In a November 20 interview with Sky News Arabia, Kuwaiti academic and journalist Prof. Ibtihal Al-Khatib called for an urgent reexamination of the school curricula. Pointing out that ISIS emerged "from our schools, from our ideology, and from our books of heritage," she said: "Either we reform our [religious] discourse and join modern life, or we will become extinct." Al-Khatib, who is a professor of English language and literature at Kuwait University, further suggested "removing the Islamic education curricula completely, and perhaps replacing them with curricula about the history of religions."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "We have gotten used to a victim mentality, and have somehow learned to enjoy it. We always feel that we are victims, the ones being attacked, the ones that the world conspires against. Therefore, when others suffer disasters or catastrophes, we tend to express naïve and childish vindictiveness. We saw this in the case of the Russian plane that went down in the Sinai, and we saw it again in what happened in France. We do this rather than see things realistically."
Host: "Some say that justifying terrorism is tantamount to terrorism. Do you agree?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "Absolutely. Any attempt to justify or to legitimize terrorism is a terrorist idea, and is just as dangerous as the terrorist act itself, because the idea and the act are equally dangerous.
"I believe that there is a clear sentiment critical of ISIS, but by the same token, there is a strong pro-ISIS sentiment, and there is sympathy toward the Islamic State. This is why ISIS is growing. It is not growing in a void, and it did not emerge in a void to begin with. It emerged from schools, from our ideology, and from our books or heritage, the contents of which the Islamic thinkers refuse to reexamine.
"If you do not reform yourself, the world will not wait for you. We are facing two options. Either we reform our (religious) discourse and join modern life, or else we will become extinct. I really believe that stagnant nations, which stick to principles that are at odds with the progress of civilization, are bound to come to an end. Such nations will not survive.
"I am still a dreamer with regard to the Arab Spring revolutions. I am well aware that we are facing hard times, because just like all other human revolutions, the Arab revolutions have their ups and downs, and perhaps it will take them 100 years to stabilize and bear fruit."
Host: "But they have given rise to extremist groups, to political Islam..."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "This is a price we have to pay, and I am sad to say that the toll will be heavier on the women."
Host: "Dr. Al-Khatib, after the past five years of violence, in which extremist groups like ISIS and its sister organizations have taken the helm, some intellectuals in the Gulf say that security trumps every other consideration. Once we have security, we can embark on dialogue that may benefit society. What's your take on this?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "I hate it with all my heart."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "This pretext... Security in exchange for your freedom, security in exchange for your free speech...I believe that security has become a boogeyman that is used to scare us. We are always made to choose between two options, one worse than the other. It is as if the youth cannot produce a solution that will be acceptable to all."
Host: "The problem is that we can't wait for the youth. ISIS is already here."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "You have no choice but to suffer and make sacrifices. Succumbing to a semi-acceptable solution will lead to serious problems. We are suffering from it right now, between a rock and a hard place."
Host: "Do you believe that Arab society today is open to reexamination of its religious discourse and to the idea of renewing it?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "I don't think that the Arab world has a choice. It must renew its religious ideology, and to deal with new perspectives.
"The social media platforms have opened a gate to liberties that were off-limits before. As we know, anything with such pressure that is opened blows up in your face, but with time, it begins to stabilize. We have to tolerate a lot of harm resulting from the opening of a gate to new liberties, until things stabilize. But I believe that the benefit of the social media will outweigh its harm."
Host: "What about regulating social media, even if only as a safeguard against extremist ideas and terrorist organizations?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "I reject this completely, both because it contradicts the notion of liberty, and because it is impossible to implement this. You must not legislate a law that you cannot enforce. That would be embarrassing."
Host: "As you know, ISIS is recruiting many young men from the Gulf through Twitter and other social media platforms."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "There is a difference between ideology and direct threats, or violent and direct recruitment."
Host: "The extremist groups might say that this is their ideology."
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "Ideology is different from bodily harm. This is left to the evaluation of the legal authorities in the relevant countries. In Kuwait, we are currently discussing a law regarding the electronic media, which aims to regulate Twitter, to be exact. I am completely against this. There is no legal loophole that requires a new law. Our laws cover any bodily harm."
Host: "If an extremist group tried to influence one of your sons, God forbid, would change your views on the regulation of social media?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "I hope not. I hope that I would fight ideology with ideology. At the end of the day, we are paying a price for keeping silent for many years over a certain way of life in our society. We witnessed the beast of religion - let's call it the beast of political religion - growing and infiltrating everywhere. We have seen its influence on the Islamic education curricula, and on the media and the TV channels that host sheikhs, and we kept silent. Now that harm has eventually come knocking on our doors, we must bear responsibility."
Host: "You are calling (Arab) education ministers to change the curricula 'here and now.' How bad is the need to embark on a campaign to renew the curricula?"
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: "It must be done here and now. Developing a curricula is a very pressing matter.
"I even support removing the Islamic education curricula completely, and perhaps replacing them with curricula about the history of religions, in order to inform young students about the history of religions."