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Moderate Islam—Whose Call Is It ?
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

With the last burning fires in the bowls of the World Trade Centre in New York—three months into the tragedy of September 11—having finally been put out, the investigators are swooping down on the site with a fine tooth comb to look for any clues, still left in the smouldering debris, about the nature of the hellish fire that devoured the two icons of American economic stranglehold on the world.

It is also time for the Islamic world—under microscopic scrutiny in the west since september 11—to kick-start its own introspection to know, on our own, where we are and where we ought to go. The time is now, and is of the essence. Postponing this long overdue self-scrutiny and accountability would only be at our own expense. That may be a cost we can no longer afford.

September 11, it is being said, has changed the world, and it may never be the same place it was on September 10. That being the case, let us seize this watershed to quiz ourselves why it is that we, Muslims of the world, find ourselves in the dock of universal opprobrium and condemnation , and are being questioned not only about our motives but also about our credentials, our moorings and our beliefs.

A sense of moral outrage, indignation and hurt sweeping across the Islamic world like a prairie fire has irrefutable merit and justification. However, an overtone of self-righteousness asserting itself stridently in some quarters is unjustified, and could still cause more harm. Throwing the book at those who may be ignorant of it does not mean anything. The sense of hurt aside, the general belief of the silent majority in much of the Islamic world that Muslims are being viciously targetted only because of the Islamophobia that has suddenly gripped the west and has been ruling the roost there since September 11 is not conducive to any serious appraisal of our own faults and shortcomings. This temptation for short cuts, and faulting others for our failures, is nihilistic and must stop.

First, it is not a spur of the moment reaction in the west that they have, in a flash, declared war on the Islamic world. Far from it.We forget that ‘ militant Islam’ had been in the western sights for well over two decades. It started with the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran which upset the political chessboard that the west, headed by the U.S. , had arranged to serve their ends. The Palestinian struggle to liberate their occupied land from west’s forward base in Israel had lent it a sharper focus. The western label of ‘militant Islam’ was an invention of convenience. It was a crude caricature to define the political demarche of Muslims, long subjected to inequities and injustices, seeking redressal and redemption. 

Our antennae should have been up at that stage on the intent and design of the west concerning legitimate political grievances and grouses of Muslims in various parts of the world, but did not. We allowed the western propaganda offensive to sow doubts and misgivings in our own minds about our political movements for equity and justice.

We erred badly when the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion was triggered by becoming party to the cleverly laid U.S. trap that it was a ‘ jehad’ of Islam against the heathen and Godless Soviets. It was a ruse, a canard that we swallowed without much thought. The Afghans were fighting for their independence, not for Islam’s. Islam’s future was not in dispute or doubt; it was that of the Afghans. But the Americans , in their Machiavellian thrust against the Soviets, found it handy to put an Islamic foil on it. It helped them enormously to exploit Islamic sentiment and attract zealots from around the Muslim world to rally round their flag. They channeled that groundswell of religious fervour to topple the Soviet ‘ evil empire.’

However, the Islamic world went back to its slumber as soon as the Americans too folded their tent in Afghanistan to leave the Afghans and their foreign ‘ mujahideens’ to their fate. The world of Islam was guilty of a double sin : letting Islam hijacked by a world power whose ‘ love’of Islam was an open secret ; and deluding itself that with the Afghan War over, the newfangled mujahideen would return to their previous lives. Muslims all over the world are paying the price , today, of that colossal misreading.

The so- called mujahideen, who did not deserve that coveted title, had tasted victory in Afghanistan against one of the two super powers of that era, and imbibed heady, intoxicating , notions about their invincibility and messianic nature of their ‘ mission.’ Therefore, they turned their attention to their own polities—corrupt to their core and in need of genuine revolutions, not the phony ones. They thought they could get rid of their corrupt leaders, just as they had forced a super power to lick the dust of ignominy. They couldn’t be more wrong, because the remaining super power, which had anointed them as ‘mujahideen’ to pull its chestnut out of the fire, did not share their enthusiasm to overthrow their corrupt regimes. They were there—and many of them had been installed with Washington’s active blessings—to serve the lone super power’s agenda. As such, their removal was not on the cards. But the disowning of the used mujahideen was very much an American priority. They had served their purpose and were dispensable. Soon enough, they became terrorists, and the rest, as is said, is history.

‘Islamic terrorism’, ensconced in western vocabulary for nearly a decade , has become a favourite bete noire in the aftermath of September 11. Once again, Islam is being made a lightning rod for the misdeeds of a few disgruntled and frustrated Muslims who had an axe to grind with the world’s lone policing power. The problem of whether or not Islam and its core values have anything to do with the terrorism of Bin Lden and his followers is becoming complex and convoluted because the Muslim world has yet to have its act together on this debate.

