Reality versus Perceptions - Muslim victimhood
Muslims must do their part in preventing any clash of civilizations
By Riaz Osmani
I watched a program on CNN a few days ago where anchors interviewed US politicians and campaign strategists from both the Democratic and Republican parties. The topic of the program was US foreign policy, something Americans are going to vote on in the upcoming election. The topic of Israeli-Palestinian conflict brought out some painful truths.
As a spokesperson from the Arab-American community pointed out, representatives of the two parties were engaged in battling out who was a better friend of Israel and regurgitating the standard monologue about Israel’s right to defend itself. Neither group however expressed any knowledge or understanding of the conflict from the other perspective, i.e. from the Palestinian point of view. The idea of being even handed or neutral in this conflict evades most Americans and their country pays a price for it unbeknownst to them. The resentment omnipresent in the Muslim world towards American administrations needs no introduction.
This highlights a major disconnect between American perceptions and reality as the Arab-American spokesperson rightfully pointed out. It would be convenient to blame Americans for their perceptions or ignorance. Indeed their country’s media and the influence of the Jewish American population are to blame for the monopoly of agenda when it comes to America’s approach to this age old conflict. However, that does not absolve the Muslim population around the world of its own contribution in permeating this disconnect. In fact the Muslim world suffers from its own disconnect with reality and have allowed it foster through its own actions and politics. It is time to face up to this dismal reality.
While it should be a matter of delight that Islam is certainly not monolithic all throughout, i.e. the religion has spread across vast cultures and have contributed to local cultures as well as derived immensely from them, there are presently a few traits that are prevalent in most if not all Muslim communities and countries. The most painful one is a sense of victim hood. Loss of the Ottoman Empire, becoming colonial subjects of European imperialists, creation of Israel, American support for most Israeli policies regarding its conflict with and treatment of Palestinians, and the dictatorial and monarchic regimes across most of the Arab world can be attributed to the sense of victim hood. Muslims in general fashionably hide behind these facts and Americans in general are oblivious to them.
This sense has become cancerous. Muslims have failed to rise above being victims and have shown unwillingness to learn different perspectives. Politicians and Imams have done a great job of allowing this stagnation of ideas to foster. American support for Israel needs qualification and understanding. American administrations have always supported negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. Current administration does and hopefully the next one will support a negotiated two state solution. This means that while America is fully behind the existence and security of Israel, it also supports the same of a future Palestinian state.
Muslims have failed to learn about America’s rational behind its support for Israel’s existence and security. This is because they have equally failed to learn about the Jewish Holocaust prior to World War 2 when nearly half of the Jewish population of Europe was ethnically cleansed by the Nazis. Anyone with a conscience visiting graveyards of massacred Jews and Nazi concentration camps in Europe will come back with more than just a sense of revulsion. This remains one of the ugliest blots in human history. Yet Muslims in general seem oblivious to this. Knowledge and understanding of this historical nightmare will shed some light on public opinion in America.
Christians in America have taken it upon themselves to express collective guilt by supporting the existence of a homeland where Jews can be safe for the future. This is the undercurrent of American foreign policy towards Israel.
The trouble with the creation of such a homeland was of course its location and the resultant displacement of Palestinians that were already there. Muslims are quick to ascertain that Palestinian lands were taken away by the creation of Israel. Have Muslims ever paused to remember that Jews have been on this earth for a considerably longer period than them and were thus present in the Holy Land before them as well? If ownership of that land is to be based on occupancy then the claim of Jews to that land is more robust.
Of course, Arabs too had established themselves in that area later and both Jews and Arabs once shared that land. In that spirit of sharing, both Jews and Muslims must reconcile themselves to the two state solution of this conflict.
In order to achieve this, the Muslim world must first and foremost cease to view the world through the prism of this conflict. There is much muttering around about how Jews and Christians have conspired to undermine Muslim aspirations and too many people point to the plight of the Palestinians as a prime example. Muslims must stop using this conflict to propagate their sense of siege and suffering. In order to achieve this, Muslims must realize that while Israel’s policies towards Palestinians can be justifiably condemned, Palestinians are to be equally blamed for their part.
It has always been in the latter’s interest to be freed from Israel’s grip and in live in their own country. Yet militants among them have done everything within their power to derail that achievement. Relentless suicide bombings against Israeli civilians have not only banished any attempt at negotiation, but has enjoyed widespread support amongst majority of Palestinians and the wider Muslim world.
This is where Muslims have failed. Deliberate targeting of civilians cannot be justified in the name of any faith or cause. It is morally repugnant. While Israeli settlement activities in the occupied territories have been perceived as an equal threat to future negotiation, it was incumbent upon Palestinians to take the Gandhian approach of non-violence to achieve their goal. Indeed there would have been a Palestinian State long time ago had Muslims not considered such suicide bombings as legitimate forms of resistance and had Yassir Arafat showed true statesmanship.
While the Islamic world seethes in anger over the Palestinian plight, there is hardly any acknowledgement that Muslims have done their part in fostering this situation through their moral and financial support of an immoral an unethical tactic.
It is due to the inability of the Muslim world to concede to this accusation that Americans find it difficult to meet the Islamic world half way in understanding the latter’s point of view when it comes to this conflict. Every suicide bombing against an Israeli civilian reinforces American perceptions that Israel has a right to defend itself. Every suicide bombing stalls further discussion and understanding.
