Help moderate Muslims defeat Islamic extremism
By Sarvnaz Chitsaz chairwoman of the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran @
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the teachings of Islam should know that the Quran states plainly that there shall be no coercion in religion. It is the clearest statement that violence and terrorism are not endorsed by Islam.
But nowhere is fundamentalism’s wrath felt more clearly that in its vile treatment of women. Last month the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and it bears reminding the global community that misogyny is diametrically opposed to the inherent humanitarian values of Islam.
Hundreds of millions of Muslims are living peacefully and productively in modern and tolerant societies. As a Muslim, I know my religion has nothing to do with the vile ideology of ISIS and the Iranian regime, which promote tragedies like the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. Their ideology is based on coercion, misogyny, intolerance and violence.
Sadly, every time someone perverts my religion to suppress women or carry out sickening terrorist actions in its name, the entire global Muslim population is unjustifiably blamed. But I recognize that those who direct their anger at all Muslims are only a tiny portion of lovers of liberty and peace.
The ideology of ISIS is inhumane, period. When they overran parts of Iraq, they took women of the Yazidi faith as slaves. They treat all women as second-class citizens, and implement barbaric punishments against them, including stoning.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, French President Francois Hollande rightly said, “We are not engaged in a war between civilizations because these murderers do not represent any.”
Certainly, ISIS does not stand for anything larger than itself, either in this world or the next. But we can go further and say that ISIS and other extremist groups are true enemies of all civilization, most of all the Islamic civilization.
The apocalyptic ideology of ISIS and its Shiite counterpart in Iran will promote the destruction of everything that stands in their way of creating a global “Islamic” empire that wants to enact vicious Sharia laws, which have nothing to do with Islam.
The main difference is that the extremist regime in Iran has already institutionalized and implemented Sharia laws and misogynist policies in its constitution. It established a brutal religious tyranny three decades before ISIS. In Iran, women are not only second-class citizens, they are tortured, stoned, raped in prisons, and robbed of their basic rights.
Today, they are even excluded from taking a number of university courses and cannot appear in stadiums to watch sporting events. There are no women allowed to sing in Iran or to travel abroad without the permission of their fathers or husbands.
The vast majority of the victims of Islamic extremism throughout history have been moderate Muslims, first among them women. Whether they are Western-backed rebels fighting ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria, or Iranian dissidents who are intent on overturning the repressive Shiite theocracy in Tehran, or just ordinary Muslims killed or injured by attacks like those that hit Beirut before Paris, moderate Muslims are diametrically opposed to extremist groups everywhere they raise their ugly heads.
Moderate Muslims see misogyny and terrorist attacks as an assault on all humanity and on Islam itself. This sentiment was expressed in the wake of the Paris attacks by Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim woman who heads the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Mainstream Muslim society and secular Christian society are two sides of the same coin and an attack on one is an attack on the other. Moderate movements like the NCRI recognize this well. They have seen first-hand how extremists like those ruling Tehran use their ideology to murder citizens, abuse human rights, and proliferate violence and intolerance.
Western leaders would do well to recognize the same truth. They should form an alliance with moderate Muslims that can ultimately defeat the insidious threat of Islamic extremism. Muslims who believe in democracy are the most effective force in the fight against the threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
The world must stand firm against Islamic fundamentalism, not only militarily but also ideologically and culturally. The ultimate solution to extremism is to support moderate Muslim movements that espouse gender equality, democracy, pluralism, and tolerance.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Those words are as true today as they were 150 years ago.
As a marginal and dangerous minority actively tries to corrupt the image of the world’s second largest faith in order to divide the whole of humanity, we must stand firm and united to defend our common civilization’s achievements, which include human rights, democracy, and women’s rights. Our future depends on it.
Chitsaz is chairwoman of the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which seeks the establishment of a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran.