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A stategy for the emerging scenario
By Saeed Suhrawardy

"A month ago I wrote that I was concerned by number of Hindus who were using Muslim support for the Taliban to treat all Muslims as fanatics. That danger seems to have receded in India but a similar feeling is surfacing in the West. For many Americans, Islam is already the enemy: the new evil empire. Sadly, the same sort of view is taking root in the UK, despite the country’s multi-cultural ethos. None of this augurs well. The last thing the world need is another Cold War, this time Islam versus the West. (Or even the Rest.)" (Vir Sanghvi, editor, Hindustan Times, 11 November 2001).

The emerging scenario, "Islam versus the Rest." cannot be ignored or bypassed. The West controls the electronic as well as print media. It has already put Muslim community and their religion in the dock. That is not an isolated phenomenon. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the unipolar world, the USA has been selecting villains one by one from the Islamic world. Initially the foe was Khomeni, followed by Qaddafi, Saddam and now Osama bin Laden. Incidentally all of them enjoyed popular support. Their only fault was that they did not depend on USA for their defence. All of them enjoyed some degree of sympathy and support among Muslims all over the world. However, none of them dared challenge the supremacy of the superpower as done by Osama bin Laden and his suicide bombers. Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group had no mandate of the world Muslim community for their activities. Not even of the countries to which they belonged. 

Their activities do not fall within the orthodox orbit of Islam. Islam does not approve suicide. It is believed that the terrorist attack on USA was planned and executed by Osama bin Laden and his group. But it was not an Islamic act. Their acts were not directed and approved by any recognized Islamic institution. These explanations may satisfy Muslims. But they do not carry weight with USA and its allies. Consequently, the Muslims of the world have to carry the cross for the attack on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon complex.

Khushwant Singh has rightly described the situation in his weekly column, "With malice towards one and all." "The vast majority of Muslims of the world are ardent admirers of Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, the vast majority of non-Muslims regard him as a ruthless murderer and the devil incarnate. This division of the world’s population into Muslims versus the rest is a most unfortunate development that smacks of a return to medieval times. We must do our very best to bridge this widening gap.

My reading of the situation may sound very simplistic. It is not. Examine popular sentiment prevailing in Muslim nations. No matter if their governments support American and allied action against Bin Laden. Common people do not. Whether it is Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and west Asian or north African countries. Though their governments have remained mute, their people clamour for war against the enemies of Bin Laden." 

He concludes his column with the pious wish, "All I can think of is to hope that the war in Afghanistan comes to a swift end and Bin Laden disappears from the scene without being caught. His capture and trial will create more bad blood between Muslims and non-Muslims." 

Unfortunately his wish is nowhere near fulfillment. USA has ignored its frontline ally, Pakistan’s plea for halting bombing during the holy month of Ramdhan. This shows that the US hardly cares for religious sentiments of Muslims. Afghanistan continues to suffer from ruthless American bombing. Osama bin Laden continues to elude US and its allies. However, the Northern Alliance has taken full advantage of the bombs and missiles hurled on hapless people of Afghanistan. Defying US dictate they have occupied Kabul. Burhanuddin Rabbani has staked his claim to be the President of Afghanistan.

The two eminent Indian journalists quoted here are among those who do not have links with Sangh Parivar. Their perceptions are genuine. To a large extent that is the ground reality, as it exists today. The Americans will not be satisfied with condemnation of the attack on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Had it been enough there would have been no justification for brutal US bombing of Afghanistan.

A distinction is being made between Muslims who are ‘fanatics’ or ‘fundamentalists’ and those who are ‘moderates.’ Through such crazy or mindless debates on fundamentalist versus moderates, the media is conveying an utterly warped image of the average Muslim. Those who are genetically opposed to Muslims and Islam will not make a distinction between a fanatic and moderate Muslim. For the first time, Muslim leaders have realized the importance of economic response and communication strategy. The appeal issued by religious leaders for boycott of US goods is a leaf from the freedom struggle of the country. But without analysis and action it may remain symbolic and is unlikely to have an impact. There was a "Boycott Section" in the Arab League that traced out the links of corporates and their products with Zionist interests. Perhaps the section was disbanded after Camp David Agreement signed by Egypt and Israel. Mere boycotting Pepsi and Coca-Cola is not likely to bring down the citadel of American capitalism.

USA has already responded to such appeals by imposing visa restriction on immigrants from Muslim countries in the 18-45 age group. That is the age group that aspires for a share in the American dream. They dream of green pastures in the richest country of the world.

The end of the US war against terror is not in sight. What has it in store for Muslims?

Life shall be difficult for Muslims naturalized as citizens of USA and allied countries. A few among them may return to their countries, with nostalgia for the happy memories of past. Those who remain there should not expect increase in their numbers by immigration. It shall be difficult for them to retain links with their countries. They may suppress their religious and ethnic identity for retaining and continuing their careers and professions.

For survival and progress in the present hostile environment, Muslims have to pursue two-pronged strategy. They should focus on creation of economic opportunities supplemented by a communication strategy. During the heyday of petro dollar boom the Arabs did not evolve an investment strategy that could serve their future needs. 

The communication strategy of Muslim countries has been confined mostly to distribution of the translation of Holy Quran.

Jews have a firm grip on the print and electronic media. That has been persistently used for distorting the image of Muslims and Islam. The world after September 11 is full of challenges for Muslims all over the world. Their sentimental attachment to anti-American image of Osama bin Laden will not serve the interests of Muslims or Islam.

However, every challenging situation caries within itself opportunities. A single Al Jazeera channel has put up a serious challenge to the credibility of Western media. 

Muslims, irrespective of the fact whether they are in majority or minority, should develop their human and natural resources in a manner that wins confidence and trust of others. They should join the universal battle against hunger, disease and deprivation. In that manner they shall represent the real spirit of Islam, which means peace, security and well being of mankind.

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