"Conversation With" talks to Dr Aref Ali Nayed, Libya's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Founder and Director of the Kalam Research & Media, on ISIS, anti-terrorism, and why Malays in Southeast Asia should stick to their own cultures.
Interviewer: The rise of ISIS is rather like the rise of World War III and if we continue to appease them they are just going to escalate the horrors that they are carrying out. Dr. Aref Ali Nayed has been ranked one of the top 50 most influential Muslims in the world. He also happens to be the founder and director of the Kalam, Research& Media as well as the Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Welcome to a «Conversation With»...with Dr. Nayed.
[News Asia Graphics’ Interlude]
[Dr. Aref Ali Nayed is a renowned Islamic scholar who has taught in universities across the world, from the International Institute for Islamic Thought and Civilization in Malaysia, to schools in Tripoli and Rome. He has also been named one of the most influential Muslims in the world by the Jordan based think tank, the Royal Islamic Strategic Study Centre. And he has been actively promoting interfaith dialogues between Muslims and Christians for more than two decades.]
Interviewer: Dr. Nayed, welcome to Conversation With.
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Thank you Lin.
Interviewer: You have likened the fight against ISIS to World War III, this is “sensationalist”?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I do not think so, I think it will be a World War III that is very different from World War II, just as World War II was very different from World War I. But I believe the escalating momentum of these attacks that have become almost daily by now and almost omnipresent; Brussels, Ankara, Lahore, and also omnipresent in terms of the kinds of targets from railway stations to airports and lately parks and even areas where children play and football stadiums, this indicates that we are dealing with a phenomenon that is growing exponentially and that has the danger of actually engulfing the entire world, if not checked vigorously.
Interviewer: But this is a very scary scenario, people still do go to work and you know have dinner with their families and go shopping and do all the noble things that we do. This is what you describe still a minority, a terrible sad group of people who are doing minority of actions in the world.
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Of course it is, but the traumatizing is not contained, the traumatizing is actually being made universal and omnipresent all over the world through the news; through social media. What these criminals are attempting to do and are I think succeeding is to traumatize entire populations and that’s why I think the issue of trauma is very important to look at. Trauma is the origin of radicalization; trauma is utilized by these radicals; and trauma is weaponized; they are actually trying to traumatize all of humanity. And the earlier we see this, I think the more likely we are to get together, to put a stop to this tactics.
Interviewer: It’s an interesting thing, you use the word trauma which is not one that you normally associate with terrorism, you think of it as accidents or you know natural disasters?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I think the category of trauma is very important to invoke, I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but as a theologian and philosopher I find that coming up with metaphors and analogies is very important, because it can enlighten us with many things. I believe that if you look at where ISIS arose, you will find that it is in the previously traumatized areas; in post Iraq war areas; and in post Syrian war areas; and in post Libyan revolution areas. These areas are basically areas that have suffered traumas, but interestingly what ISIS is doing, is actually utilizing these traumas by basically developing senses of victimhood, of grievances which give rise to self-righteousness. And then they go on to utilize these traumas as weapons, meaning to weaponize trauma. And if you look at the way they have very carefully orchestrated and filmed their various propaganda videos, they have tried to outdo themselves in the level of viciousness and criminality and atrocities in each bout of propaganda material.
Interviewer: Well, that’s very frightening one of things you have mentioned that it gets more horrific each time, that’s really troubling?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: It is because there is the unfortunate phenomenon of people getting used to horrible things by seeing them again and again. So, what they are doing to overcome this normalization is to surprise viewers each time with an un-thought of level of atrocities and unthought-of level of criminality and viciousness. And that’s what’s really troubling because they are deliberately increasing the intensity of the violence. They actually have written a book on it which is called “The Management of Viciousness” so this is a deliberate phenomenon that we are seeing, this is not just coincidental.
