Religion & Ethics: PBS interviews Harvard University’s Professor Ali Asani on Recruiting Radical Muslims

It’s very easy for people who are marginalized to instrumentalize religious ideas, because very often religious traditions do talk about good versus evil, right? But it’s just a question of who you define as good and who you define as evil.

– Professor Ali Asani, Harvard University

PBS-RnE - Ali Asani - Recruiting Radical Muslims

Recruiting Radical Muslims
Posted by PBS: Religion & Ethics on November 21, 2014

Interview excerpt

LOTHIAN (PBS): The depth of that violence is on display across the internet. Extremist groups like ISIS spew disturbing rhetoric and proudly carry out beheadings. It’s often done in the name of religion.

PROFESSOR ALI ASANI (Harvard University): People have tended to focus very much on, okay, this has to do with Islam, but it is ultimately an Islam that is interpreted by criminals.

LOTHIAN: However the Qur’an is interpreted, radicals are finding new recruits in the US and around the world, and social media is expanding their reach. Professor Ali Asani, who heads Harvard’s Islamic studies department, says the appeal may defy logic, but to the right audience it makes sense.

ASANI: It’s very easy for people who are marginalized to instrumentalize religious ideas, because very often religious traditions do talk about good versus evil, right? But it’s just a question of who you define as good and who you define as evil.

LOTHIAN: Some argue many of these young recruits lack a deep understanding of Islam—religious illiterates who are searching for a cause greater than themselves.

PROFESSOR MIA BLOOM (Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, University of Massachusetts at Lowell): They really don’t have the ballast to be able to say, “No, I don’t think that’s what the Sura al-Tawba says.” They don’t really have the knowledge-base to be able to fend off that kind of manipulation of the religion that these groups are doing to convince them that this is the way that they can be the best Muslims they can be.

LOTHIAN: But some of the foreign recruits join the fight in Syria and Iraq with their eyes wide open. True believers in radical Islam. Professor Asani says they’re also lured by money, housing, wives, and a sense of belonging.

ASANI: You come and fight with us, and your visions, your ideas—you’re going to be valued. You’re going to be at the center of power.

Watch the program and read the full transcript- Recruiting Radical Muslims

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