Radical Islam and Nonviolence: A Case Study of Religious Empowerment and Constraint Among Pashtuns

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Johansen, Robert C. (1997) Radical Islam and Nonviolence: A Case Study of Religious Empowerment and Constraint Among Pashtuns , Journal of Peace Research 34(1): 53–71.

Religious traditions, like national traditions, frequently foment collective violence. Yet all of the world's major living religious traditions also contain the seeds of tolerance, justice, compassion, and peace. A preoccupation with the violent elements of these traditions may impede the expression of their less violent themes. For diverse reasons, religious and political leaders may give insufficient attention to the peace-building prospects in religious traditions. As this case study of Islamic political activism among Pashtuns in the North-West Frontier Province of colonial India in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s demonstrates, religion may motivate people for bold action against political repression while confining them to nonviolent means in pursuit of humanitarian ends. A formula for Muslim nonviolent direct action, developed by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, has many applications in contemporary conflicts where change is desirable but violent means are often self-destructive. This study demonstrates that Islamic religious identity can provide the basis for recruiting people to become political activists, for nurturing a strong identity and discipline within their movement, for enabling activists to overcome their time-honored inclination to use violence, for contesting the more violent elements of a religious tradition in religious rather than secular terms, for avoiding intolerance toward people of other religious traditions, and for nurturing courage and determination against great odds. If imaginative leadership today would draw upon the bold yet nonviolent contributions that religious traditions could make, even in contexts where violent reactions may seem justified, then a possible clash of civilizations might be managed without irretrievable disasters for the human race.