Interviewer: How could this escalate even further then are we going to see even more horrific attacks, is that what you are saying?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I am saying that unless we are absolutely vigilant and unless we get together and I keep saying this word of getting together that’s extremely important, we need to network together in a network of networks of goodness, to overcome their network of networks of evil. Because what these people have done is that they have created a kind of a franchise model and a branding model where they are setting up franchises all over the world. And where they are not being countered by any brands of goodness or compassion or liable co-living, neighborliness, that can succeed in overcoming them and we need to do that very urgently.
Interviewer: You are making this sound a little bit like the good guys against the bad guys, is it quite as simple as that?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Well, I think that it is one of the sad dimensions of our modern thinking is that we have relativized everything. There is such a thing as evil and there are vices and there are virtues. Killing kids and killing women and killing innocent people is evil, pure and simple, you cannot mitigate it in anyway. And it’s very important that we stand-up to it, we don’t dilute these categories because doing so is actually quite dangerous.
Interviewer: But so you had actually said that you are alright with let’s say the bombing of certain areas in Syria, that you were alright with saying that there have to be limits [Phonetic] [00:07:26]. So, isn’t that also an expression of the physical violence of not being compassionate?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Unfortunately there are situations when there is a Command and Control center where people are plotting to blow up cities, definitely it’s the less of two evils to actually engage that center. And, but it should never be done irresponsibly; it should never be done haphazardly; it should never be done without much preparation and study to make sure that you are not hitting innocent people. But unfortunately, it is a stark reality in this world that there are some people who are out there right now as we speak, who are plotting to actually attack kids in a playground like they did in Lahore or people trying to go on holidays at an airport like they did on Brussels, or to go on a train to their daily work. I don’t think that such people who attack innocence deserve the kind of compassion that we are talking about. And that is why the advocacy of an authentic discourse, I am not saying a counter-narrative, but an authentic-narrative of compassionate co-living, does not in any way contradict taking all the security measures that we need to take in order to protect our societies.
Interviewer: The Sultan of Johor actually has recently said that he said that he thinks that we need to have a more local form of Islam and that we should resist Arabization, do you agree as an Arab?
[Southeast Asia has faced multiple terrorist attacks in the recent past, including last year’s Jakarta bombings which killed 8 people. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s counter terrorism body says around 514 Indonesians have joined ISIS with at least 4 Indonesians killed supporting this heinous group. Some as young as 19, such as Wildan Mukhollad who blew himself up in a restaurant in Baghdad in 2014.]
Interviewer: What about people who say that part of the problem and in fact some of the things that we were beginning to see here in Southeast Asia, in 2014, Wildan Mukhollad, a 19 year old Indonesian boy went off to Bagdad and he blew himself up in a restaurant. What would you say to his mother? What went wrong there?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I think the mother and the father and more likely the grandmother and the grandfather did a wonderful job of living as Muslims with proper Muslim values. The problem is, our younger generations have been kidnapped from us, and they have been kidnapped by so called Islamist intellectuals and movements that pretend to be politically active and responsible and so on. But that basically dish out a diet of grievances and anger and the revenge talk rather than the greeting humanity or the greeting of Islam which is in the “Alssalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh” which means that the basic Muslim message, is peace, compassion and blessing. Where these ideologues are dishing out to these young kids, is basically war and the struggle instead of peace, they are giving cruelty instead of compassion and they are actually secularizing the universe in such a way as to take all blessings away from it. The notion of living in peace was God’s creation which is essential to Islam is lost and some of these kids are misled by these ideologues who seem like responsible Muslims scholars and so on, but who actually prepare the ground for radicalization.
