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  • Could I protect my father

  • from the Armed Islamic Group with a paring knife?

  • That was the question I faced

  • one Tuesday morning in June of 1993,

  • when I was a law student.

  • I woke up early that morning

  • in Dad's apartment

  • on the outskirts of Algiers, Algeria,

  • to an unrelenting pounding on the front door.

  • It was a season as described by a local paper

  • when every Tuesday a scholar fell

  • to the bullets of fundamentalist assassins.

  • My father's university teaching of Darwin

  • had already provoked a classroom visit

  • from the head of the so-called Islamic Salvation Front,

  • who denounced Dad as an advocate of biologism

  • before Dad had ejected the man,

  • and now whoever was outside

  • would neither identify himself nor go away.

  • So my father tried to get the police on the phone,

  • but perhaps terrified by the rising tide

  • of armed extremism that had already claimed

  • the lives of so many Algerian officers,

  • they didn't even answer.

  • And that was when I went to the kitchen,

  • got out a paring knife,

  • and took up a position inside the entryway.

  • It was a ridiculous thing to do, really,

  • but I couldn't think of anything else,

  • and so there I stood.

  • When I look back now, I think that that was the moment

  • that set me on the path was to writing a book

  • called "Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here:

  • Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism."

  • The title comes from a Pakistani play.

  • I think it was actually that moment

  • that sent me on the journey

  • to interview 300 people of Muslim heritage

  • from nearly 30 countries,

  • from Afghanistan to Mali,

  • to find out how they fought fundamentalism

  • peacefully like my father did,

  • and how they coped with the attendant risks.

  • Luckily, back in June of 1993,

  • our unidentified visitor went away,

  • but other families were so much less lucky,

  • and that was the thought that motivated my research.

  • In any case, someone would return

  • a few months later and leave a note

  • on Dad's kitchen table,

  • which simply said, "Consider yourself dead."

  • Subsequently, Algeria's fundamentalist armed groups

  • would murder as many as 200,000 civilians

  • in what came to be known

  • as the dark decade of the 1990s,

  • including every single one

  • of the women that you see here.

  • In its harsh counterterrorist response,

  • the state resorted to torture

  • and to forced disappearances,

  • and as terrible as all of these events became,

  • the international community largely ignored them.

  • Finally, my father, an Algerian peasant's son turned professor,

  • was forced to stop teaching at the university

  • and to flee his apartment,

  • but what I will never forget

  • about Mahfoud Bennoune, my dad,

  • was that like so many other Algerian intellectuals,

  • he refused to leave the country

  • and he continued to publish pointed criticisms,

  • both of the fundamentalists

  • and sometimes of the government they battled.

  • For example, in a November 1994 series

  • in the newspaper El Watan

  • entitled "How Fundamentalism

  • Produced a Terrorism without Precedent,"

  • he denounced what he called

  • the terrorists' radical break with the true Islam

  • as it was lived by our ancestors.

  • These were words that could get you killed.

  • My father's country taught me

  • in that dark decade of the 1990s that

  • the popular struggle against Muslim fundamentalism

  • is one of the most important

  • and overlooked human rights struggles

  • in the world.

  • This remains true today, nearly 20 years later.

  • You see, in every country

  • where you hear about armed jihadis

  • targeting civilians,

  • there are also unarmed people

  • defying those militants that you don't hear about,

  • and those people need our support to succeed.

  • In the West, it's often assumed

  • that Muslims generally condone terrorism.

  • Some on the right think this because they view

  • Muslim culture as inherently violent,

  • and some on the left imagine this

  • because they view Muslim violence,

  • fundamentalist violence,

  • solely as a product of legitimate grievances.

  • But both views are dead wrong.

  • In fact, many people of Muslim heritage

  • around the world are staunch opponents

  • both of fundamentalism and of terrorism,

  • and often for very good reason.

  • You see, they're much more likely to be victims

  • of this violence than its perpetrators.

  • Let me just give you one example.

  • According to a 2009 survey

  • of Arabic language media resources,

  • between 2004 and 2008,

  • no more than 15 percent of al Qaeda's victims

  • were Westerners.

  • That's a terrible toll, but the vast majority

  • were people of Muslim heritage,

  • killed by Muslim fundamentalists.

  • Now I've been talking for the last five minutes

  • about fundamentalism, and you have a right to know

  • exactly what I mean.

  • I cite the definition given by the Algerian sociologist

  • Marieme Helie Lucas,

  • and she says that fundamentalisms,

  • note the "s," so within all of the world's

  • great religious traditions,

  • "fundamentalisms are political movements of the extreme right

  • which in a context of globalization

  • manipulate religion in order to achieve

  • their political aims."

