It was established from the outset that there was something more rigorous than the advertised “conversation” on offer, with host, journalist Donna Miles-Mojab challenging Ed Husain immediately on matters pertaining to the Iranian government’s theology. Husain’s book The House of Islam is, he has explained, written with a western, English speaking audience in mind, and for those of us fitting that description there was a period of time in which we found ourselves perhaps a little disoriented by this discourse, though it was ultimately a session which cast light on the ideals of open, challenging discourse and the importance of this, while adding a layer to conversations raised elsewhere this weekend.
Husain’s book is a beautifully written, detailed and thorough exploration of Islam which I devoured enthusiastically a few weeks ago, and as I read it, I was struck often by the way that he shows what commonality there is between societies steeped in Christianity and Islam and between the religions and their Abrahamic cousin Judaism. Husein emphasised this in terms of both the theology and ideals of the religions and in a more modern context, in terms of the similarities between the Imperialist West and the Ottoman empire.
Husain also notably explores the way in which the concepts of Shariah have become twisted to become totalitarian in radical Islam (and in the western Islamophobic understanding) though illuminated the way that ultimately the same values which brought western law to being are present; and indeed that for a modern, western Muslim, the laws of a country such as New Zealand fulfil all the key values of Shariah. There is far more nuance to this than our blunt, binary discourse in the west often allows space for, and fear has taken over where misunderstanding lives.
There was a bristle amongst the crowd at Miles-Mohab’s approach as a facilitator, though I applaud her and indeed the organisers for allowing this to be something more than a feel-good tour of Islam for the uninformed. Without the context that Miles-Mojab ensured we were aware of, it would have been all too easy to miss the way in which Husain’s analysis at times arrives in places that read very much alike the Conservative or Republican side of the western political battlefield. There’s far more at play in terms of the political spectrum, our collective values and the flow of ideas and information than I could hope to sum up here, though I appreciate the way the session allowed the threads of this conversation to be teased out further, rather than left hidden.
The way we arrive at personal beliefs and the way we seek to make our global society safer and fairer are matters which won’t be resolved at WORD Christchurch this weekend, though it was hard to put the echoes of American Fascism brought to mind by David Neiwert’s session the previous night to the back of the mind when looking at the questions of radicalism within Islam – Husain’s own journey through accepting and then rejecting radical Islam was not touched upon in great depth today, though there was discussion of the similarities and differences between alt America and radical Islamism.
Husain at this point argued very strongly against relativism in understanding the two fringe groups which have wrestled great control in the world, suggesting that radical Islamic terror was a far greater threat to the globe than right wing America, though the way in which this same idea feeds the thought process of the fascistic right in the west is an affront.
The hour long format meant that all these worms were just tipped onto the table at the point of us moving to the next event, but I am grateful to Ed Husain and Donna Miles-Mojab for bringing the can and the opener.
Reviewed by Brett Johansen