This is in response to Mr. Patrick French’s piece “They Hate Us—and India Is Us,” published in the New York Times on December 8, 2008. The trouble with pieces like Mr. French’s (and mainstream western media is inundated with such voices) is that they only show half the picture. And then they wonder why after seven years into the “war on terror” we are arguably worse off than when we began.
“They hate us;” “you’re either with us or against us!” This is precisely the type of language that fuels the enormous credibility deficit between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. There is constant media coverage and vigils held for victims of the Mumbai blasts and 9/11, which is fine. But where are the cameras and the candles when the Christians and the Jews kill, when thousands of innocent civilians die in Sabra and Shatila, when air raids kill countless Iraqis and Afghans, when Hindus in India maim and kill thousands of Muslims (Gujarat 2002) and hundreds of Christians (Orissa 2008). Why is that back page news? Why are there no tears for those unfortunate souls? Those killed by NATO forces are barely mentioned as collateral damage. Is life taken by extremists only worth celebrating if the killer is a Muslim?
Mr. French makes the point that even if the Kashmir issue was solved, the hate that Lashkare Taiba and its leader, Hafiz Saeed, spew will not die. After all, their literature “is much concerned with establishing a caliphate in Central Asia, and murdering those who insult the Prophet.” In case you don’t know this Mr. French, all extremists, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu, are equally exclusionary and intolerant. Hindu fundamentalists in Orissa pledged that the “Christians would be re-converted to Hinduism,” no matter what it took to do it.
And incidentally, since we are on the subject, there is another thing we Muslims can’t understand, even the relatively secular ones amongst us. Why must the Western world make cartoons of our Prophet? Why must Britain knight Salman Rushdie, when he has brazenly offended the sentiments of so many Muslims? Why must Sherry Jones write a derogatory novel about the Prophet’s wife? (Response to this latest instigation has been largely muted—perhaps a sign of the Muslim world becoming immune to such attacks?)
This is not about free speech, but about hate speech. A large part of the eastern world, including countries like India and Thailand, takes religion very seriously. Yet only Islam is singled out for jest. Not Hinduism; not Buddhism; no other religion. Why? Is it because the West likes to see the reaction and then mock it? Or is it because the reaction helps it form the type of image of Islam it needs to justify its own gruesome actions against this hatred and lunacy? After all, what better way to deal with such hate-mongers than to eradicate them altogether and invade their countries one after the other?
Why does even Pope Benedict not spare us? In 2006, his incendiary remarks, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” quoting the views of the Byzantine Emperor in 1391, astounded many Muslims. Isn’t the Pope a man of God who should be condemning evil acts like wars and terrorism alike? Shouldn’t he be diffusing tension rather than creating it? And by the way, isn’t “spreading faith by the sword” also what the Crusaders did?
Contrast this with the sermon given at Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca) this year. The Grand Mufti delivering the sermon begins by saying, “Islam is against atrocious forces but does not in any case allow acts of terrorism in any of its form and manifestation.” Why is he bothering, I ask myself? We can condemn terrorism and extremism till we are blue in the face, and it won’t make a difference! After all, haven’t we replaced communism as the “significant other,” as one panelist on BBC who defended Pope Benedict’s remarks, said, making the case that therefore “Christianity was in competition with Islam.”
Our Mufti, however, is an appeaser when it comes to the West, his strength only visible when he talks of women and children. He ends the Hajj by saying, “evil forces are at work in diverting the Muslim youth to a wrong path and all the resources are being used to unveil Muslim women.” Obviously, he makes no mention of the resources being used to forcibly veil Muslim women. If there were any doubts that the Islamic world is suffering its dark ages the Mufti’s sermon should put them to rest.
But here too, we don’t need your help, thank you very much, Mr. French. We are quite capable of battling it out for ourselves. The only thing we ask: please don’t stand in our way. Don’t bring your forces to our lands and prop up unpopular regimes. Please don’t do that because then the extremists gain legitimacy. It makes our job doubly harder.
On March 9, 2007, General Pervez Musharraf’s government forcibly removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was a man who had, in the words of the lawyer who fought for his reinstatement, “zero tolerance for corruption, abuse of human rights and environmental degradation.” He had given justice to Mukhtaran Mai, the brave lady who had been gang raped on the order of village elders, but is now an inspiration to many as she runs a shelter for abused women and a school for girls. Chaudhry had also reversed orders by village elders to trade underage girls as compensation in tribal feuds.
Yet the American Ambassador to Pakistan, Ms. Anne Patterson, did not support the incredible lawyers’ movement that was launched to reinstate Chief Justice Chaudhry. In fact, she actively stood against it. And later, Britain’s Sir Mark Lyall-Grant worked actively for Musharraf’s immunity. Because Musharraf, and later Zardari (who has thus far resisted reinstating the Chief Justice most likely due to fears that his corruption cases may be reopened), are considered “friends of the west,” so what if a few girls between the ages of 8 and 12 are given away to a hostile tribe?
Western media spends hours interviewing Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but when I first wrote about Chief Justice Chaudhry in March of last year, the New York Times chose not to print the story. An editor at a British publication told me “it may just be a fantasy of the chattering classes”. So, I wrote about it on alternative media, publications like CounterPunch, for months, until the story became so big that even the NYT could no longer ignore it.