Interviewer: Some of them even issue fatwas against certain area, certain groupings, so why is that possible? Why isn’t there more unity amongst Muslim theologians?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Well, you know what, the issue of fatwas is extremely important; we have had the unfortunate phenomenon of some so-called Muslim scholars actually giving fatwas of suicide bombing for example. That should not be tolerated neither by Muslims nor by non-Muslims. And scholars who do that should be declared as actually partaking in the criminality that they have generated and should be held responsible. Unfortunately, you find certain countries actually supporting them and financing them and spreading their message and we find their books being read as part of the canon [00:11:56] in some universities and seminaries which is absolutely wrong. We really must relook at all of that and we must also retrieve our gentle tradition, the tradition that brought Islam to this part of the world in complete peace at the hands of notions and sages and wise men and women and not through war. And I think that it is high time that the traditions of this region be respected. I had the honor of giving a talk to the religious scholars of Malaysia in the Court House, the Sharia Court House in Kuala Lumpur. And I urged them actually to not only appreciate what they have, but to actually foster it and grow it with their own future generations. There is no need to send off kids to some Arab countries that actually teach a flattened Islam that is actually quite foreign to what Islam is all about.
[Of late there has also been some controversy in Southeast Asia about the Arabization of religious practices in this region. In March the Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim ibn Sultan Iskandar called the Malays to retain their own culture instead of adopting Arabic practices. Like speaking two Malay words such as the term Hari Raya compared with the Arabic Eid al-Fitr]
Interviewer: The Sultan of Johor actually has recently said that he thinks that we need to have a more local form of Islam and that we should resist Arabization, do you agree as an Arab?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I am an Arab and a Bedouin at that [00:13:36], so very Arab. And yet because I am a Muslim and because I am an Arab, I appreciate the richness of everyone else’s culture. I think, His Majesty is actually correct, why a Malay should give up his way of dressing or his way of talking or his language in order to somehow prove that he is more Islamic by borrowing some Arabic words. The Arab world unfortunately has been also traumatized deeply and has actually failed to produce truly convincing theologians of the traditional type. There are exceptions; but by and large, much of the literature coming of Arabic presses unfortunately has been estimates in the theological sense of Islamism; highly politicized. And the theologies have been reduced to a number of principles that are actually quite dangerous. So I think that it’s high time that Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei actually appreciate the traditions that have been taught in small schools and villages for several centuries now; traditions that actually teach kids to respect even the trees and the birds and the animals around them, let alone the human beings.
Interviewer: But isn't that possible that universality of Islam that people in different parts of the world who believe in Islam can actually have this unity together. Is it alright then if we develop so you to say here in Southeast Asia, Arab form of Islam?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Well, the beautiful thing about the universality of Islam is that it actually totally respects locality. As a matter of fact the only way to it is through locality. The universality of Islam never meant destroying your local culture. On the contrary, it actually taught the accommodation of locality, the taking into consideration of locality. To be a good Muslim generally, you have to be first a good Singaporean Muslim or a good Malay Muslim or a good Indonesian Muslim, only then can you be a representative of the universal Islam. Universality that is true and genuine will actually ask you to be nice not only to your locality, but to the very, the smallest of localities meaning to your neighborhood.
[ISIS is not going to actually establish a «State» despite the name «Islamic State». It actually destroys states in a parasitic way.]- Dr. Aref Ali Nayed
Interviewer: You said actually that ISIS feeds on Failed States?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Yes, because there is this, what I call a scavenging phenomenon in ISIS. ISIS is not trying to actually establish a state despite the name Islamic State, it actually destroys states in a parasitic way in order to actually take their resources to build itself up. And when I say build itself up, the state they are making is not just about geographic expansion, they are actually really where it’s most located is in cyberspace. They are actually creating the kind of universal state that they are seeking in exactly what we are proud of the world, the World Wide Web. They are creating it in cyberspace in such a way where they actually, they love to have a failed Syria, they love to have a failed Iraq or a failed Libya, why, because they can scavenge destroy the resources of these to build themselves up, they steal the oil, they steal the resources, they steal even the kids, so the thousands of displaced kids which is a tragic phenomenon, basically inducted into their camps to be trained to become even more monstrous than these monsters themselves.
Interviewer: U.S. President Barack Obama though has stated it might take generations to tackle ISIS, do you agree?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I do agree that this will take, it will take many decades and that the challenge of preventing radicalization actually will take forever, in the sense, that it is an ever renewed challenge. However, I believe that we must start now and that there is an unfortunately a tendency to link our destinies to elections and the election schedules which is quite unfair to humanity.
