As violence rises, Muslim moderates must do more

My colleagues at ‘Let Us Build Pakistan’ and I have discovered various overlapping interests on certain issues and we occasionally cross-post material that we think our audiences would find relevant. Here is one such article I found interesting.

Against the background of a fresh wave of violence in the Middle East, a Muslim writer calls for introspection.

By Asif Zaidi

The following book review in The Telegraph addresses two recently published books mainly defending British Muslims. A friend sent me the article, hoping that it will help me “see the light.” But I believe the review downplays some significant problems.

[A book by Arun Kundnani ] dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way.

Bowen’s book is at bottom gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state…”

In fact, most members of most religious communities in Britain are patriotic and law-abiding but it is only Muslims who require constant reassurances like those in the review above. Why? The answer is simple: because most radicals have been Muslims and people like Anjem Choudary get their mug all over the television. To me, rather than constantly looking for reassurances, Muslims in Britain should be arguing against the likes of Choudary and protesting against incendiary pronouncements and actions. It is normal that in the absence of such posturing, suspicion grows. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles. But hasn’t the fact that many cardinals turned a blind eye to those who are has drawn more opprobrium than the pedophiles themselves?

ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)
ISIS fighters ride through the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa. (photo: Islamic State)

The silence or acquiescence of the so-called Muslim ‘moderate’ majority reinforces the perception of Muslims as a group of people who cannot, or will not, control their extremist fringes. I think this is an accurate reflection of the reality and see no problem with it. To claim that not all Muslims are terrorists, jihadists, or extremists sounds hollow. Not all men are misogynists or violent towards women, either, but we incessantly reiterate that men have a duty to stand up to sexism and misogyny. In the 1940s most Germans were not Nazis. Similarly, most Hutus did not participate in the killings of Tutsis. But the peaceful majority are irrelevant when a minority are hell bent on waging violence and imposing itself.

We don’t need huge numbers to inflict huge damage. On 9/11, less than a dozen people, in no position of power or authority, caused enough damage to change the entire world for ever. The genocide of the Native Americans or the slaughter of slave ships might be from a different era but the dark heart in mankind beats on and it is the duty of Muslims not to allow it to function under the cloak of Islam.

So to say that “not all Muslims are radical” is a misplaced assertion. The real question is what they are going to do about the ones who are radical. In recent years many Muslims have tended to describe those criticizing Islam as being “Islamophobic.” This is utterly dishonest. Non-Muslims have every right to question the teachings of Islam just as Muslims have every right to scrutinize and question the tenets of other religions. This is an inalienable right and a practice as old as the religion itself. This kind of reaction from Muslims turns lack of knowledge about Islam into a genuine fear of it. Many people question Islam because they support things which are, in truth, incompatible with Islam: abortion, gay rights, and sex before marriage. That does not mean that they do not approve of Muslims. They have also subjected their own religions to the same criticism.

Where is the uproar among the Muslims in the West against the intolerance of minorities in many Muslim countries, the murder of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, denial of education to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, denial of careers to women in Saudi Arabia, death sentences for supposed adulterers in Sudan, executions of homosexuals in Iran, and “honor” killings and forced marriages just about anywhere? These, naturally, are the things that get reported. Should the media report on Muslims going to the mosque, working at the office, having dinner, and enjoying family time on the weekend? These same Muslims who refuse to murmur on these atrocities turn up by the thousands to protest against Google because Google owns YouTube and someone somewhere has posted a video that they feel insults Islam. It does not matter that the video has nothing to do with the U.S., UK, YouTube or Google – their honor has been slighted and, therefore, they must rally to the chant of the Ummah.

A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)
A fighter from the Islamic State stands in front of a tank. (photo: Islamic State)

The author of the book review above fails to point out the total indifference among the British Muslim community towards the innocent Muslims being slaughtered by ISIS in Iraq. Are the nearly 200,000 killed and millions displaced from Syria worth less attention than a supposed slur posted on YouTube?

There is a reason that much of the world feels that the Muslim community is not concerned with justice, peace or progress – it is concerned with honor and with the past. And that means that they don’t care how many people die (Muslim or non-Muslim) in wars and jihads and intifadas, as long as Muslim pride is restored. If that means rioting when someone records a film, so be it. If that means murdering your daughter because she’s got a non-Muslim girlfriend, so be it. And if that means keeping Palestinians in refugee camps for three generations in rich Muslim client states of the West then so be it. It is this attitude, and no imaginary Islamophobia, that is responsible for a number of young westerners, fueled by dreams of Jihad, flying off to Syria and holy war. Of course not every Muslim is a jihadist, but it is also a fact that for every young Muslim guy who actually makes it out to the front in Syria or Iraq, it seems there are many more who sympathize with them.

According to a reliable study Muslim extremism claims 38 times more Muslim lives than non-Muslims, without accounting for Muslim wars (Iran-Iraq) and major uprisings. ISIS has crucified a number of moderate Syrian rebels – and pro-Assad fighters. As always, the terrorists are Saudi-inspired and are far more of a menace to Muslims than the West is. Therefore, to say “the West is far more responsible for Muslim terrorism than they are” shows a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of Islam and its relations with surrounding civilizations.

In every Western or non-Muslim country where I have been, most people show no signs of animus against Muslims in general. I don’t think Muslims in the West need the reassurances that the Telegraph article and the books reviewed seek to provide. On the contrary, I think it is a shame that much-needed discussions about radical Islam immediately turn into people shouting “not all Muslims are like that” and drowning out genuine concerns.

I can express my disgust for abuse in the Catholic Church in any setting, and it is correctly assumed that I am not rebuking Christians in general. I can voice concerns about Zionism and Israeli occupation, and it is – or should be – understood that I am not rebuking Jews in general. So when others talk about the dangers of radical Islam, it should be obvious that they are not rebuking Muslims in general without explanations.

Grow up and do something about your own state of affairs. To begin with, get out of the victimhood you enjoy so much. Shut down the Salafist and the Wahabbi factories of extremism paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and encourage your people to stop kids who are being radicalized. Come out in droves and condemn all female genital manipulation, all forced marriages, all tribal laws, all Jihadist militancy, all sectarianism, and all discrimination against women.

Asif Zaidi is a regular writer on the Pakistani blog Let Us Build Pakistan, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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