77 extremists will not win. And government policy must reflect this confidence.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEADING PERSONS OF FAITH Work within the faith Interdicting financial flows, prosecuting incitements to violence, and monitoring or shutting down Internet sites are all important. Each of these addresses only the tactics of violent extremists. Material support is only a tool for extremist groups. Public incitements to violence are just one means of urging people to action. And the Internet is simply one tool for communications and recruitment, albeit one of growing importance. Extremist movements can continue to operate without any one of these. Without ideology, however, these movements cannot survive. The ideology of violence must be replaced, and the only people capable of executing this feat are leading persons within the faith. It is always challenging for lay people to make recommendations of the following type to the faithful. The entire approach of these recommendations is predicated on the notion that those outside of a religion cannot effect change in that faith, but rather that change must come from within. EWI, a secular organization with no sectarian or denominational leanings, sought input from a number of leading persons of faith from various religions. The resounding recommendation that resulted from these exchanges is the need to shift emphasis from an inter-faith approach to an intra-faith approach. Which is to say, leading persons of faith dedicated to combating intolerance should stop devoting so much of their energy to speaking with people from other religions and focus more on promoting dialogue within their religion. To this end, all of the following recommendations are within the rubric of how leading persons of faith can best intervene to prevent violence by those claiming the same religion. Deficits of tolerance and pluralism exist not only between faiths but also within them. A number of religious leaders have suggested to EWI that this type of intolerance is more difficult to address. A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim can agree that they are all religious people of faith, even if their faiths differ. However, just as civil wars within countries tend to be more brutal than wars between them, intolerance is generally at its most vitriolic when found within a faith. The most orthodox elements may consider more liberal adherents to be apostates, while some liberals are inclined to view the ultra-orthodox as zealots or perhaps even extremists in their own right. These gaps do not have to be overcome entirely. Rather, current inter-faith efforts should be adapted to create intra-faith models for dialogue, but with a narrower remit. For example, it is not necessary to
increase cross-denominational awareness for congregants in the same manner that inter-faith efforts seek to expose faiths to one another. A wholehearted embrace of pluralism throughout the faith is not necessary and the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. There does not need to be acceptance, or even tolerance, of different approaches to issues ranging from dietary laws to evolution. In this instance, what is necessary is to promote ways to co-exist to the degree that they can collectively provide a non-violent alternative to those in thrall to violent extremist movements. That means a commitment across the clergy to preach what they want and teach what they want, provided they preach and teach that the central tenets of the faith never condone extra-judicial violence. It also means agreement that they will stand up and stand together to denounce violence when it occurs and where it is endorsed. Before delineating specific recommendations, it is important to define the term that will appear throughout the remainder of this section: moderate. It is all too common to describe as moderate those who share our beliefs and leave it at that. However, the real moderates who make the most persuasive arguments against violent extremism may well be those who make both groups—the liberals and the orthodox— uncomfortable. These are leading persons of faith who speak from within the faith, seeking to reinterpret the fundamentals of the theology for the issues of the day. They do not speak a secular or liberal language, nor are they bound by an entirely literal interpretation of scripture. In the estimation of this report, these are the true moderates. Firstly, they are legitimately found in the middle of the spectrum between secularity and orthodoxy. Secondly, they are likely those best equipped to moderate between the two extremes. Finally, this report acknowledges that the following recommendations will not have equal utility across all situations involving religious extremism. Increasing young people’s religious literacy as a safeguard against their being led astray by extremist recruiters will naturally have more applicability in those cases where low religious literacy is a problem. Likewise, in some instances, moderates are already more vocal than in others. Thus the following constitute a range of general recommendations to be adapted as necessary depending on the specific situation, region, faith, and community.
Improve religious literacy Many young people vulnerable to successful recruitment into an extremist movement come to a crossroads in their lives—an identity crisis—in which they question what it means to be a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim, to take just the three faiths upon which
Published on Jul 23, 2010