It is high time to grasp the nettle because, once again , Islam is in imminent danger of being hijacked by those with only superficial or no knowledge of it at all.

There are, on the one hand, the likes of George W.Bush and Tony Blair who are tilting at their own fancy windmills to give us a definition of ‘moderate Islam’ or ‘ moderate Muslims’. They are at pains to give their blessings to moderate Islam in order to keep their Muslim allies in good humour and firmly in tow behind themselves in America’s New War against global terrorism. To Washington and London, a moderate Muslim is one who does not question the western view of Islam and does not cavil at how these sentinels of the new world order wish to wage war against their real or perceived enemies. For Bush, Blair and their other western cohorts, this is as much a matter of convenience, and necessity, as was the christening of Afghan fighters against the Soviet invasion of their country as ‘mujahideen.’

There are, on the other hand, the likes of Salman Rushdie, Muslim in name and by accident of birth only, who have taken upon themselves the role of western Trojan horses in the Islamic camp. Their role is to malign Islam as a religion unfit to be in harmony with the requirements of the modern world.

Both these self-appointed spokesmen of Islam and the Muslims are becoming assertive because of the stupor and languidness of the silent majority in the Islamic world. This silent majority, which many a dictators and autocrats have boasted to be their bastion of strength, is guilty of various crimes. Because of its apathy, indifference or sullen acquiescence, it has allowed the likes of Osama and Rushdie to occupy the centre stage and speak on behalf of Muslims of the world.

The silent majority in the Muslim world will have to break its fast of silence if Islam is to be saved and liberated from the thrall of Blairs, Bushes, Bin Ladens or Rushdies. There is simply no more room for complacency. Delay to assume the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world by its silent majority can only be brooked at unaffordable costs which the Muslims are not capable of paying.

What this silent majority will have to do, first ,is to make a categorical statement that Islam is not in danger—never has been. Allah is the protector of Islam and knows best how to take care of His religion. The problem is of Muslims and has largely been created by the Muslims themselves because of their convoluted and perverse sense of their own religion and its inherent calling. Neither Bin Laden nor Rushdie represents Islam—or Muslims , for that matter. It is the general cupidity and massive ignorance of Muslims that has spawned Bin Ladens and Rushdies and foisted them on the Islamic world.

Muslims will also have to re-educate themselves about the nature of conflicts in their own societies, as well as those confronting Muslims in conflict-areas, such as Palestine, Chechnya , Kashmir et.al. These internal and external conflicts have a major impact on the international image of Muslims in the world.

The biggest conflict of Muslims across the board is the absence of fundamental freedoms and basic liberties in their domains. They are denied freedoms of expression, speech and writing by their own rulers and not by others. If there is absence of democracy, and surfeit of autocracy, in most Muslim polities, it is because of the unbridled ambition of their rulers for absolute power. If there is no rule of law in their lands, it is because the rulers do not want to be governed, or constrained, by the laws of equity and justice. If there is corruption rampant in Muslim countries, it is entirely because of the rulers’ proclivity to rule by nepotism and distribution of spoils.

Islam is not involved at all in these evils. In fact, Islam has been brought into disrepute because of these antics and foibles of Muslims—rulers and the ruled alike. Our tendency to extrapolate an Islamic foil, real or imaginary, on all our doings provides an opening to outsiders to question the suitability of Islam to the demands of the modern times.

Likewise, if the Palestinians are pitched in battle against an expansionist and hectoring Israel, it is for their national rights, and not for the ‘ glory of Islam.’ Muslim and Christian Palestinians are in this battle together, and they do not covet a religious overtone for their struggle.

The Chechens, too, are fighting the Russian aggrandizement for the attainment of their usurped freedom, and not for Islam; their being Muslims is only incidental. 

So is the Kashmiri struggle for their rights; they are not fighting for Islam, or in its name. Hence, all those zealots pouring into Kashmir from outside have no place in the Kashmiri struggle. They have, in fact, helped foist the label of ‘Islamic terrorism’on a purely nationalist movement.

Only the silent majority, painfully silent up until now, can take care of the menace of exploitation of the pristine name of Islam, both at home and abroad, by becoming vocal on issues. They must lend their voice, in unison, to impress upon the world at large that neither the unbridled extremists, nor pusillanimous apologists, have the sanction to speak in the name of Muslims and Islam. It is only those who believe in Muslims being the ummah-tal-wasta ( a people of the middle-path ) as the Holy Quran describes them, have the rationale and authority to dilate on the polity and philosophy of Islam. Their moderation, speaking for itself, would vouch for Islam being a religion of tolerance, co-existence and peace.

It is your call, silent majority, wherever you may be.
q

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