us in issues that people are very passionate about, giving us a focused discussion. I was also surprised at how good the questions were,” he said.
Siobhan Cornwell ’09, a CIPA member, said, “I thought it was fantastic. The Middle East and Arab world conflicts are very confusing, and most people can’t sort them out. But the way he articulated was very accessible to a large population.”
However, not all audience members were happy with the lecture. One Muslim student, for example, said that Tibi only referred to a few specific scholars to prove his points and felt he was biased.