What is it like to be a Muslim these days? The newly released public opinion polls produce an eerie feeling — a feeling that chills the profound sense of belonging among Canadian Muslims. The ceaseless media onslaught against Muslims and their religion is directly related to shocking results in which a staggering 44 per cent of respondents thought it was a good idea to restrict Muslim immigration to Canada. The winds of hatred and intolerance are now blowing throughout this country..
In the U.S., the Middle East Forum’s Daniel Pipes, one of the foremost proponents of the current anti-Muslim smear campaign, goes so far as to recommend the “vigilant application of social and political pressure to ensure that Islam is not accorded special status of any kind in this country.” The “special status” Pipes refers to includes ordinary religious accommodations for Muslims in the workplace and the “inclusion of Muslims in affirmative-action plans.”
The anti-Islamic wave propelled by hardliner hawks of the Bush administration, in tandem with the media, is precipitating a catastrophic confrontation. News stories are blown out of context to make an excuse for a war between civilizations. Thomas L. Friedman in his November 27/02 NewYork Times column “Defusing the Holy Bomb,” cites an Indonesian Muslim clergyman, Imam Samudra, who allegedly described the bomb that ripped apart the Bali disco, killing nearly 200 people, as a “holy bomb.” It is reprehensible to say the least. Similarly, nothing turns a bomb into a “Ramadan present,” as one U.S. Air Force officer chalked on a bomb destined to target Iraqi Muslims. If that could be one lone officer’s perverted wish, which Friedman conveniently ignores, the “holy bomb” description could also be a lone Imam’s perverted view.
But the spin-doctors fail to see parallels for Osama bin Laden and his followers in cults like the Branch Davidians or the doomed disciples of Rev. Jim Jones in Guyana or the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo. Why?
As if these recycled tirades were not enough, Jerry Falwell jumps onto the now popular bandwagon and makes odious remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, venting in the process his pathological hatred towards Islam. If he truly believes that Jesus preached love and peace, Falwell would have exemplified those teachings himself.
Instead of consciously enjoying the benefits that come with cultural and ethnic diversity, Muslims in North America are now witnessing a sorry spectacle of the trampling of human rights and blatant violations of civil liberties by those entrusted to uphold them. The U.S. constitution was supposed to have provided a trustworthy covenant with all citizens, enshrining their liberties and freedoms. Yet in the rush to judgment after September 11, the words of the America’s founders were all too easily cast aside.
All that the West achieved over the past century in attaining equality and dignity for all human beings has been brushed aside by the Bush administration, supported by rightwing fundamentalists. If this ‘effect’ endures, then the perpetrators of September 11 have succeeded in their mission in an extremely bizarre and ironic way.
In this vacuum of irrationality created by pain and anguish, vision, sanity, and the ability to distinguish between cause and effect are being lost. Most of America is not taking time to seriously ponder and do some soul-searching. Instead, every new tomorrow brings more thoughtless expressions of revenge, unbridled arrogance, unrestricted and dogmatic adherence to America’s own perception, and misperceptions of what is right and good for all of humanity. Along with it comes America’s greater determination to ensure that humanity is converted into a monochromatic “wasteland of one culture, one world.”
It would, however, be unfair to fault the West alone in this context. There can be little question that extremism has expanded substantially among Muslims in recent decades. It is largely a symptom of desperation. Muslims in general do not see martyrdom as a panacea. They are not homicidal maniacs. They are prone to dismiss Osama bin Laden and his cohorts as dangerous lunatics, although they may see the Bush administration in a similar light.
Muslims on their part must resolve to emerge out of a long nurtured state of self-pity and inaction and meet the many challenges confronting them today. Islamophobes and violent Islamists are in the same boat together, both morally and intellectually. Thus it would be worthwhile for Muslims to devote their energies to reclaiming their cultural heritage from both these types. But there would not be much point in rebuilding the Muslim world unless we Muslims can make sure it is an enlightened version of what went before.
While Samuel Huntington with his theory of the “clash of civilizations,” and his ilk are tolling the bells for another Armageddon, we must desist from their narrow and dangerous agenda to protect the cherished values of democracy and the dignity of all humans.
Javed Akbar is Director of OutReach Pickering Islamic Centre.