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Scholar to Discuss Violence and Islam at Selkirk College Mir Lecture Series Event

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
April 13th, 2016

Beheadings, suicide bombings and civil war. Horrific attacks in Brussels and San Bernardino.

There is no shortage of examples of the violence that rocks the Islamic world. Shocking pictures and gruesome acts done in the name of religion seem to appear daily on our news feeds. The media hammers the point home—that Muslim extremists are threatening Western interests, Western values, and even people in their homes. It’s a message that politicians in North America have seized on to gather power and popularity.

And it’s ridiculously overblown, says an academic coming to Nelson in May to speak in the Mir Centre for Peace Lecture Series.

“Muslims, both in the U.S. and Canada, have committed acts of homegrown violence and terrorism,” says Dr. Amir Hussain, a religious scholar at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “But that’s a tiny part of the violence that occurs every day in North America. We think of Islamic extremism or Muslim violence as a big threat to North America, and it isn’t.”

A professor of Theological Studies, Hussain focuses on contemporary Muslim communities in North America and is engaged in interfaith dialogue. He is an acclaimed author and speaker, having published work though Oxford University Press and numerous academic journals. An alumnus of the University of Toronto, he is considered an authority on North American Islam.

In a world where a presidential candidate can rise in polls by calling for banning travel by Muslims to the U.S., understanding the issue is of growing importance. The first thing to do, says Hussain, is to put the issue of Muslim violence in perspective.

“I live in the U.S., and last year there were 19 people killed in mass shootings by Muslim extremists, 14 in San Bernardino, five in Chattanooga,” he says. “That, of course, is 19 too many. The number should be zero. But last year, about 85 people were killed each day in shootings in the U.S. So those 19 deaths represent fewer than the number shot in any six hour period in the U.S.

“The problem is that it’s easy to see other people’s violence, to see violence as coming from outside of us,” he says. “But violence is inside of us. We just often focus on the violence of ‘the other’.”

Hussain will use the lecture to explore the roots of violence in Islamic culture, how it manifests itself in North America, and our perceptions of it. It’s not a subject—despite what demagogues would have you believe—with simple solutions.

“Islam, like any other religion or ideology, provides avenues for peace and avenues for violence,” Hussain says.

An Important Dialogue for Better Understanding

Hussain’s lecture will mark the Canadian academic’s first visit to the Kootenay. He’ll be giving a course on Islam at the Mir Centre’s Summer Institute this year, so this lecture is a good introduction to him and to the subject.

The Mir Centre’s mandate is to help build and understand cultures of peace through learning and dialogue. The lecture series has become an important and vibrant part of the centre’s activities and fundamental mission, attracting thinkers and speakers who inspire learning with their diverse understandings of cultures of peace.  

“I hope to be able to talk about some of the realities of Muslim life, and address the facts and fictions about Muslims and violence,” says Hussain.

Despite the media’s search for easy explanations, the roots of violence in the Islamic world—and Muslim violence in the West—are multi-faceted.

“In some parts of the Muslim world, say Iraq or Syria, there is literally war. With war, of course, comes violence. In other parts of the Muslim world, there is political repression. So there’s a military dictatorship in Egypt, and an authoritarian government in Turkey,” he says. “In other parts of the Muslim world, it is a concern about intra-Muslim issues, so for example the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia oppress and suppress the Shi’a minority.

“The Qur’an, as I’ll discuss in my talk, offers resources for both peace and violence.”

Western reactions to that violence—taking it out of context or proportion—complicate efforts to find peace and create understanding between cultures. While Canada is hardly immune from concerns about violence and prejudice, Hussain doesn’t see the situation getting as intense as it is in the U.S., where politicians like Donald Trump can whip up anti-Muslim sentiment.

“We are quite different in our politics. In the last elections, the Conservatives went anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and the ‘issue’ they ran on was the niqab. They didn’t care about missing and murdered Aboriginal women. And they lost,” he says. “Here, in the U.S., that prejudice plays to a bigger crowd, in bigger ways.

“But we can’t be too smug in Canada. We have racism and prejudice in large supply in this country as well.”

Hussain says exposure to and learning about other cultures is the key to turning those fears around.

“I’m an educator, so I think [the solution] is education,” he says. “Get to know a Muslim, and learn about who we are.”

Hussain’s talk will take place on Wednesday, May 4 at 7 p.m. at the Nelson Civic Centre on Vernon Street. Tickets are $16 (adult) and $13 (seniors and students) and will be available at the door.

For more information about the lecture series, contact Cara Lee Malange at 250-365-1261.

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