Muslims, Islam, West and the rest

(The following article was published in five instalments in the Daily Times of 14, 21 and 28 August and 4 and 11 September 2013.  Here it is reproduced in full.)

I

A false spectre is haunting the West, the spectre of Global Jihad.  The total number of westerners killed so far from this so-called “Jihad” has not reached five thousand, a majority of them in one incident only, namely, 9/11.  On the other hand, the total number of Muslims directly killed in “Anti-Jihad” – western invasion of or intervention in Muslim countries in the name of “war on terror” – now runs in the hundreds of thousands.

Of course, the historical significance of events is never measured by the number of people killed. Some events impact more than others, such has always been the case.  Surely, 9/11 will remain etched in the world’s collective memory for a very long time.  So will, to a lesser extent, the Bali bombings (2002), Madrid train bombings (2004), London’s 7/7 (2005), Mumbai’s 26/11 (2008), the recent senseless bombing of the Boston Marathon and the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in London.

Western governments seem powerless to stop such attacks, despite unprecedented border controls, security checks, sweeping surveillance and curtailment of civil liberties of their own citizens.  While Guantanamo, where 47 inmates are destined to stay locked up for life without facing a court, continues to be a stain on the country which considers itself a beacon of freedom and justice, we now learn that the US has been collecting phone and internet data of Americans, which would have been unthinkable before 9/11.

In the latest scare, the United States has officially closed its embassies in 19 North African and Middle Eastern countries.  Twelve years since the invasion of Afghanistan and 10 years since the invasion of Iraq, a decade after the capture of Al Qaeda’s chief of operations Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, 7 years since the execution of Saddam Hussain, two years since the killing of Osama bin Laden, numerous “renditions” and water-boardings later, the American government and public at large and, to a lesser extent, other governments and people in the West, are living on edge, not knowing when and where the next attack will occur. 

Many now see a “Jihadi” concealed in every face with a beard, hiding behind every burqa, camouflaged in every person named Muhammad or Ali and lurking in every public place. Unless sanity returns, one may live to see mob violence against perfectly fine, harmless people just because they look or sound like a Muslim.

Surely, one cannot talk rationally to people who are prepared to butcher unsuspecting runners or passers-by and blow themselves up with intent to kill others for any reason whatsoever.  One sends such people to jail or to the gallows. But, beyond that, one hopes that governments and leaders know better and they draw from knowledge and experience. In their pursuit of being seen to be doing something, Western governments ought not to forget what it is that they are doing. In the heat of the chase, they should not forget what it is that they are chasing.  

It should be clear by now that this terrible “War on Terror” – this “Anti-Jihad”, if I may – is embroiling the world in a vicious cycle of terror and counter-terror, of misperceptions, hatred and more terror. Anti-Jihad creates more Jihadis than it eliminates. It is not making the world more safe, but dangerously unsafe.

Owing to skewed reporting, false propaganda, rampant stereotyping, malicious interpretation of events, quoting Quran out of historical context, citing Quranic passages which only a handful of Muslims take literally and even fewer act upon, and highlighting fatwas to which hardly any Muslims pay any heed at all, many people in the West now view Muslims as a dangerous global threat and revile Islam as a source of evil.

It will help to get a historical perspective on this “Jihad” and “Islamic terrorism”.  But first, a few words about non-Muslim terrorism.  Timothy McVeigh, a white American Gulf War veteran, blew up a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring over 680, to make the point that the US government is “evil”. 

Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 fellow Norwegians to punish the ruling Labour Party for the influx of Muslims.  Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards shot her dead in 1984 to avenge the “desecration” of their holy shrine in Amritsar.  And Hindu mobs burned alive, slashed and decapitated 3,000 Sikhs in revenge attacks in Delhi alone. Sikh militants blew up an airplane over the Atlantic in 1985, killing 329 passengers.  Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh was killed by a Sikh suicide bomber in 1995.

Sri Lanka’s LTTE carried out at least 378 suicide attacks between 1987 and 2008.  Among others, they killed approximately 8,000 fellow Tamils accusing them of being traitors and expelled both Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Muslims from areas under their control.  They may not have employed religious terminology, but their goal was a state for the Hindu Tamil people of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. LTTE’s victims included an Indian prime minister and a Sri Lankan president, who were killed by female Tamil suicide bombers in 1991 and 1993, respectively.

And, while we are at it, why leave out Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who, between them, and within the last hundred years only, killed perhaps many scores of millions of people in the name of racial purity or a “socialist paradise”?  Their victims’ only crime was to belong to the wrong race or religion or to the upper socio-economic classes.

Or the Serb massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, where 7,000 Muslims were executed in cold blood in one day for their religious affiliation.  Or the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when at least half a million Tutsis were massacred over one hundred days by Hutu mobs because of their ethnicity.

The list is long. The further we go back in time, the longer and more grisly it gets.  No nation can escape culpability or claim the high moral ground. 

II

Why some young Muslim men – many of them smart, educated, raised in or living in the West – are now ready to kill and be killed apparently in the name of their faith?  We will get nowhere unless we clearly recognize that their behavior and actions, however irrational or despicable, are directly linked to events and developments in this world, rather than the pursuit of “heavenly virgins” (houris), as some in the West like to believe.

Nor are they engaged in an organised struggle or solo efforts to establish a world “Caliphate”, a supra-national Muslim state, as some crackpots of Hizbut Tahrir (HT) suggest now and then.  Such people should be taken no more seriously than the International Flat Earth Society.  Not a single activist of HT, however, has so far engaged in any act of terrorism or suicide bombing.

And why belabor this point when most of the “Jihadis” have themselves categorically declared, in one way or another, the direct link between their terrorist acts and one or more of the following: the Israeli occupation of Palestine and humiliation of Palestinians (which would be impossible without US military, economic, political and diplomatic support), the totally unjustified and illegal (and based on a lie, as we now know) US-British invasion of Iraq (with very tragic consequences for  the Iraqi people), the US-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan, and extension of military operations into Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

In a lopsided conflict against overwhelming military power, terrorism (including suicide bombing) has always been the weapon of the weak.  Presently, it is the cycle of humiliation, subjugation and alienation that stokes the feeling of revenge in disparate young men from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, Chechnya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan and such, who have nothing in common but their Islamic religion.

And Muslims are not the first or only community to rally to a trans-national or supra-national “common cause”.  Recall the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which 40,000 leftists and communists from many foreign countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Italy, USSR, USA, UK, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Canada, joined forces with their Spanish comrades to defend the Spanish Republican government against the “Nationalists” of General Franco, who were supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. 

More recently, in South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, Pathet Lao, Khmer Rouge and Viet Minh (representing three nations and four countries), not to mention Russia and China, collaborated against the US military. Long before them, the Christian Crusaders did the same.  Ideologically driven citizens collaborate against a perceived adversary, just as States form political and military alliances when they face a common enemy.

The US-supported Afghan liberation war against Soviet occupation (1979-88) galvanized Islamists and victory gave them assurance in their ability to defeat a military superpower. They took pride in being victorious where the large and well-equipped armed forces of Muslim countries, led by secular-minded kings, presidents and generals, had suffered humiliating defeats against lesser powers.  Examples being the humiliating defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the six-day war against Israel in 1967 and of Pakistan in the 1971 war against India. 

The end of the Afghan war also created a vast pool of disgruntled Muslim youth, experienced in combat and full of confidence in their prowess, who were now unwelcome, even persecuted, in their own countries. They now found for themselves a new cause, namely, the Islamisation of the largely Western-supported, secular-led Muslim countries, nearly all whom were gripped by economic, political and social crises and wracked by corruption.

To suggest that these young Muslim men kill themselves and others because they can’t wait to get their quota of “72 heavenly virgins” is simply ridiculous and insulting.  And what of the female suicide bombers?  In Chechnya they have been called “black widows” because their mission is to avenge the killing of their husbands.  Every serious research, most notably by University of Chicago’s Robert Papp, has refuted the connection between suicide bombings and heavenly goals and shown its link to politico-military objectives.

Psychology professor Scott Atran writes that most of these radical young men “are ‘born again’ in their late teens and early twenties and have little knowledge of religion beyond the fact that they consider themselves “true Muslims” who must fight enemies near and far to defend their friends and the faith that makes their friendship meaningful and enduring.”  Riaz Hassan, of Flinders University in Australia, writes that suicide may provide, for some, “self-empowerment in the face of powerlessness, redemption in the face of damnation and honor in the face of humiliation.”

