On the 15th of February 2017, Dr. Hasan addressed Durham University’s Politics and International Relations Society.
His discourse consisted of highlighting the need for dialogue and humanisation to combat radical Islam and far right nationalism. However, he also observed an even more concerning division: that between the far left and right, particularly noting the potential threat the extreme left pose to the Prevent Strategy, a government initiative to monitor younger individuals who are vulnerable to becoming radicalized.
Having been born to Pakistani and Indian parents, he was raised in a strict Muslim household in north London. Hasan faced a lot of racism and Islamophobia, especially during 1970s. As a result he has devoted a lot of his time to combatting it.
Dialogue to fight prejudice:
Prejudice for Hasan essentially boils down to human tribalism: people are tribal as it gives them a sense of identity and belonging. Without such a sense, some of them would feel that their lives were meaningless.
As a result, he understands that it is natural for one to get angry if they feel that someone is attacking their identity and values.
His solution? Tribalism can be broken down by talking to each other and realising the multitude of similarities we can have despite our differences. Hasan pointed out the many things that are important to people regardless of ‘tribe’ or ‘identity’. These can include their job, their family, and even their education.
Therefore, he emphasises the importance of enabling radicals to make contact with the ‘other’, since giving them the opportunity to have dialogue will enable humanisation to occur, as they will become aware of their common interests, and as a result, reduce their hostile perceptions of each other.
Hasan uses his Jewish friends at school as a case study: although they have heated debates over their differences regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, they became friends through arguing about football, along with the fact that they studied together. As a result they got to know each other on a more personal level.
Since Hasan and his friends build trust with each other over the time they spent together, they can have much more sensitive discussions. It is because of this, that whenever he discusses controversial issues with people opposed to his ideas, he always tries to build trust by visiting their homes and getting to know their families, while inviting them to do the same.
Left vs. Right:
Despite the rise of Islamophobia, what really worries Hasan is the division between the left and right. He called for the need to be civilised in political debate, and highlighted the current left vs. right discourse trend towards the use of pejorative labels (a racist/fascist or a snowflake/social justice warrior). These names do not help the argument to go forward at all.
What came as a particular concern to him was that organisations with significant influence from the far left, such as the National Union of Students (NUS), have fervently opposed the Prevent Strategy, despite having been endorsed by successive Labour and Conservative governments.
As an Imam and Islamic scholar, Hasan has contributed to the strategy by giving career advice, along with talking to youths who have been prone to radicalisation. Having done so, he insists that the strategy is targeting Al Qaeda and ISIS, which is why students must not support the Anti-Prevent Lobby, because although it claims that it is fighting Islamophobia this is just a cover for their real intentions according to Hasan. For him, these included the propagation of a radical Islamist agenda opposed to freedom of expression and civil liberties, although he did admit that some of them were genuinely concerned about human rights abuses.
Hasan concluded that the UK needs the Prevent Strategy to stamp out terrorism, as Islamophobic extremism is already at a high and would be even worse if terrorist attacks were to happen more regularly.
TellMAMA, an organisation devoted to monitoring Islamophobia would support this claim, as their annual report in 2015 revealed that following the attacks across Paris on the 13th November 2015, anti Muslim incidents increased from 25 (three weeks prior to the incident) to 82 in the three weeks during and after the attacks, a 328% increase.
Your correspondent strongly agrees with the remarks made by Hasan and wants to draw attention to his observation that it is natural to get angry when one feels that their identity and values are being attacked, which regularly occurs in discourses involving the left vs. right and Radical Islamism vs. the West.
His use of tools to build trust is particularly relevant, as is his observation that one should not impose themselves on the ‘other’ they are arguing with. When someone believes they have the moral high ground over the ‘other’, they will try to impose it by arguing that they know better and hence the ‘other’ is wrong. All this serves to do is make people cling to their identity and opinion, as nobody likes their pride being undermined. Consequently, they will feel insulted by anyone that intends to do so.
Instead of arguing that the ‘other’ is wrong in a political discussion, one must question “why they think what they think” and also how would they respond to the arguments which people who are politically opposed to them would make. In doing this, you make them reflect on their opinion, rather than angering them. This may, in turn encourage them to question their own ideas. It must be emphasised that one cannot change another’s view by imposing their own. The ‘other’ can only change it through self-reflection, which is something that can be facilitated through questioning.
Durham Politics and International Relations Society