Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Citizenship and Diversity: Modern Tools in Combatting Terror | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Children in India protest against terrorism. (Reuters)

Cairo – The repercussions of Arab and international developments demand that modern means and mechanisms to fight terrorism and violence be reached in order to eliminate the culture of hate.

It seems, however, that the waves of armed confrontations and calls for violence, which are greater manifestation of extremism, have demanded social leaders in the Arab world to seek ways other than security to combat these phenomena. Security is an acceptable tool to preserve lives and the general system, but it is incapable, on the sociological level, in explaining the origins of violence and terrorism.

This has led to discussions on the nature of citizenship and diversity as means to eliminate terrorism.

The word “citizenship” is derived from its French equivalent, “citoyennete”, which means a person’s membership in a country and the privileges, political or other, which may be granted to him as a result of this relationship and, conversely, his obligations towards the country.

On the theoretical level, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau spoke of the “social contract” that defines the relationship between the individual and the state. Citizenship here means the rights the constitution provides to the individual through cementing his belonging to the state by providing him with material and moral needs. In turn, the individual is obligated to perform his duties towards the state in a manner that ensures that its higher interests are achieved.

Does the absence of citizenship push the individual towards extremism and create a case of lack of belonging, which will inevitably lead to terrorism?

We cannot understand the dimensions of terrorism without the social contexts that bolster fundamentalist behavior, meaning that once the proper concept of citizenship is available, the individual feels that he is part of society. This incurs a moral and religious duty upon him to defend his land, resulting in the convergence of the individual’s interests with those of the state. This grants psychologically sound nations and societies a defense against foreign terrorism and extremism.

We can therefore infer that terrorism and citizenship are opposite concepts in that the higher the feeling of citizenship, the lower the risk of terrorism and the opposite is true.

Proper citizenship is achieved through allowing effective participation that deepens the citizen’s relationship with and sense of belonging to the nation. It is also achieved through equality where the nation should treat its sons without religious, racial or sexual discrimination. Complete equality among people of the same nation is the practical translation of the meaning of citizenship.

Fundamentalism develops and extremism prospers when citizenship weakens and the sense of belonging diminishes. Political oppression and depriving people of the ability to build their nations drives them towards intellectual political violence that soon develops into physical violence. The absence of economic citizenship results in an imbalanced distribution of income in society that leads to major social class divisions and consequently poverty. The poor segments of society become ticking time bombs.

Once an individual begins to feel weak and socially oppressed, his normal reaction would be to show objections through force in order to prove oneself. The lack of citizenship deepens social instability and divisions, creates more fundamental spite, which leads to the dissolution of family ties and an absence of a moral example. The feeling of not belonging will turn those people into fuel that is waiting to explode at any moment.

During a recent conference on freedom and citizenship, Sheikh of Egypt’s Azhar Mosque Dr. Ahmed al-Tayyeb said: “When al-Azhar speaks about spreading the concept of citizenship instead of the terms of ‘minority and minorities,’ then it is calling for the constitutional concept that was applied by the Prophet Mohammed in the first Muslim society in history in the city of Medina.”

He explained that the Prophet chose equality between Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Citizenship paves the way for diversity and closes the door against sectarianism that rejects the views of the other. Nations may enjoy different religions among their sons, but they do not differ on their national identity.

The Azhar conference came up with a definition of citizenship as a positive tool in combatting extremism. It highlighted the concepts of equality and rights and the need to condemn acts that violate citizenship as defined by Islam. This citizenship does not discriminate between Muslim and non-Muslim, it stressed.

Despite the success of such conferences, the greater responsibility lies on the state that should develop its people on the basis of citizenship and their belonging to a nation. This will help steer them clear of narrow terrorist ideologies, which at their core, exploit the individual’s need to belong.

There can be no citizenship without social justice and shunning intellectual extremism. The cornerstone in building citizenship thought lies in education and proper upbringing, which will push the citizen clear of the culture of eliminating the other that usually occupies the minds of terrorists.

It is interesting that Muslim states such as Malaysia and Indonesia have succeeded in achieving citizenship among their people, and the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to these Asian nations has cast light on these successes. So where do Arab countries lie in this regard?