The way some people talk these days, it would seem that Muslims are not just intellectually deficient but not even fully evolved as human beings. Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and a presidential hopeful, has described Muslims emerging from mosques after their Friday prayer “like uncorked animals”, throwing rocks and burning cars.

The highly regarded biologist, Richard Dawkins, wonders why the world’s billion-plus Muslims have won fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College in UK. Why shouldn’t he ask the same of Indians, Chinese and Africans, who also number over one billion each?  And, as far as I know, not a single person from the combined Indigenous populations of North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, not even one Polynesian, Melanesian or South-East Asian has ever won a Nobel Prize (not counting the peace prize). We don’t ask why, because we know why.

In any case, if one subscribes to the argument about Quranic verses or “heavenly houris” to be the cause of the current spate of terrorist acts and suicide bombings perpetrated by Muslims, one must also believe that Islam originated in the last decades of the 20th century. The truth is that Muslims have followed Islam, read the Quran and congregated in mosques for prayers every Friday for over fourteen hundred years without engaging in vandalism, terrorism or suicide bombings.

It is only in the last two decades or so, under a set of historical, economic and political circumstances, some complex, others not so, that some Muslims, a mere handful out of a population of well over one billion, are resorting to acts of terrorism, although the Islamic faith has been alive and well for fourteen centuries.

III

Given the current environment, it is hardly surprising that even a very erudite atheist like Sam Harris gets his facts wrong when castigating Islam.  For example, he writes in praise of Sufism and then asserts: “Sufism is reviled as heresy throughout much of the Muslim world.  In fact, Sufism thrives in all Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia, in spite of Salafism, Wahabism and terrorism. Everywhere, except Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of Muslims practice Islam in ways that are far closer to Sufism than to Salafism.

In the same piece, letting his bias prejudice his views, Harris refers to the “experience of innocent Muslims who are treated like slaves and criminals by this religion”.  On the contrary, one particular strength and attraction of Islam is precisely the opposite, that, theologically at least, it regards all Muslims as one community or nation (ummah) and proclaims the equality and dignity of every individual within this community.

By contrast, Christianity declares every individual to be a sinner by birth.  Hinduism treats the three lower castes as second, third and fourth class Hindus and consigns the “untouchables” to a life marginally better than that of street dogs.  Widows fare even worse. Considered inauspicious, they are ostracized, forbidden to remarry, to inherit property or to take part in any festivity of any kind. 

Recently, an intelligent and well-read Anglo-Australian friend of mine was asked in an email by a Chinese researcher about his “thoughts on the historical and psychological factors that led to the hostage taking situation in Algeria.  His long reply began thus: “Islam is a religion and a political system which has been steeped in violence since Prophet Muhammad failed to nominate a clear line of succession upon his death.  This led to the Shia-Sunni divide and the absence of an overarching unifying ideology to which all Muslims can subscribe. . . . We need to remember that the Muslims spend a lot more time killing one another than they do westerners (over one million died in the Iran-Iraq war).”

The ignorance revealed here is matched only by the arrogance of the writer. Firstly, the hostage-taking in the Amenas Gas Plant earlier this year had absolutely nothing to do with the Shia-Sunni schism, but with the French intervention in Mali. Secondly, if there is any major religion with “an overarching unifying ideology”, it is Islam, with every Shia and every Sunni, indeed every Muslim, subscribing to the belief in “one God (Allah), one Book (Quran) and one Prophet (Muhammad)”. 

Thirdly, it will take roughly 76 wars between Iran and Iraq to equal the number of Christians who were killed not so long ago by fellow Christians in the two world wars, in which 76 million people were killed. And, finally, the Iran-Iraq war was no more about sect or religion than were the two world wars, Franco-Algerian War (1954-62), India-China War (1962), Bangladesh War (1971), China-Vietnam war (1979),  Falklands war (1982), or the two Iraq wars (1991, 2003), to name a few.

Even the Saudi-Iranian antagonism is generally regarded by most non-Muslims in theological terms, as another expression of the Sunni-Shia schism, rather than a rivalry between two civilizations, the Persian and the Arab.  This rivalry is exacerbated, since 1979, by a republican, “revolutionary” Iran posing a threat to the Saudi and other absolute monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf.

