‘It isn’t enough for Muslims to deny, deny, deny’

Each new act of Islamist terrorism—in India or elsewhere, successful or otherwise—ends up with each side languidly reading by rote their response from the same dog-eared notes; from the same ideological position they have been plonked in for months, years and decades.

Muslims slip into a defensive mode. They blame poverty, unemployment, discrimination, Islamophobia for leading their youth astray. Or, where applicable, point some really long fingers at Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Chechnya, and/or American foreign policy.

Muslim-bashers thump their chests and say, “What did you expect? Didn’t we tell you?” Secular fundamentalists warn against tar-brushing a whole community with the same brush. And liberals accuse “moderate” Muslims of not speaking up and making their voice heard.

Well, two moderate Muslims have spoken up in today’s papers and they are both worth hearing.

The Hindu‘s London correspondent Hasan Suroor laments on the editorial page of the paper that the default position of Muslims has become one of denial. “In other words, don’t blame us; it’s all other people’s doing. We are only the victims. I wish this was true. But it isn’t. We are not just the victims.”

“First and foremost, Muslims must acknowledge what Ziauddin Sardar, one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim scholars, calls the “Islamic nature of the problem.” Islamist extremism has not descended from another planet or been imposed on the community from outside. It breeds within the community and is the product of a certain kind of interpretation of Islam. And, in the words of Sardar, terrorists are a “product of a specific mindset that has deep roots in Islamic history.

“In a seminal essay, “The Struggle for Islam’s Soul” (New Statesman, July 18, 2005), Sardar argued that Islamists were “nourished by an Islamic tradition that is intrinsically inhuman and violent in its rhetoric, thought and practice” and this placed a unique burden on Muslims as they tried to make sense of what their co-religionists were doing in the name of Islam. To deny that they are a product of Islamic history and tradition is more than complacency. It is a denial of responsibility, a denial of what is happening in our communities. It is a refusal to live in the real world,” he wrote…

“More Muslims need to realise that Islamist terrorists are not simply “misguided” individuals acting on a whim but that they are people who know what they are doing and they are doing it deliberately in the name of Islam. However perverted their interpretation it remains an interpretation of Islam and it is not enough to condemn their actions or accuse them of hijacking Islam without doing anything about it.

Let’s face it; there are verses in the Koran that justify violence. The “hard truth that Islam does permit the use of violence,” must be recognised by Muslims. When Islam was in its infancy and battling against non-believers violence was deemed legitimate to put them down. Today, when it is the world’s second largest religion with more than one billion followers around the world and still growing that context has lost its relevance.

“Yet, jihadi groups, pursuing their madcap scheme of establishing Dar-ul-Islam (the Land of Islam), are using these passages to incite impressionable Muslim youths. Yet there is no sign of a debate in the community beyond easy platitudes, and it remains in denial.”

An equally compelling voice is of M.A. Siraj of the BBC World Service.

“Muslims,” he writes in today’s Deccan Herald, “also need to resist the tendency to romanticise the past. It is a pet pastime of fundamentalists of all variety. No nation has grown powerful by imitating its ancestors. It is one thing to respect the traditions and quite another to imitate them. Those very traditions were innovations of their own times. So old formulae need not be replicated but the method of arriving at the formulae should offer guidance.”

“A thorough analysis would reveal that the lot of the Muslims would not change by hate-mongering against the West, given the current asymmetry of military power between the Muslim nations and the West. The West’s hegemony does not emanate merely from great strides it has made in science and technology but also from organising its society on the basis of the rule of law, democracy, secularism, equal rights for women, plural ethos and minority rights.

“All such ideas are anathema to the clerics, who in their pursuit of puritanism, see no scope for them within Islam. The pertinent question therefore for Muslims to ask is: Will the jihad or terror elevate the ummah to the level of the West, or ensure equality and justice for the people it is trying to safeguard, endow those (Muslims) nations with well-established conventions and institutions, which is vital to sustaining a modern state?

“The Muslim community has reached such a pathetic low because the clerics mock at the scientific knowledge available today. Could not the Muslim intelligentsia take up the task of interpreting the religious text in consonance with the modern day needs? Should Muslims continue to depend on a bunch of mullahs, who have next to nil knowledge of history, society, geography and economy and modern values?

“Terrorism is no route to attain parity with the West, let alone subjugate it. Islam today needs to coexist with other faiths, not to prevail over others. Muslims would need to restore reason and rationale in their scheme of things.”