Democracy as an Antidote to Extremism

Nov 29 2007

By Francis Kokutse

DAR ES SALAAM, Nov 29 (IPS) – The director of Panorama — the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development — has condemned those who carry out terrorist acts in the name of Islam, saying they are not representative of the global Muslim community.

Walid Salem made the comments in an interview with IPS on the sidelines of the third conference to be held under the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy. This joint initiative by Finland and Tanzania, which began in 2003, has tried to provide a new forum for North-South dialogue.

The Jerusalem-based Panorama is a non-governmental organisation set up in 1991 with a view to creating “a pluralistic Palestinian civil society”, according to the group’s website.

“Groups like al Qaeda are just a minority of Muslims and do not represent the broader peace loving Muslims around the world,” said Salem. “There is nothing like extremism in Islam. Rather, the religion stands for peace — and anyone who goes against the peace should not be seen to be working for all Muslims…These groups only use Islam to justify their extremist activities.”

He added that Islamic extremism was rooted in political developments in the Middle East, namely the emergence of political tyrants that had resulted in “oriental despotism”.

“With no chance of engaging those who led them, some of the people took to extremist activities and hid behind religion. When leaders deny the people participation in government and supervise a system of oppression as well as extreme poverty among the people, the people are bound to find a way to express their frustrations.”

Salem said the solution to these problems lay in improved governance. “Democracy must be created with justice assured to all, so that they can live their lives without fear of oppression.”

He also highlighted the need for Islam to be brought into step with modern life.

“During Mohammed’s time, limbs were cut off of those who stole, but now there are scholars who are calling for other forms of punishment for those who steal,” Salem said. “The issue of extremism has arisen because there are those who want to bring the past into the present. But times have changed, and no one is going round fighting ‘infidels’ as happened in the past.”

The Nov. 27-29 conference in Dar es Salaam is being held under the theme ‘Inclusive Governance — Bridging Global Divides’. Discussions have focused, in part, on the role that civil society has to play in promoting peace and security.

The meeting also marks the end of the second phase of the Helsinki Process (2005-2007), and is reviewing that has been achieved over the past two years.

The first phase of the process lasted from 2003 to 2005; its aims included developing extensive co-operation to address global problems. The second leg of the initiative (2005-2007) has tried to push for certain proposals made during the first phase to be implemented. Continuation of broad consultation on the difficulties facing the international community was also amongst the objectives of the second phase. (END/2007)

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