The current Shia-Sunni murderous frenzy witnessed in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan may superficially seem to be sectarian, but are the product of economic, historical, social, political and territorial factors, aggravated by the Saudi-Iranian tussle for ascendancy, fuelled by their reserves of petro-dollars. In the case of Pakistan, there is the added factor of state sponsorship of some Jihadi militias as a tool of foreign policy, now out of control.

Of the over fifty Islamic states, none has ever been accused of deliberately allowing its territory to be used for Jihad against the West. In fact, the armed forces and intelligence services of almost all Muslim countries are so closely cooperating with the US in the Anti-Jihad that they have earned the ire of their own people.

Even Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (1996-2001) did not engage in any kind of terrorist activity against the West.  We now know that the Taliban were unaware of Osama bin Laden’s anti-US terrorist plans and were, in fact, prepared to cooperate with the US on that issue after 9/11, but President Bush fired from the hip, so to speak. Iran has been more a victim of American interference and machinations and of Israeli threats than a threat to them.

One does not need a great knowledge of history to know that things happen and pass, phases come and go, mindsets change, abnormalities prove transient and peripheral, normality returns.  Think of the Catholic-Protestant schism, Franco-German animosity, US-Japanese hostilities, Soviet-Chinese enmity and the McCarthy Era of the early and mid-1950s, when some Americans saw “a Red under every bed” and West Europeans braced for an invasion by the Soviet Red Army!

The decade from 1961 to 1972 witnessed a hijacking epidemic.  More than 150 flights were hijacked in American airspace in this period. According to a BBC report (11 July 2013), “at the height of the trend, aeroplanes were hijacked at a rate of nearly one per week. The hijackers’ reasons were varied. Some wanted to escape to countries like Cuba and Algeria. Others used the planes and their passengers as leverage to extort ransom or to promote a political cause.” 

Brendan I Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us, is quoted saying:  “Each air piracy incident inspired others. It was a time when people kind of embraced outlaws,” he said, “because there was so much distrust of the establishment.”

Similarly, the 19th century and the second half of the twentieth century saw the upsurge of anarchism, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Japanese Red Brigade and many more.    All are now history. And although some are very recent history, they sound so distant that most people will struggle to recall.

IV 

Let us now look at some specific issues that agitate non-Muslims regarding Islam and Muslims:

Violence in the Quran: It is an almost universal belief among non-Muslims that the Quran promotes violence, that it is the source of the current spate of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims. I recommend readers to make a google search for violence in the Old Testament and the New Testament or the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. They will be surprised at what they find.

Conversely, it might also be instructive to look for references to peace, compassion, tolerance, charity, good works, human dignity, human life and the rights of women, children, orphans, destitute and widows in the Quran and compare them with the other scriptures. Again, Islamophobes may be surprised at what they read.

As to the Quranic verses calling for Jihad, they must be read in the context of Arabia of the first half of the 7th century.  Only crackpots will read or understand them otherwise.  And 99 per cent of Muslims are not crackpots.

Spread of Islam: It is a widely held belief that Islam was spread through forced conversions. Muslim hordes marched with “sword in one hand and Quran in the other”, offering their “unfortunate victims” a choice between war and conversion.  In an age when defeat in war could mean being put to the sword, giving the choice of conversion was probably a humane idea, revolutionary for its time.

But if you really believe this “sword in one hand and Quran in the other” propaganda, ask yourself which Muslim army ever invaded Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, composed of islands, all separated by vast oceans from the Arabian Peninsula.  It also bears mention that Islam is now arguably the fastest-growing religion in some Western countries, if not the whole world.  Surely, these non-Muslims are not converting to Islam to save their necks from present or future Muslim invaders!

It also merits reminding that, in the ancient world and well into the Middle Ages, all religions were spread either by invasion or through the conversion of the ruler, who left no choice for his hapless subjects except conversion.

Polygamy:  While it is true that the Quran permits four wives, a fact every Tom, Dick and Harry of every religion seems to know, what they don’t know or overlook is that in the same verse the Quran qualifies and limits a man’s right to multiple wives with these words: “And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice.” (4:3). And further down, it categorically rejects this conditional “right” by saying: “Ye will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much ye wish (to do so)” (4:129).