I have been warning of the rise of ISIS in my own country Libya since at least October of last year. I went to the States twice to speak about this to the media, to Congressmen, to the U.S.Administration. Unfortunately, you know, the attitude was, “it’s not really that serious; maybe we will see”. You know, and actually I was even accused of fear-mongering at one point! And this is most unfortunate, because we lost a very valuable year in which ISIS has basically vested in Libya; and now we have over 5000 fighters, they already controlled Sirte; well, completely with its airbase and airport. So, it is very dangerous to kind of invoke the long term in order not to do something in the short term. Yes, we need to look, work on the long term, but we must also work very urgent short term and do that together.
And some of the initiatives of the Obama administration have been quite worthy, especially the Social Media fight against ISIS and we need to do more of that, I just thought that the President in whatever little time remains for him, should actually 10 Dr. Aref Ali Nayed Interview in Singapore with «Channel News Asia» TV. April 07.2016
exercise the most attention to this issue. I think that it is time to be absolutely vigorous about this issue.
Interviewer: If we look at the young people who are now, some of them, it is not a large number, but those who seems to become an avid of these ideas, what can we do about that?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Well, I think the idea is to get them as quickly as possible. The best thing to do is to preempt; it is like in the case of a physical diseases, you know when somebody is struck my polio it’s very difficult to treat them. But inoculating against polio is actually fairly simple, a few droplets in childhood and you can actually prevent being struck by it. Best if we preempt everything by actually raising our kids from the youngest of age to not only respect the dignity of human beings, but of the entire universe around us or the ecology that is around us. Islam; it’s amazing that our traditions of the prophet that teach the respecting cats and dogs and trees is essential in the religion. So and that is the Islam that this part of the world knew for hundreds of years, unfortunately it’s being given up for ideas that are quite false.
Interviewer: How do you teach compassion in school, you say that we are not doing enough to inoculate our young, so what do we do in a really practical way?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: I will give you an example, instead of for example teaching the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, as a sequence of one war after the other or one battle after the other why not emphasize the fact that he was at the service of his household; why not emphasize the fact that he was gentle to kids; why not emphasize the fact that he said that a very evil and bad women was actually saved because she gave water to a dog, why? So the Seerah, the story of Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him is full of wonderful stories that teach compassion and kindness and neighborliness; the fact that when they were cooking something that he Prophet Muhammad, PBUH would ask his wife to give some to their Jewish neighbor. Why is this not being taught enough in the schools? These stories are wonderful stories for kids and they can help raise a generation that is full of these ideas; these ideas and also practices, you know the caring for animals at young age, the planting of gardens, the taking care of flowers, the aesthetics of beauty and of art, all of this is conducive to building up a nice generation that can actually live in peace with its surroundings.
Unfortunately, you know some of these movements now are making everything haram Religiously Impermissible, you know from artistic expression, to storytelling, to the singing of the praises of the Prophet in Mawlid [00:21:55], you know even though these things we know for a fact are actually generative of the spirituality and the style of living that has given peace to this part of the world for many hundreds of years and now we are losing this. And why because you know some Arab authors who happen to be influenced I think directly and indirectly by factitious ideas are basically trying to mutilate the tradition.
Interviewer: Ambassador, in the light of what happened in Brussels, and the terrible things that happened in Lahore, what can the individual do then, not to be afraid, not to develop prejudice?
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: First of all, you know, I know this may sound difficult, but we must remain calm, we must not allow the trauma- that these guys are deliberately inflicting upon us- to paralyze us. We must continue to think clearly. So, we must remain calm and think clearly; values that we share; things like compassion, co-living in peace, and the blessings of living in respect for the dignity of the human being.
Interviewer: Dr. Nayed, thank you very much for being on Conversation With.
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed: Thank you.
Interviewer: Thank you.