‘National State’: Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi presents a road map to move past historical conflicts

‘National State’: Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi presents a road map to move past historical conflicts

In a new book, the UAE scholar addresses the threat of political Islam to the West and the East

“If we don’t teach our children history, how will they know who to hate?” This aphorism captures how some ethnic nationalists have cynically exploited the past to perpetuate hatred across generations and borders. This logic has been adopted by certain groups that have hijacked Islam with the goal of advancing their political and sectarian agenda.

Countering this misuse of Islam is the basis for Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi’s new book National State. The book is more than a diagnosis of the problem and its causes. Rather, it lays out a road map to address the threat of political Islam in western as well as in Arab and Muslim states.

The author is not only a scholar and observer of how malign political-religious groups operate, but also has experienced their methods first-hand, having joined the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth, before rejecting it. Upon joining the United Arab Emirates University, he was promoted through the ranks of academic service until he became chancellor of the school.

Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi - National State: Imagining a World Without Narrow Nation States

He also became involved in countering extremism within the UAE, and subsequently became chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge, where he led the programme to reform the curriculum and remove Islamism.

In recent years, Al Nuaimi has helped to shape and drive the UAE’s approach to dealing with extremism internally and internationally, with a focus on countering ideology and using examples from Islam itself. The author recognises that what he argues can be seen by many as controversial and contentious. This is particularly the case in how he characterises certain Muslim communities in western countries.

Some of these, he says, are isolationist, intolerant and narrow-minded, with an unhealthy obsession with historic conflicts and injustices in their ancestral countries. The attitude of these communities is often that everything new is harmful unless proved otherwise, an approach that undermines openness to progress and development. The outcome is that the community’s success is often limited and, in the worst cases, an attitude evolves that is hostile to the larger society in which they live.

His analysis identifies a number of interrelated causes for this situation. One is that some of these Muslim communities are not able to differentiate religion from culture, resulting in people convincing themselves that the customs and traditions of their homeland are Islam itself.

Another is that religion-­based political parties have been able to exercise ­considerable control over these communities. This can be seen in the not infrequent situation in which weddings and other cultural, religious or social activities are politicised. These foreign parties then use their influence over the community to generate political and financial support for their cause.

A final cause is related to the practice by some communities of inviting imams, muftis or Islamic jurists from their ancestral home. These preachers arrive carrying the problems from their home states that, as the author says, means they “preach the same religious discourse in Paris that they would in a small village in the East”. The result is that some in Muslim communities adopt the thinking and pains of the societies they have long left, regardless of their relevance for their new home.  

So what is Al Nuaimi’s road map? At a practical level, communities need to liberate themselves from imported religiosity and interpretations of religious doctrine that was developed in a radically different context and in centuries past.

Al Nuaimi also recommends Islamic mosques, centres and organisations need to become financially independent from foreign influence. Countries need to grow a local cadre who can preach, teach and issue fatwas that are relevant to their current local circumstances.

At state level, Al Nuaimi argues that the solution is to adopt a philosophy of “national states”. One dimension of this is prioritising a modern form of education. In a Middle Eastern context, this means acknowledging past Islamic achievements, but also looking forward, and replacing memorisation with creativity and innovation.

The national state also means fostering a loyalty to the state and adherence to its constitution, laws and leadership, with a rejection of the idea that its people can have primary loyalty to foreign political-religious groups. Finally, such states need to institutionalise co-existence, tolerance and forbearance, and explicitly reject discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity or linguistics.

This highly readable book is recommended for those who are interested in understanding the causes and effects of political Islam.

This book is also a must for those wanting to comprehend the UAE’s philosophy in its foreign policy agenda, as Al Nuaimi is one of the country’s key thinkers in countering radicalisation, which is a core tenet of the nation.

Athol Yates is an assistant professor at the Institute of International and Civil

News Source: https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/books/national-state-ali-rashid-al-nuaimi-presents-a-road-map-to-move-past-historical-conflicts-1.1177622

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