Most Muslim countries don’t permit polygamy. In those that do, very few actually practice polygamy. Polygamy among south Asian Muslims is rare and among south-east Asian Muslims it is virtually non-existent.

Many non-Muslim societies are polygamous, particularly in Africa. The president of South Africa and the King of Swaziland have many wives, as does the former king of Bhutan.  The Mormons in the US have been known to be polygamous. Not all polygamists are Muslims and very few Muslims are polygamous.

Status of women:  Islam has not prevented four Muslim women from serving as prime minister or president in the three Muslim countries with the largest Muslim populations, namely, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Women have been ministers, ambassadors, vice chancellors, lawyers, magistrates, judges, etc. in perhaps all Muslim countries, barring Saudi Arabia and a few Gulf countries.  Their numbers may not be high, but, by the same token, women are under-represented in jobs and high positions in all countries. 

In all underdeveloped countries, there is a significant gap between male and female literacy. In India, this gap is nearly 17 %, in Nepal 27% and in Ethiopia 20%. The first two are Hindu-majority Asian countries and the third a Christian-majority African country.  On the other hand, in four Muslim countries, it is 5.9% (Indonesia), 8.6% (Bangladesh and Iran) and 28.3% (Pakistan), take or leave, in all cases, a few percentage points depending on which data you use.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and this happened as recently as in 1894.  Still, women could vote but not stand for election. In the US, no woman has yet been elected as president or vice president, only three have ever been appointed as secretary of state. UK has had but one female prime minister in its long history.

The veil: The full veil (burqa or niqab) causes some genuine concern among Western believers in women’s rights.  But it has also become the battle-cry of Islamophobes.  It will be sobering to ask how many Muslim women wear the full face veil.  As to the headscarf (hijab) or some kind of head covering for women, they are worn in many non-Muslim ethnic groups and communities across the world, from Russia and Eastern Europe to India to South America. 

And many Muslim women wear the full face veil not because they are compelled to do so by their fathers or husbands but for different personal reasons. Adherence to traditional values or religious injunctions are most often the cause, although there is a great deal of controversy as to the true meaning of the Quranic verses on this issue.  The relevant verses are the subject of different interpretations, which is why the number of Muslim women who choose to wear the full veil is so few as to be negligible. 

Estimated to total two thousand in France, for example, they comprise 0.04 percent of the five million Muslims in that country.  And the millions of Muslim women around the world who do not even wear the headscarf, let alone the face veil, do so without regarding themselves to be sinners, without any feeling of guilt and without compromising their faith.

V

Male Circumcision:  Islamophobes are now ranting against male circumcision, attacking Islam by association, although it was practiced by Jews long before Muslims. Circumcision rate among Israeli Jews is close to 100 per cent and it is a far more ritualistic requirement for them than it is among Muslims. Circumcision has no mention in the Quran. It is practiced in many African communities, particularly the Xhosa and Ndebele tribes of South Africa.

Until recently, there was a growing trend in the West to have children circumcised soon after birth for its medical benefits.  It is prevalent in USA, common in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea, rare in Europe and extremely rare in Latin America.  Not all circumcised men are Muslims nor are all Muslim men circumcised.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM):  It has nothing to do with Islam whatsoever.  It is not practiced in the “birthplace” of Islam, namely, Saudi Arabia, nor in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Iran or Syria.  It is very common in Muslim Egypt and Christian Ethiopia but unknown among South Asian and Southeast Asian Muslims, who together constitute over half of the world’s Muslims. 

The Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, the highest religious authority in Egypt, has condemned FGM.  In Mauritania, 34 Islamic scholars signed a fatwa in January 2010 against it. 

On the other hand, FGM is not totally unknown to Europeans. Gynaecologists in 19th-century Europe and US would remove the clitoris to treat insanity and masturbation. Isaac Baker Brown (1812–1873), an English gynaecologist who was president of the Medical Society of London in 1865, believed that the “unnatural irritation” of the clitoris caused epilepsy, hysteria and mania.

Vaccination:  It is not only some Muslims, mainly in Pakistan’s tribal belt and in northern Nigeria, who are skeptical of the benefits of vaccination.  According to a newspaper report of 15 July in the Nederlands Dagblad (ND), many parents in Holland’s “bible belt” are refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated on religious grounds, saying it is “against the will of God”.  But almost all Muslims, perhaps 99 per cent, have no issue with vaccination.

