The Rand Report and The Invisible Man

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When Europeans launched the Crusades as a prolonged "holy war" against Islam, couched in terms of "good-versus-evil," they did so for three reasons. First was the rise of Islam itself, one of the greatest historical movements of the Middle Ages. Its existence and rapid expansion were seen as a threat to the dominant Byzantine Empire.

Secondly, the Pope was struggling with the Holy Roman Emperor for supreme power in Europe, and so in 1095 a decision was made at the Council of Clermont to launch a Crusade that would consolidate his authority as a supreme leader.

The third reason was driven by economic change. Behind the rising religious craze in Europe, a new holy war was seen as a shortcut for Europeans to make business contacts with the affluent oriental East and the highly civilized Arab world.

The shape of the current Crusade may be different, but the goal is the same: conquering territories, controlling resources and undermining the culture and the religious self identity of the indigenous population, the "others" who need fixing. The notion that only outside intervention can save Islam and Muslims has been in circulation since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, but it gained greater urgency after September 11, 2001.

The writing was on the wall. In June 1992, Time magazine featured an article titled "The Sword of Islam." The magazine’s cover carried a picture showing the black silhouettes of a minaret and a raised hand holding a gun against a lurid orange background. The caption read "Islam: Should the World Be Afraid?" By James Walsh. It was ingenious in its tone and frightening in its imagery of Islam and Muslims. But that was only the first of many…

Recently, Rand Corporation has put out a report titled "Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies." It is based on the premise that Muslims — and by inference, all of Islam — are "sick" and unless they are fixed from the outside, the Islamic world will not "thrive." The report lays out a comprehensive blueprint for Western agencies, media, and corporations within America and around the world — including Canada — on how to manipulate the present perception and future evolution of Islam and Muslim societies. This report has serious repercussions for Islam and Muslims, particularly for our youth who are the subject of a wide-open laboratory of thought on behavioral manipulation and social and religious engineering.

The report concludes by emphasizing that Muslim "anger" against America can be tamed only through developing a modernist or progressive Muslim leadership and supporting the Sufi style of Islam. "The next generation, both in the West and in the Muslim world, however, can be easily influenced into changing their views if the message of the democratic Islam can be inserted into school curricula and public media."

It does not, however, touch upon on any core issues related to the Muslim world’s perceptions about the West; about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, or about those involving Chechnya and Russia, Iraq and America, Kashmir and India. And it does not investigate the exploitive and repressive political systems supported by the American and European elite for their own political and economic gain.

We need to read the Rand Report, and then ask ourselves: How did Irshad Manji become famous? Why are some fringe individuals in the Muslim community so often courted by the media? And why are those fringe views given preference over those of mainstream Canadian Muslims? Why is there such a push to revise education curricula in Muslim countries? And who is influencing what we claim to "know" about Islam and the Muslim world?

It is remarkable that the report has not generated any serious discussion among the Muslim intellectuals and Islamic scholars of our country, many of whom seem unaware even of its existencet. To me it seems that the Muslim community (Ummah) is either sleeping or hibernating, like the "Invisible Man" in the basement of a white neighborhood.

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is the story of a young black man from the South who is haunted by his grandfather’s deathbed warning against conforming to the wishes of white people, because the young man sees that very conformity as his key to success. This novel is an account of his journey through contemporary America in search of success, equality and self identity. It also chronicles his emotional experiences at the hands of whites who cruelly manipulate him as he moves along the corridors of success. In the process, loses his humanity.

Finally, he decides to build himself a room in the cellar of an all-white building and hibernates there, contemplating his relationship to reality and the invisibility he feels was caused by his race. One day he realizes that he can no longer be irresponsible and conform to "white people’s" expectations of him. Instead, he will reclaim his humanity by being who he is and will no longer struggle to change that. The lesson for him is: "Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one label, ‘file and forget’. They keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency."

It is an apt analogy for the current state of our Ummah, for it too is sleeping in the "basement of the white neighborhood" and without the possibility of action, its knowledge — the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophetic examples — has come to one label, "file and forget."

We need a vision for the future and a major paradigm shift; a re-orientation of perspective that acknowledges the urgency of our coordinated effort and actions at the local and national level, and that equally considers the interrelationships linking global, regional, and national actors. All this is our responsibility.

If we aspire to a more just and peaceful future and world, we must recognize that justice and peace have both internal and external aspects. Lasting success will only be achieved when there is a balance between the outer and the inner dimensions of life. Therefore, we must strike a balance between our religious rituals and our civic duty. As the Qur’an teaches, "… thus we have made you an ummata wasata [a community of the middle way, or a justly balanced community]… (2:143)

We should be warned that our lethargy, ignorance, and irresponsibility in the face of mounting covert and overt manipulation of our person, religion, youth and self identity, is going to be our undoing. The longer we wait to become visible, to take a stand and confront the forces of ignorance and hate as a collective consciousness and voice, the worse we will fail in our duty to Allah, to Canada as her citizens, to our religion, and to our self-identity.

Recent events have only further highlighted the paralysis of the wider Muslim community in the face of crises generated by society’s predominantly anti-Islam media. We as a community failed to rise to the occasion and failed to show that we too can care for those who are wrongly accused and humiliated. It was sad to see that out of fear, personal interest, and an atrophied sense of justice, people became holier-than-thou instead of speaking up. To paraphrase Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: "Irresponsibility is part of our invisibility; any way we face it, it is a denial. But to whom can we be responsible, and why should we be, when others refuse to see us?"

The answer is that we are created to be representative of Allah, or vicegerents on earth (6:165) and are held morally responsible; not only for ourselves, but also for others in society, community and the world, including the environment. The Qur’an says: "… and did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, the earth, indeed would be full of mischief." (2:251).

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