Time for us to confront our shortcomings

AFTER every terrorist act committed by extremists, the first thing Muslims do is blame the West's foreign policy. Have you ever heard them say maybe it's our fault? For decades, Muslims have either turned a blind eye to the extremists' views and actions we all are now tackling, probably thinking that chickens won't come home to roost.

By Faisal Kidwai

Published: Tue 23 Aug 2005, 10:07 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:11 PM

The first tryst with fundamentalism was the Salman Rushdie controversy, when some extremists called for his death. How many Muslims did you hear condemn the death sentence issued by Khomeini? Many moderates even justified the calls for his killing. Even when a Satanic Verses translator was killed, all we heard was a muted expression of sorrow from some quarters.

The pattern has continued. A Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was killed by a Moroccan extremist for showing in his movie marital abuse in Muslim societies. The British comedian Shazia Mirza, was threatened for making jokes about eccentricities in Muslim world. The Canadian author, Irshad Manji, was hounded for calling for reforms. The response from moderates has also remained equally mute.

For many Muslims, religion instead of remaining in a personal space has become an all-encompassing sensitive subject so much so calling for even reform or introspection can lead to dangerous consequences. No wonder while we all hear and enjoy Christian and Sardar jokes, everybody stays away from making a joke at Muslims' expense.

The reasons as to why things have come to such a pass are many. But the main reason is that most Muslims suffer from an inferiority complex. They are very self-conscious that while the rest of world has moved on and made progress, they have been left behind.

And to somehow counter the label of failure, many religious scholars teach how morally depraved West is so that their people look down at it and question their own failure. To make their distorted view seems more plausible they add Palestine and other Muslim hotspots to their list of complaints against the West. What better way to rally your people than to say your religion is under threat?

So, for the far-flung Indonesians, problems in Palestine become more important than unemployment and corruption in their own country. And for the Egyptians, Afghans, Pakistanis and all other Muslims, their own problems take a back seat. As Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek has said keeping crises like Palestine on the front burner suits most Muslim governments since it keeps people's focus away from problems at home.

But even solving Palestinian or Chechnya issue will not end terrorism. As one of the world's foremost experts on terrorism, France's counter-terror judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, has pointed out, solving Palestine or any other crisis in the Muslim world will not be the end of terrorism. An unfortunate fallout that will further exacerbate the situation will be the rise of extremism among Christians in the West. Already the extreme right-wingers like Ann Coulter are calling for action against Arab and Muslim countries. The normally open and broad-minded Dutch are questioning whether integration is possible. London is taking a hard look at its much-valued multiculturalism.

The only possible ways to somehow reclaim the ground occupied by the extremists is to force democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, even if that means letting the Islamists come to power. Events in the recent past have proved that extremists fall in line after assuming power, look at BJP in India, or Erdogan's party in Turkey.

The other thing that all governments should do is take a close look at Islamic seminaries. Religion can be taught in 'normal' schools too; put behind bars the whole family of those involved in terror acts, deport without hearing anybody who preaches hatred. Of course, some innocents will also get caught up and pay a price, but that's an unfortunate price we all should be ready to pay. The West has tolerated these people for far too long in the name of civil liberties. It's time it decided whose life and liberty it values more. Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh now don't sound that bad.

And to carry out this fight against terror, the West should put moderate Muslims in the front so that it does not look like the West has an ulterior motive or something against Islam.

Faisal Kidwai is a Khaleej Times journalist

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