The fact that the CIA very irresponsibly, unethically and needlessly exploited a vaccination program in Pakistan to track Osama bin Laden, caused immense long-term damage to the program in Pakistan and elsewhere. It should be added that many people in the West also oppose vaccination on spurious medical grounds.

Slavery and slaves:  At a time when slavery was common, the Quran (9:60) specified that Zakat (compulsory alms-giving), one of the five pillars of Islam, was to be used for freeing slaves and bonded labourers. The strong Quranic injunction against usury was directed towards preventing indebtedness leading to servitude and bonded labour.

Freeing slaves was considered a noble act in early Islam, personally encouraged by Prophet Muhammad himself. Many early converts to Islam were the poor and former slaves.  It is worth recalling that slavery was practiced in most countries until only a century or two ago. In the US it was abolished in 1863, in many African countries only a few decades ago.

Apostasy:  The Quran leaves the punishment of apostates to God.  However, the leading Muslim jurists of more than a thousand years ago prescribed the death penalty to apostates.  Many Muslim scholars have justified it by equating apostasy with treason, which attracts the extreme punishment in all countries at all times. Whatever the theory, there is not a single Muslim country whose constitution or penal code prescribes any punishment whatsoever for apostates.  The number of Muslims who have been the victim of extra-judicial killing for apostasy is very few.

Ritual animal slaughter: Muslims are not the only people who engage in ritual animal slaughter, nor is their method of slaughter the most inhumane.  Half a million buffaloes, goats, ducks, roosters and pigeons are ritually slaughtered in Nepal during the “Gadhimai” festival held once every five years in Nepal.  Animistic and tribal societies literally batter animals to death.  In many societies, both tribal and modern, some animals and fish are often cut open, roasted or barbecued while fully alive, either for food or their body parts to be used in traditional medicine.

Fact is stronger than fiction.  Truth prevails, even though rumour and misinformation travel a lot faster than truth.  Muslims are not the first religious or ethnic community to be at the receiving end of a scurrilous campaign of vilification.  Jews, gypsies and many other communities, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, have experienced it in the past, some continue to do so in the present. 

I suppose no one represents anyone but themselves.  Who represents Islam?  Muslims do.  Who represents Muslims?  They themselves.  What impression do they leave on those from other religions or cultures who they interact with?  It varies from country to country, region to region.  But, generally speaking, not bad at all. 

In fact, Muslims are known for their kindness, warmth, compassion and generosity, regarded as gentle, caring, friendly human beings.  Even those non-Muslims who routinely denounce Islam have nothing bad to say about the Muslims they know, whether devout or secular.

The vicious cycle of Jihadist terror and the Western Anti-Jihadist terror in the name of the “war on terror” needs to be broken before long.  Both feed on each other, breed hatred and take lives.

There is much that is wrong with Muslims today and I have often written about these issues on these pages. But they love their religion and they are in their rights to do so. The more it is attacked the more defensive and fundamentalist they are likely to become.

It will also help to remember that the West has evolved over centuries and changed significantly only in the last half century or so.  Left to themselves, Muslims will go through the same process of intellectual evolution as Christians have gone through.  The relentless progress of science and science education has changed the West, not atheist literature or attacks on Christianity.

(Concluded)

By Razi Azmi

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6 Responses to Muslims, Islam, West and the rest

  1. Tony says:

    An erudite defence of the world of Islam – I think you have weakened your case by overstating it. If I might crudely summarise some of your lines of argument you note that the violence in the Islamic world is small beer compared to the 76 million people killed last century in horrific world wars which were entirely caused by the Western powers and Japan. You note that the Tutsi Hutu genocide had nothing to do with Islam, that the Sri Lankan civil war was as violent as anything in the middle east and so on. In short the world has always been a violent place and the violence is not something peculiar to Islam.
    All of this is of course true – as far as it goes. But there is a certain adhockery in your highly selective use of history. Some times you take a historical perspective sometimes you ignore history and you tend to use isolated facts in ways which distort the reality. On the Sunni Shia conflict you claim this is a temporary manifestation of the struggle between Persian Iran and the Arab Saudis. Well you can’t have it both ways. If it is a struggle between Iran and the Arabs then this struggle has been around for thousands of years and this is only the latest manifestation. It is a struggle which has become part of the fabric of the cultures in the same was that the hundred years war became part of the fabric of the protagonists societies.

