Pluralism and Social Cohesion: The Effects of Legitimizing Non-Violent Radicals
The global Muslim population hosts a wide diversity of beliefs and sects, including some that are considered illiberal, non-normative, or even radical. Fear, inspired by the rise of violent extremism masked in the name of Islam, has led many to treat any and all non-normative Muslim communities with suspicion and disdain. These skeptics have criticized any effort to engage constructively with such communities by arguing that treating religious radicals—even those who are non-violent—as legitimate undermines social cohesion. This thesis challenges that argument by examining three contemporary case studies of radical but non-violent Muslim communities that were legitimized by their national government. By analyzing three criteria of social cohesion—treatment of outgroups, support for the government, and participation in pluralist environments—I will argue herein that these cases indicate that legitimizing non-violent radicals has a negligible impact on social cohesion.In the first case, I will examine the Brixton Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in London, where the Salafi congregants have worked closely with local authorities to prevent violent extremists from recruiting their youth. The case offers a unique example of a radical community that may actually have had a net positive impact on social cohesion and even assisted religious youth integrate into British society. In the second case, I will look at Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, a chapter of an internationally renowned organization that works to build support for a caliphate from the grassroots level. This case will illustrate the tension between idealism and pragmatism for radical religious activists; while such activists may espouse certain divisive beliefs, their political and social interests often lead them to compromise on those values. Finally, I will examine the case of the Salafi communities of Egypt, with a specific focus on the Salafi Dawa and the political party al-Nour. This final case will underscore the diversity and internal struggles within non-violent radical populations and thereby challenge some of the key assumptions made by proponents of the social cohesion argument.After presenting the relevant facts and data from each individual case study, I will synthesize my insights from all three to draw relevant conclusions about my central question. In the end, I will argue that “social cohesion” is an ineffective and weak metric by which to assess whether a government should or should not engage with a particular radical religious community. In a pluralistic society, diversity and conflict is natural and healthy. The primary red line should be the use or support of violence, not the acceptance of abstract liberal norms. In the end, I briefly propose an alternative model for imaging conflict and tension in a diverse society, which I label balanced social nonconvergence. By moving beyond the expectation that non-normative religious communities fall in line with the particular liberal norms, I will argue that it is possible to bring them into the mainstream and gradually moderate their more harmful elements.
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