Friday, August 05, 2005

Are Muslims in Denial?

MOST of the reactions from across the Islamic world to the London bombings have been remarkably similar. While condemning the bombing, almost everyone has pointed out to the “root causes” that have spawned Islamic terrorism. These “root causes” range from alienation and lack of assimilation in Western societies to “Islamic rage” at the perceived “injustices” being perpetrated on hapless Muslims around the world (Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Palestine - the list is endless) and from the political expression of anger against illegitimate dictators and monarchs who are ruling over Muslim countries with the support of the West, to the abysmal social and economic conditions in the Islamic world.

But the implicit justification offered by the so-called moderate Muslims to acts of terrorism by pointing out at the “root causes” begs the question: does the “root cause” lie in social, political and economic conditions in Muslim societies or do they lie in the religion itself? Do the root causes lie in “grievances” or do they lie in the way Islam is perceived, taught and imbibed by its followers?

To say that “no religion teaches hatred” is utter nonsense. The fact of the matter is ALL religions teach hatred (anyone who disagrees needs to read “Religion in Politics” by Arun Shourie). They also teach love and compassion and tolerance. What matters is the ruling paradigm of any religion at any point of time, and this depends on what the followers of a religion make of their faith. Until the separation of the Church from the State, Christianity was hardly a religion of peace - remember the inquisitions and the desire to “harvest the souls of heathens and pagans” by whatever means necessary. However, today, Christians, if not their Church and priests, are far more tolerant of other religions and cultures.

Hinduism too has its share of institutionalised hatred. It is hardly important whether the obnoxious caste system has religious sanction or not. What is important is that many practising Hindus still discriminate against the so-called lower castes. But caste discrimination, while it still exists, is no longer the ruling paradigm of Hindu religion. Whether this is the result of a political churning taking place in the country or the result of “enlightenment” is hardly an issue.

In the case of Islam, there is enough religious sanction available to justify terrorism. In Pakistan, for example, terrorism is an essential part of military strategy and derives inspiration from the Quran. In his book, “Quranic concept of War”, Brig S.K. Malik writes, “Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is an end in itself”, and finds justification for this in the Quranic verse Anfal (Sura 12) which reads as “Remember, the Lord inspired the angels (with the message), “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers”. Thus, for every Quranic verse that preaches love, brotherhood and equality of man, there is another verse that preaches the opposite.

Therefore, to say that “suicide bombing” is an un-Islamic act is simply a matter of how someone interprets and understands the religion. Those who tie bombs around their bodies and blow themselves up actually believe that they are waging war in Allah’s name. Those who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas also thought they were doing God’s work. The problem in Islam today is that the ruling paradigm is increasingly gravitating towards violence and intolerance. The moderate and enlightened voices are getting snuffed out by their failure to take an unambiguous stand against terrorism. Every time they mention “root causes” in the same breath as they condemn an act of terrorism they effectively end up providing a tacit justification for terrorism.

What is more, this state of denial prevents a deeper soul-searching within the community on the direction the religion is taking and prevents any course correction. An example of this is the position Pakistani leaders take on the issue of jihad, which they consider (probably for political reasons) to be obligatory in their religion. Of course, for political and diplomatic reasons again, they will put a spin on what constitutes jihad. But the signals this sends out are, to say the least ambiguous.

Even the so-called “root causes” need a closer examination. There is a lot of anger in the Islamic world over the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pakistani Press and TV channels like Al-Jazeera have been in the vanguard of using these casualties to implicitly justify terrorist acts in Iraq and Afghanistan and indeed in the rest of the world. But there is a great difference between the “collateral damage” in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorist attacks on civilian targets. The American or British troops have never deliberately aimed at the civilians and, in fact, the entire US hi-tech military capability is designed to limit civilian casualties to the minimum. On the other hand, the terrorist who targeted the Twin Towers in New York, or the trains in Madrid or the Tube in London, were deliberately targeting civilians and non-combatants.

Another very important point that is often missed in any discussion on Iraq or Afghanistan is: Who has caused maximum civilian casualties? The fact of the matter is that most of the civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Kashmir have been caused by the “holy warriors” or jihadis. In Kashmir, for example, even though most of the civilian casualties have been caused by the terrorists, this fact is often glossed over by the Pakistani propaganda machine because it is so inconvenient.

Such is the state of denial in Pakistan over the barbarism of its proxies in Kashmir that even the most blatant acts of terror are explained away by blaming them on “Indian agents”. This tendency of not accepting the blame for what their co-religionists and compatriots do was again on display when the Pakistani ambassador to the UN, Mr Munir Akram, called Britain “a breeding ground for terrorists too…(it) has its own radical preachers and now home-grown suicide bombers” and glossed over the role his own country played in turning these people into human bombs. But this state of denial is not only limited to the Pakistanis. It also extends to their proxies in Kashmir, like the APHC, the JKLF and others. Why else would they deny the religious cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley and in turn blame it on the then Governor, Mr Jagmohan. In fact, by cleansing the valley of the Pandits, the separatists proved that their movement was not one of national liberation but inspired by a nationalism based on religion.

The bottom line is that today the Muslims are working themselves into a victimisation psychosis and driving the world towards a “clash of civilisations”. In this the responsibility lies with Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan which have propagated and promoted radical Islam for achieving political and diplomatic objectives. Instead of cosmetic measures like crackdowns on radical groups every time there is an international incident, what is required is the rooting out of the entire infrastructure that has given rise to radical Islam.

It is also the responsibility of ordinary Muslims to snatch their faith from the “thekedars” of Islam, who are pushing them towards radicalism, and base their faith on the more benign rather than aggressive and regressive aspects of their religion. Finally, it is critical that no justification is provided to terrorism by talking of “root causes”. The war against Islamic terrorism has to be really fought within Islamic societies if a “clash of civilisations” is to be avoided.

Published in The Tribune 5th August, 2005


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home