    In the west we like to think that such struggles are now behind us and major wars between democracies – i.e. western societies are now at an end. Whether this is right or not is another matter but the fact that westerners can legitimately believe that they have left behind millitary conflict to resolve disputes means means that we will regard those who have not achieved this evolutionary level as in some ways “inferior” or living in an unevolved or backward society. This may be an illusion but the west has wealth, the west has peaceful transition of government, the west has freedom of thought and the west has an absence of major internal conflict. Generally speaking, with a few exceptions, the Islamic world can lay claim to none of these.

    You mention that Dawkins speaks disparagingly of Islamic educational systems and you say in reply that billions of Indians Chinese and Africans also fail to get a proportionate number of nobel prizes. The fact is that the Indians and Chinese are increasingly involved in the nobel awards as you well know. You also are well aware that on all international rankings, the universities of the middle east are nowhere to be found in the top one hundred. Australia, with a population of 22 million has more universities in the top two hundred than the whole of the Islamic world. You must accept that this is symptomatic of something very seriously wrong with the Islamic world.

    As a final example of what I have called your “adhockery” you address the issue of women in the Islamic world by noting that many Islamic states have had women as leaders. Again this is undeniable as far as it goes. But what does it signify????Does the fact that America has a black president mean that racial prejudice against blacks is now a thing of the past? I think not racial prejudice in America is weakening and one day will vanish but not in our lifetime. I’m sure you will agree with that. So to defend the position of women in Islamic societies seems to me to be particularly foolish. What are we to make of societies which do not allow women to drive cars, which won’t allow them to go shopping without a male family member to protect them and above all which will blow up schools merely because they seek to educate females.

    More and more writers are noting that Pakistan is bordering on the status of “failed state” and if Afghanistan does collapse then what will happen to Pakistan? The problems in these societies may not be all attributable to Islam but unless Islam can reform itself in the way that the Catholic Church did in the Renaissance then it is hard to see how the Islamic world can ever gain the freedoms and advantages which you and I enjoy in the West. Of course the Catholic Church never did reform itself voluntarily. It was forced to change its role in the world because of the rise of science and the growing rejection of its absolutist tendencies. Thus far Islam remains willfully blind to lessons of history and your defence is a bit like the pro Maost apologetics used to account for his role in history. When the Great Helmsman died the world was told that he was the greatest leader that china had ever had. Ever since then his reputation has been in steady decline. Today the official line is 30% bad 70% good. Everyone really knows that the opposite is closer to the truth but the leaders ignore all the damming evidence about that man and focus on the few good things that he did. I think your reading of Islam is the same. In the world of Islam, we are looking at a conglomeration of moribund political systems which, like the Ottoman and Chinese empires, are slowly crumbling. The difference is that while the aformentioned empires took centuries to finally collapse, the Islamic world’s death throes will be mercifully much shorter.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      Tony, there is not much I need to say in my own defence, for yours is a very weak critique of the arguments and facts of my article. When you accept that racism in USA is not about to die in our lifetime (despite a war to abolish slavery nearly a century and half ago), when you concede that Western liberties are a relatively recent achievement and the result of social evolution, then you are basically conceding that the Muslim world also needs time and space to evolve, which is the thrust of my argument.
      I note that you continue with your preference for sweeping generalisation when it casts a negative light on Muslims, for example, your reference to societies that don’t allow women to drive cars. In actual fact, there is only one such, namely, Saudi Arabia, which is one of 55 Muslim countries with a population of a few million out of 1.5 billion or so.
      Pakistan is not the only country in danger of being a failed state. DR Congo, with its immense mineral wealth and virtually no Muslims, IS a failed state. I can name a few more, but this should suffice.
      The Iran-Saudi rivalry may be rooted in history, but it is now accentuated by their new-found Petro-Dollars and Iranian Republicanism since 1979.
      Speaking of university rankings, you may be surprised that not a single Indian university is rated among the world’s top 200 and only a couple from China are.
      I am glad you only accuse me of “adhockery” but not of factual errors. I find both in your comments.

