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King Abdullah, Amitabh Bachchan's advocacy of moderation over extremism matters in these polarising times

Two powerful speeches were delivered recently against the forces of extremism in present times: one by King Abdullah II of Jordan in New Delhi on 1 March and the other by Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai on the 9th anniversary of 26/11 terror attacks. These two might be the only prominent speeches on this subject delivered in the context of India post 9/11. It's relevant that their speeches be understood for the message the two thought leaders sought to convey.

Ending his three-day visit to India, King Abdullah spoke on, in his own words, "the role of faith in the future of our world." He noted how the Quran says that God created humankind from "a single pair of male and female." Contrary to this message of humanity being one, there are Quranic verses that are counter-humanism, notably with regards to kafirs (infidels), mushrikeen (idolaters) and munafiqeen (hypocrites). In these polarising times when people seek fake news to confirm their biases, one can pick a specific set of Quranic verses to foster enmity and attain the goals these verses seek to achieve.

File image of Jordan King Abdullah II and Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. PTI

File image of Jordan King Abdullah II and Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. PTI

Or, one can do what the king was doing. King Abdullah understands that conversation can be a tool to foster moderation, so does Bachchan. On the 26/11 anniversary, Bachchan said: "The perception that moderates are not relevant in the war on terror is rather myopic and short-sighted."

Because news is negative, with exceptions to sports and business journalism, the media's focus is on extremists rather than the moderates. This magnifies the perception that moderates are irrelevant. This is exactly the message the Jordanian king conveyed when he said, "too much of what's heard in the news or seen online about religion today is all about what separates people."

The king and the actor want the world to grasp that humanity's mainstream core remains moderate, opposed to extremism. "Moderates are not part of this struggle because both the handlers of terror and the agents of resistance consider them to be passive and disempowered," Bachchan said.

He added: "As moderates, we must recognise that to vilify a foe is no victory at all, to understand a foe is the first act of strength in resistance."

Both Bachchan and the king have a single message: the moderates must not allow extremists to define us. Bachchan stated that to understand a foe is to understand ourselves by asking "what we are for" rather than "what we are against."

Once this understanding becomes mainstream, the forces of extremism in society can be countered in one-to-one conversations, or on Facebook and Twitter. But this is not happening on social media platforms. King Abdullah noted, "Around the world suspicions are inflamed by what different groups don't know about others. Such ideologies of hate distort the word of god, to stir a conflict and justify crimes and terror." Both the king and Bachchan think that these are serious issues and the forces of extremism must be countered by the moderates.

The visiting king said, "We need to take these dangers seriously. But they should never be allowed to distract us from… that faith to draw humanity together."

Bachchan, in his own way, stated: "It's very simple: A parasite cannot kill and survive on the same host at the same time. We must refuse to host terrorists." Both the leaders conveyed one message: Societies must refuse to host extremist forces because they feed each other; one group of extremists engages in grievance-mongering, thereby radicalising the other group which creates a cycle of violence.

Islam lends itself to two interpretations: one is moderate, the other is extremist. The moderate interpretation is mainstream and silent; the extremist interpretation is fringe, armed and vocal – aided by geopolitics and media. Arguing against the king requires that one must explain why there are no jihadi wars in Muslim countries from Brunei and Malaysia through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Jordan and Oman, to Niger and Morocco. It's a fact that there are jihad-inspiring verses, but it's also a fact that of 1.8 billion Muslims, the number of terrorists is negligible.

Because people live together, moderation is a fact. King Abdullah and Bachchan tried to pull the humanity together. This is what Narendra Modi did, for electoral purposes in 2014, when he gave the slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (Together with all, Progress for all). On 1 March, before the king's speech, the prime minister spoke: "Those who attack humanity perhaps don't understand that the damage is caused to the very faith for which they claim to be standing up."

The king drew from the Indian maxim of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam when he said that "the world is one family" and noted: "Inclusion is the path to the coexistence we need."

To advance the cause of moderation, King Abdullah said: "We need to take back the airwaves and internet from the voices of hatred."It is possible that extremists will say: moderates are irrelevant. To them, the moderates can say: extremists cannot take over our streets, our cities and our nations. Because at any point in time the moderates are in high numbers, they are winners even when silent, while extremists have one certain future: defeat."Today's global war against terror is," King Abdullah said,"a fight by moderates of all communities against extremists whose faith is hate."

Bachchan's message is stronger: "Whatever political rhetoric may say, terrorism is neither a form of justice nor even an instrument of justice; it is the whimsical randomness of evil."

Unfortunately, the rightwing has imbibed the view that all Muslims are jihadis, while jihadis teach the view that all infidels are wrong. Moderation means this: if a part of the body is afflicted by cancer, you treat cancer, not destroy the whole body. In polarising times, moderates must be farmers.

"When a farm is infested by weeds, a weed-killer does not stop them from growing again after the next rain," Bachchan said, "The farmer has to pull them out, one by one, by its roots." Extremists of all varieties, whether on social media or elsewhere, must be weeded out one by one.

The author is a senior fellow for Islamism and Counter-Radicalisation Initiative at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 23:00 PM

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