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Signpost
An Open Season on Islam
By M. Zeyaul Haque

September 11 has emboldened closet Islam-baiters to declare their proclivities unabashedly

M. Zeyaul HaqueIn normal times and normal societies bigotry is looked down upon as an unpleasant trait in human beings. Catastrophic events like those of September 11 take away the normal restraints of normal times. It is no longer embarrassing for people in affected societies to talk in jingoistic terms and act unreasonably. This is the time for closet chauvinists to come out in the open, showing their true colours.

Scanning the US media after that cut off date is enlightening. There is the clear, unambiguous voice of reason of men like Prof. John Esposito, Fareed Zakaria, and President Bush (to name only a few) which makes a distinction between Islam and terrorism on one hand, while there is another, equally clear (and shriller) voice of "clash of civilisations" votaries that preaches the bombing of the holy shrines in Saudi Arabia, conversion of all Muslims to Christianity, and forcefeeding of pork to Muslims.

Fortunately, the Bush administration knows that fighting terrorism would be a lot easier if the goodwill of Muslim states is with the US-led campaign. For this goodwill to be there it is important that the most enduring focus of global Muslim sense of hurt over Western highhandedness –– Palestine –– is addressed properly. Equally important is the grievance over needless deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a direct outcome of US-led UN sanctions. Interestingly, the two major news weeklies of the US –– Time and Newsweek –– seem to clearly belong to these two different schools of thought like our very own India Today and Outlook.

Newsweek and its international editions editors Fareed Zakaria advocate solidarity with the larger Muslim world in what is being called the "campaign against terror", while Time is not too keen on this line. Zakaria, the former managing editor of the prestigious Foreign Affairs, has the reputation of a clear thinker on foreign policy. His ideas seem to largely coincide with Powell’s and Bush’s. Which means the dangerous undertones of a "civilisational conflict" are minimised.

One of the distressing features of the present mood (and discourse) in the Muslim world is that in it there is virtually no concern for the interests of the large number of Muslims in America, Britain, France and Germany. No Muslim leader or cleric seems to think for a while that reckless posturing endangers the interests of Muslims in those countries. There is no concern for those Muslims even in India as is evident from a perusal of the Urdu press. This is extremely galling and unfortunate because the Muslims of America and Europe are some of the best and the brightest of the Ummah, the dearest sons and daughters of Islam. We must spare a thought for them.

Yet another unpleasant point is the habit of some of our Muslim "leaders" putting their foot in their mouth every time they choose to open it. Most of the time they are talking through their hat, without the slightest idea of what is actually happening. On Afghanistan they are telling credulous Muslims that it is a war between Islam and Kufr, while the fact remains that it is largely a war between Muslims, a war in which friends are turning into foes and vice-versa with every passing second. And pray, tell us Imam Sahabs and Maulanas, which Islam teaches fratricide?

All this is too disturbingly reminiscent of what the Khilafat leaders did in the last century: they roused the Indian Muslims to a frenzied pitch, and left them high and dry. They never bothered for a moment to check the ground realities in Turkey itself, which (for whatever reasons and under whatever compulsions) abolished the caliphate. Once again our imams and maulanas seem to be holding forth on issues which they don’t grasp well. Frustrated, hungry and bruised Pakistani volunteers who had gone out to help the Taliban fight "infidels" are returning to tell the stories of betrayal and misrepresentation. What they saw was not what they were told in Pakistan they would see in Afghanistan: it was not Muslims fighting infidels, but Muslims fighting Muslims in the most brutal fashion, without any regard for Islam’s own Charter of the conduct of war and the enemy’s human rights, and without any regard for Geneva Convention.

This is a time for the Muslim leadership of the religious stripe in India to be very cautious and avoid talking in terms of generalities. Human blood (and Muslim blood) is not to be spilt so mindlessly and recklessly. Besides, one foolish pronouncement by a maulana or imam is enough to open a barrage of unsolicited and unwelcome harangue from self-anointed pontiffs like Tavleen Singh. She devoted her entire column in two consecutive issues of India Today recently to the difficult task of "reforming " Muslims, who don't seem to be interested in any case. My request to Tavleen: Holy Mother, leave us sinners to our own devices. Concentrate your zeal on the Neanderthals around you who need your advice as much as we do. For us one imam is enough pain in the neck; we can do without a Giani Sahiba.

That brings us to the open season on Islam. Lance Morrow in his sleek piece (Time, Nov.19) "Has Your Paradigm Shifted"? deftly erases the fine distinction between the war on Islam and war against people who also happen to be Muslims. He suggests that under the "New Paradigm" (the post- Sep. 11 paradigm) it is ok to racially profile male air travellers from the Mid-East. "After September 11, I was a guest on an African-American radio show in Detroit. Almost every one of the callers wanted to ship Detroit’s entire Muslim community back to the countries they came from." Morrow suggests that it is OK under the New Paradigm because political correctness is Old Paradigm, and the "New Paradigm goes in for abusive political incorrectness…." The New Paradigm of Mr Morrow seems like Mr Ashok Singhal’s dream come true.

This is a nice season for Islamphobes, one of them being William Lind of the US Free Congress Foundation. Some of his gems reproduced by The Indian Express, attributing it to Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service in a recent issue: "There is no such thing as a peaceful Islam. Islamics cannot fit into an America in which the first loyalty is to the Constitution. They should be encouraged to leave. They are a fifth column in this country". That shows an anti-Muslim smear campaign is on in the US, which requires that Muslim leaders elsewhere should take care that nothing is spoken or done which increases the problems of Muslims in the West. This same story says how upset the anti-Muslim lobby in the US is over the iftar party in the White House last fortnight. Thank God, in American democracy there are quite a lot of people who oppose such smear campaigns against any community. One such person is Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. The Express says he wrote an article in The American Spectator headlined: "George W. Bush was elected president of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote".

To recap, the US establishment is divided in two schools of thought: one holds that any new world order to emerge after September 11 would have to include the Muslim world as participants; the other is that this world order can be established and run without Muslim participation. Many of our imams’ and maulanas’ views seem to belong to the latter category. This is nothing but unilateral abdication. Thank God, the dominant opinion in the US and Europe even today favours an inclusive agenda as it is the only viable option. The iftar in the White House and the release of 74 million US postal stamps (Sep. 1, 2001) on Eid symbolise it. For Muslims, engagement with the West is the best option; sulking in anger and frustration would not help.
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