  2. n s parameswaran says:

    In your article “Thinking Aloud: Muslims, Islam, West and the rest — IV” you have mentoned and i quote below

    “They may not have employed religious terminology, but their goal was a state for the Hindu Tamil people of northern and eastern Sri Lanka. LTTE’s victims included an Indian prime minister and a Sri Lankan president, who were killed by female Tamil suicide bombers in 1991 and 1993, respectively.”

    Your understanding is not correct. LTTE was not a Hindu Organization. It’s chief Mr Prabhakaran and his family were Christians who used Hindu Names. This is a common practice among Christian Missionaries in India and other S.Asian countries – the converts are encouraged to keep Hindu Names so that other’s get confused.

    LTTTE was essentially a Christian organization funded by Christian NGO’s and that is why you find such a huge support for them in European countries. This was a plot of Christians to divide Buddhist Sri Lanka and create a Christian homeland but not so openly and obviously.

    The same strategy is being followed in India by these Christian Missionaries. In India a former CM of Andhra and his family kept Hindu Names. This is to fool the masses who think they are Hindus and vote for them. Mr Rahul Gandhi is actually a christian though they are deliberately vague about their religious affiliations. In the Christian dominated N.E of India most of the militant organizations are Christian organizations fighting under tribal names. the idea is to separate the christian NE from India.

  3. Razi Azmi says:

    Dear reader:

    Those who read my articles and the comments from readers would be familiar with one PK, an Indian living in Canada, who has been reading my articles for many years. He has commented on them occasionally, sometimes on my blog, at other times directly on my email. We also exchange articles of mutual interest.

    A few months ago, I sent him a link to a BBC report of extra-judicial killings by Indian forces in India’s northeast. Here’s the link:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29042486

    And I got this from PK in response:

    Hi Razi:

    You have been a fierce defender of minority-Muslims, Palestinian rights, defender of the faith etc. in the past two years at least.

    How about with all your excellent writing skills a few columns about non-Muslim rights in Majority Muslim lands?

    You can start with Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadis, Zoroastrians in the Land of the Pure which you are extremely familiar with? Shia can wait a bit longer!

    Then one can move westward. Iran, Iraq, Levant, Saudi Arabia – heart of Islam, Egypt where Coptic Christians have lived long before the arrival of Islam! Forget Jews!

    Anyway, enjoy summer in your adopted land of Australia. Happy new year to you.

    Regards,

    PK

    And, for good measure, PK attached a report about the burning to death of a Christian couple in Pakistan. Here’s the link: http://www.dawn.com/news/1142612

    As long as I kept castigating Muslims for all the bad things that happened in Islamic countries, including the lack of “non-Muslim rights in Majority Muslim lands”, I was being cheered by PK, but as soon as I said something about the treatment of Rohingyas in Burma, Palestinians in Gaza or Manipuris in India, he cast away his secular, humanitarian veneer and subjected me to a fusillade.

    I share his email with readers because this virus infects many. A lot of people put up a pretence of being secular and upholding universal humanitarian causes and cheer you as long as you criticize your own but not theirs. But as soon as you dare shed a critical light on what they see as their own country, culture or people, they discard the secular, humanitarian façade and reveal themselves for what they really are, patriots and nationalists, for whom their nation and culture are beyond criticism, while they feel free to expose the shortcomings and wrongdoings of others.

    To remind PK, and readers, that I have as recently as in June of last year, published a damning indictment of my own country, here’s the link:
    http://www.raziazmi.com/?p=759

    Excerpt: “So, we have reached a point where those who can, flee, those who can’t, pray, plead and then pray a bit more, hoping for the best. The flight started at inception, with Hindus and Sikhs running for their lives, having been declared “minorities” who would at best be second class citizens of a state that was carved out as a homeland for Muslims.”

    And there are many more columns by me in the same vein on the persecution of non-Muslims in Muslim countries.

  4. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    Respected Razi Azmi Sahib, For Some Tolerance ends when they are shown the Mirror.
    Regards

    • Razi Azmi says:

      For more comments on the whole article, please go to the end of each of the five instalments one by one, which I published on this blog as they appeared originally, before putting them together here in one long piece. You will find many comments below the first four instalments.

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