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When will we ever learn?

When will we ever learn?

Author: Irfan Husain
Publication: Dawn
Date: December 21, 2002
URL: http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mazdak/mazdak.htm

Perhaps Salman Rushdie is not the right person to cite here, but in a recent article in the New York Times, he has asked a very pertinent question: why aren't Muslims more critical of the many awful things that happen with such dreadful frequency in the Islamic world?

When Hashem Aghajari, a Muslim radical intellectual with impeccable revolutionary credentials, was condemned to death for his opposition to the hardliners in Tehran, why weren't there any protests from Istanbul to Islamabad?

When a Nigerian woman was sentenced to death by stoning for becoming pregnant by a man not her husband, why were there no demonstrations in her support outside Nigerian embassies in the entire Muslim world? Why were hundreds of innocent Christians killed by enraged Muslim mobs in Nigeria over a silly, albeit blasphemous article, and why has the journalist, Isioma Daniel, had to flee the country?

The answer to Rushdie's question, of course, is that most of these things happen on our own doorsteps far too often for us to get worked up over them. In Pakistan just a few months ago, a doctor was accused of blasphemy and condemned to death for the 'crime' of telling his students that before the advent of Islam, Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] and his family did not observe the Muslim code of hygiene because obviously, it simply did not exist. This poor man appealed against the death penalty and was shot dead in jail by another prisoner who was mysteriously supplied with a pistol. There are far too many protests against the barbaric events leading to his death to recall here.

There are times it seems that our outrage is reserved for incidents in which the West is involved either actively or passively. Thus, our (justified) anger against European inaction over the Serb killing of Muslims in Bosnia, and against Russian atrocities in Chechnya. But when the Americans led a reluctant Europe to act in Bosnia and Kosovo, saving countless Muslim lives, One doesn't recall hearing too many cheers from mosques in the Muslim world.

Another reason why Muslims have double standards when it comes to human rights and common decency is that we are an intolerant people and rarely brook dissenting voices or differing opinions. Indeed, the public expression of other beliefs is strictly prohibited. Pakistanis feel there is nothing wrong in proselytizing abroad, but will not allow foreigners the same religious freedom here.

Muslim institutions and groups will freely use (and abuse) all the freedoms allowed to them in the West, but hate and despise the liberal civilization that has produced these very liberties. Listen to a Muslim intellectual, mulla or politician and you will hear a litany of complaints and criticism against western sins of omission and commission, past and present. Ask him where he wants to send his children to university, and if he is honest, he will reel off the names of the top American universities.

And if he is well placed in his own country, he will move heaven and earth to try and get the American mission to intercede to get his child a college place and a student visa. Indeed, he will perjure himself to get financial assistance for his offspring by declaring his insolvency. Some of the top leaders of Pakistan's religious parties have children living and studying in America; at home they declare they will not permit the Americans to hunt for Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

This blatant hypocrisy has begun to rankle in the West. More and more people are beginning to question why potential enemies are being allowed to live in their midst, enjoy the benefits of liberalism, and yet plan the downfall of their societies. This feeling of being taken for suckers has become specially acute after the 9/11 attacks in which terrorists had entered America on student visas. And after other anti-West attacks in different parts of the world, a backlash is building up.

It is important to emphasize here that the vast majority of the Muslims living in the West are decent, peaceful and hard-working people who want nothing but to live their version of the good life with their families. Most of them are religious without being fanatical and are deeply offended at being lumped together with Osama bin Laden and his ilk by ignorant westerners.

But unfortunately, people tend to view outsiders through the prism of prejudice, and Muslims are at least as guilty of this human failing as any American or European. The regrettable fact is that as a result of the current wave of Islamic militancy and terrorism, all Muslims living in the West are currently viewed with deep suspicion and distrust, and will be increasingly discriminated against.

Perhaps no other single difference in attitudes sets the two civilizations apart as does the treatment of women in most Muslim societies. Despite the protestations of Islamic scholars, few people in the West are willing to believe that women want to be bundled up in all-enveloping burqas, kept locked up at home, and then married off without having a say in the matter. The media in the UK often carries horror stories about Muslim girls being mistreated and even murdered by their families for insisting on marrying the men they had chosen for themselves.

Muslim leaders respond to western criticism by claiming that their societies have the right to behave as they do because they have 'different values'. This claim covers a multitude of sins ranging from repulsive dictatorships to the subjugation of women and minorities to brutal punishments. The fact is that each era has its own prevailing norms and standards of behaviour, and current attitudes are at odds with the actions and positions of many Muslim nations and individuals.

Another reality Muslims have a hard time coming to terms with is that the balance of power today is such that they cannot impose their views on the rest of the world. On the contrary, it is they who have to conform to the behaviour pattern of the outside world.

Until the 18th century when the Ottoman empire was still a major force in world affairs, very few Muslims travelled to the West for fear of physical and spiritual contamination. Instead, Europeans went east to study Islam and Muslim societies. Three centuries later, the tables have turned and millions of Muslims have made their homes in the West. Nevertheless, very few of them have attempted to understand and internalize the ethos and values of their host societies. Unless this attitude changes, the Muslim world will continue to stagnate.

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