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Karima Bennoune talk

Karima Bennoune featureKarima Bennoune seeks to give a voice to people who are living under Islamist fundamentalist repression.

One day, when she was a student and staying with her father in Algiers, she woke up to pounding on the front door. She found herself wondering whether she could protect him – a teacher of evolution – with a paring knife. Luckily, the potential attacker went away. Her father refused to leave the country, and continued to write.

Her book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” contains many untold stories from the peaceful fight against Muslim fundamentalism, based on interviews with 300 people.

The dark decade of the 1990s showed that the popular struggle against fundamentalism is one of the most important but overlooked struggles in the world today, and that these local people need our support.

Many people of Muslim heritage are staunch opponents of fundamentalism and terrorism, for good reason… they are much more likely to be the targets. Only 15% of Al Qaeda’s victims in 2004-08 were westerners.

Karima uses the definition: Fundamentalisms (note the plural) are political movements on the extreme right, which in the context of globalisation manipulate religion to achieve their political aims.

These fundamentalist movements have their diversities – some are more violent, some are NGOs, some form political parties. She’s talking about the extreme right, offensive wherever they occur. They are movements which seek to curtail the rights of minority groups and rights to practise religion, and conduct an all-out war against women.

There has been an increase in discrimination against Muslims recently. Telling the stories of individual Muslims struggling against fundamentalism will help to challenge this discrimination. She has four stories: of Peerzada, a theatre group in Pakistan staging girls school theatre; Maria Bashir, the first female prosecutor in Afghanistan; Burhan Hassan and his uncle Abdirizak Bihi, trying to counter Al Shabaab’s recruitment in Minneapolis to carry out atrocities like the Westgate bombing in Nairobi; Amel Zenoune-Zouani, a woman law student in Algiers, who refused to give up her studies, and was taken off a bus and killed in the street.

Amel’s name means hope, the hope of telling stories and carrying on their lives despite the terrorism. It is not enough just to battle terrorism. We must also challenge fundamentalism, which makes the bed for terrorism. Karima wants us to commit to support people like Amel, who peacefully challenge terrorism and fundamentalism in their own communities.