  • Sadia Abbas has called this the radical politicization

  • of theology.

  • Now I want to avoid projecting the notion

  • that there's sort of a monolith out there

  • called Muslim fundamentalism that is the same everywhere,

  • because these movements also have their diversities.

  • Some use and advocate violence.

  • Some do not, though they're often interrelated.

  • They take different forms.

  • Some may be non-governmental organizations,

  • even here in Britain like Cageprisoners.

  • Some may become political parties,

  • like the Muslim Brotherhood,

  • and some may be openly armed groups

  • like the Taliban.

  • But in any case, these are all radical projects.

  • They're not conservative or traditional approaches.

  • They're most often about changing people's relationship with Islam

  • rather than preserving it.

  • What I am talking about is the Muslim extreme right,

  • and the fact that its adherents are

  • or purport to be Muslim

  • makes them no less offensive

  • than the extreme right anywhere else.

  • So in my view, if we consider ourselves

  • liberal or left-wing,

  • human rights-loving or feminist,

  • we must oppose these movements

  • and support their grassroots opponents.

  • Now let me be clear

  • that I support an effective struggle

  • against fundamentalism,

  • but also a struggle that must itself

  • respect international law,

  • so nothing I am saying should be taken

  • as a justification for refusals

  • to democratize,

  • and here I send out a shout-out of support

  • to the pro-democracy movement in Algeria today, Barakat.

  • Nor should anything I say be taken

  • as a justification of violations of human rights,

  • like the mass death sentences

  • handed out in Egypt earlier this week.

  • But what I am saying

  • is that we must challenge these Muslim fundamentalist movements

  • because they threaten human rights

  • across Muslim-majority contexts,

  • and they do this in a range of ways,

  • most obviously with the direct attacks on civilians

  • by the armed groups that carry those out.

  • But that violence is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • These movements as a whole purvey discrimination

  • against religious minorities and sexual minorities.

  • They seek to curtail the freedom of religion

  • of everyone who either practices in a different way

  • or chooses not to practice.

  • And most definingly, they lead an all-out war

  • on the rights of women.

  • Now, faced with these movements

  • in recent years, Western discourse

  • has most often offered

  • two flawed responses.

  • The first that one sometimes finds on the right

  • suggests that most Muslims are fundamentalist

  • or something about Islam is inherently fundamentalist,

  • and this is just offensive and wrong,

  • but unfortunately on the left one sometimes encounters

  • a discourse that is too politically correct

  • to acknowledge the problem of Muslim fundamentalism at all

  • or, even worse, apologizes for it,

  • and this is unacceptable as well.

  • So what I'm seeking is a new way

  • of talking about this all together,

  • which is grounded in the lived experiences

  • and the hope of the people on the front lines.

  • I'm painfully aware that there has been

  • an increase in discrimination against Muslims in recent years

  • in countries like the U.K. and the U.S.,

  • and that too is a matter of grave concern,

  • but I firmly believe

  • that telling these counter-stereotypical stories

  • of people of Muslim heritage

  • who have confronted the fundamentalists

  • and been their primary victims

  • is also a great way of countering that discrimination.

  • So now let me introduce you

  • to four people whose stories

  • I had the great honor of telling.

  • Faizan Peerzada and the Rafi Peer Theatre

  • workshop named for his father

  • have for years promoted the performing arts

  • in Pakistan.

  • With the rise of jihadist violence,

  • they began to receive threats

  • to call off their events, which they refused to heed.

  • And so a bomber struck their 2008

  • eighth world performing arts festival in Lahore,

  • producing rain of glass

  • that fell into the venue

  • injuring nine people,

  • and later that same night,

  • the Peerzadas made a very difficult decision:

  • they announced that their festival

  • would continue as planned the next day.

  • As Faizan said at the time,

  • if we bow down to the Islamists,

  • we'll just be sitting in a dark corner.

  • But they didn't know what would happen.

  • Would anyone come?

  • In fact, thousands of people came out the next day

  • to support the performing arts in Lahore,

  • and this simultaneously thrilled

  • and terrified Faizan,

  • and he ran up to a woman

  • who had come in with her two small children,

  • and he said, "You do know there was a bomb here yesterday,

  • and you do know there's a threat here today."

  • And she said, "I know that,

  • but I came to your festival

  • with my mother when I was their age,

  • and I still have those images in my mind.

  • We have to be here."

  • With stalwart audiences like this,

  • the Peerzadas were able to conclude

  • their festival on schedule.

  • And then the next year,