Both the bombings and support they enjoy must end once and for all. So should the Muslim perception of the world that has been so adulterated by the fostering of this conflict.
Once it is possible to break out of the perpetual sense of victim hood, it will also be possible to break out of the habit of lumping all the world’s conflicts in one basket and coloring them in the same fashion as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pakistani President’s comments at the UN about Muslims finding themselves at the wrong end of most of the world’s conflicts and thus somehow creating terrorism was most unhelpful. Every conflict has its own nuance and deserves to be debated with its own merits and demerits (something that would be very difficult in one article).
Majority of the world opposed American invasion of Iraq. Americans were bitterly divided on this issue and the fall of Saddam Hussein was nevertheless accomplished at great cost to the Iraqis and Americans. This article will not delve into the pros and cons of that invasion but it will point out that while the rules of war were violated by Americans as illustrated by prison scandals, they were violated ten folds by insurgents in Iraq.
Most of these insurgents have come from outside of Iraq, have the support of the wider Muslim world and have engaged in the most atrocious and deliberate killing and maiming of civilians both Iraqi and Western. Bangladeshi media have often referred to these actions as part of a war of liberation (from the then US occupiers). This view, shared among the wider Islamic world, has not only aided the killings of Iraqis and Westerners but has instilled a sense of fear and division among Iraqis and arguably among Muslims.
Their recent kidnappings and beheadings which they bravely broadcast on the internet ought to make every Muslim and non-Muslim shake with revulsion. What purpose do these tactics serve? All this in the name of Islam and to free Muslim lands from the hands of infidel Westerners? Or Nepalese or Indians? Or Bangladeshi cleaners? Where is the revulsion in the Muslim world? Where is the condemnation? Thanks to the wider support that these insurgents enjoy, the Holy month of Ramadan began this time with the blowing up of several Churches in Iraq.
Where is the outrage against these acts of barbarism? The Muslim world may attempt to wash its hands off by blaming US, Britain and others for creating the lawless scenario in Iraq in the first place by invading it and having no plans for winning the peace. But that hardly explains why Muslims have used their relentless sense of victim hood to justify and support the acts of these insurgents.
Listen to any Imam on a Friday prayer in a Mosque and often you will hear the word ‘Jihad’ and how Muslim brothers and sisters all around the world are suffering and must be aided by every believer. While this sense of suffering can be subject to discussion and debate, one cannot understand how that translates to bombings in Bali, siege in Chechnya, massacre of commuters in Madrid, slaughtering of Christians by Muslims in Nigeria, and the most heinous crime committed by fellow Muslims so far, the attacks in America on September 11, 2001.
Al Qaeda still enjoys support among many Muslims due to the latter’s misguided pride in the organization’s ability to stand up to Western infidels. Some proud Muslims (such as those I have met in Bangladesh) have either justified or pleaded understanding of the actions of Al Qaeda in the US, based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then there are those that will forever remain in denial and blame Jews (or Israelis) for masterminding 9/11 in order to undermine the position of the Muslims in the world’s geo-political scenario.
Muslims have done a very good job of undermining this position themselves. It is not sufficient to dismiss the actions of a few rogue elements. There has to be loud and wide spread condemnation of these elements from the Islamic world and a complete and unreserved rejection of them, their tactics and their philosophy or cause.
Terrorism cannot not be condemned only to be later nuanced or explained away in the same sentence.
These elements enjoy widespread support of various degrees among most practicing Muslims once again due to a sense of victim hood. This sense of victim hood is the curse of the Islamic world. It is a curse that is further strengthened by ignorance and illiteracy that is so prevalent in many Muslim countries. It is strengthened by the failure of Muslims to be their own critic. It is strengthened by the failure of Muslims to see that the beautiful aspects of Islam (such as the current month of Ramadan) are being eclipsed by the ugly manifestation of Jihad and all the support such a concept enjoys.
“Muslim Brotherhood” is being used as a counter model to that of the modern nation states and there is every inclination to interpret the religion based on a time long gone. This inclination will endeavor to undo the fact that Islam has taken the shape and color of the cultures which it has come into contact with. A world where the lifestyles of Bangladeshi Muslims are identical to those of Saudi, Sudanese, Indonesian or British Muslims would be a world void of variety and beauty. Yet that is what reinterpreting the faith in the “wisdom” of the Taliban or Al Qaeda will achieve.
It will not return the Muslim world to the early days when learning and enlightenment were its paramount features. It will take it to the dark ages resembling the Taliban days in Afghanistan and to some extent present day Saudi Arabia.
Muslims must do their part in preventing any clash of civilizations. They can only do this through education, democracy and enlightenment. They can also do this by learning to look at world conflicts objectively and not through the lens of victim hood (worst still just through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Then they will have the upper hand in demanding that the Western world meet them half way and take postures that address any legitimate concerns of the Islamic world.
The standard monologue of Imams stating that Islam is a religion of peace (in response to a terrorist act of a fellow Muslim) must be put to practice. Once Muslims have shunned violence permanently and unequivocally, will we see a change in the pattern where barely 5 percent of Americans polled express support or sympathy for the Palestinians in their conflict with the Israelis.
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