Still, has the NYT or the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times ever bothered to cover the story of Wael Abbas, an Egyptian human rights activist, journalist and blogger, whose videos depict police brutality by Hosni Mubarak’s (yet another “friend of the west”) regime inflicted on its people? Did they ever write about the fact that his accounts with YouTube and Yahoo were closed because he was exposing a face of Mr. Mubarak’s regime that the West was uncomfortable with? How many times have they interviewed Saudi dissidents who have risked everything to speak out against a claustrophobically closed society with some of the most discriminatory legal practices? Why is the coverage of western media so selective in its reach? How can your governments preach one thing and do another and yet expect to maintain moral authority?
There are of course some good journalists in mainstream media as well, but the number is limited. Carlotta Gall, for instance, wrote about Javed Ahmad, the Afghan reporter who worked for a Canadian outlet and was arrested by American troops, declared an unlawful enemy combatant, and tortured for eleven months. Ms. Gall’s piece in the NYT eventually led to Ahmad’s release. More recently, Nicholas Kristoff, who had followed Mukhtaran Mai’s plight in Pakistan, has also written about Sajida Bibi, a Christian woman who was threatened with the same fate as Mukhtaran, but has fled to Mukhtaran’s shelter. Kristoff’s piece is important because it shows that the root causes behind such heinous human rights abuses are poverty, illiteracy and chauvinistic societies, and not necessarily any particular religion.
Shortly before the Mumbai attacks, the Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan proposed divorce law reform such that the laws would become more equitable and fair to women. There was uproar from the local mullahs (who are far less learned in religious matters than the members of the Council) and the government of the day sent the proposals back so they could be toned down. But many women and men, who believe in freedom and equality, spoke out. Newspaper editorials focused on the issue and almost unanimously supported the Council’s proposals.
But then the attacks in Mumbai happened and instead of following leads bottom up; instead of questioning who at the Taj and Oberoi Hotels and at their ports was involved with the terrorists, India began pointing fingers in Pakistan’s direction even before the siege had ended. In a day, the entire focus in Pakistan changed. Nobody talked about divorce law reform anymore. Front page news focused on how Pakistan would survive these allegations as a nation. The extremists instantly became patriots. And all other issues took a back seat.
It would make perfect sense for India to punish all perpetrators of this heinous crime, regardless of whether they were indigenous or foreign, but to implicate other countries without substantive proof or to lay collective responsibility on a nation because of a few rotten apples, yes in that case, perhaps India is like you. Or at least tries to be like you. In August of this year, Nassir Sultan, a young boy of 15 from a remote Pakistani town called Dir, had become obsessed with watching Bollywood movies (readily available in Pakistan) and decided that he would go to India to meet with his favorite actor, Shahrukh Khan. His parents did not take him seriously as he had never left Dir previously. But one day, he got dressed for school, and without telling anyone at home, left for Peshawar (the nearest big town) by bus. From there, he took another bus to Lahore. He had been saving for this trip for months. From Lahore, he took a rickshaw to Wagah Border, and when the guards were not looking, climbed through a hole in the fence and slipped into India. Soon after he crossed the border, he was apprehended by Indian police. Of course, Nassir was in the wrong. He had slipped into India without a visa. But the profiling of Muslims as terrorists in India is such that the first thing they said to Nassir was, “Where are you going? We have already caught two of your brothers who had come for Jihad in Kashmir. Now, we are going to lock you up unless you give us all the information,” as revealed by Nassir in a television interview last week.
“But I only want to meet Shahrukh Khan. I am his biggest fan,” a silly and naïve Nassir insisted. He was duly locked up for four months, and when they found absolutely nothing on him and after significant diplomatic efforts, finally released earlier this month.
It is true that India is a democracy, and that is impressive, especially because democracy is so lacking in the Muslim world. And democracy is truly something to be relished. To be able to hold your rulers accountable, to be able to change them in a few years if they fail the people, this is for the most part, impossible in most Islamic countries. And far be it from me to agree with the commandant of the Lashkare Taiba on anything, but when he regards “democracy a Jewish and Christian import from Europe,” isn’t that a fair assessment of the governments that have been implanted in Afghanistan and Iraq by western powers today, in the name of democracy?
When Afghanistan and Iraq are hailed as democratic successes but the Islamic Salvation Front is prevented, with the aid of western powers, from taking office after it has won an election fair and square in Algeria, what are the Muslims supposed to think?
As Rubina Saigol writes in Pakistan’s widely read English daily, The News, “Blaming one group of people as a whole, while absolving another as a whole, is a sterile approach that is likely to exacerbate rather than resolve the issues of terrorism that the world faces today.” And thus, I must point out, that in the West too there are voices and organizations that are sincere in building partnerships that are based on concern for human rights, without regard to race or religion, who are willing to shun their prejudices and their biases (because all of us have them) to work towards a better tomorrow. Groups like Stop The War Coalition in Britain, who march in London’s dreary rain and cold to express solidarity with those who sit miles away and are victim to hellfire missiles, or organizations like the New York Bar Association, who give life membership to Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, recognizing his services for the cause of justice in Pakistan, without regard to their own government’s dubious stand on his restoration.
If President-Elect Obama wants to distinguish his legacy from Bush’s, he will have to look to such organizations to show him the way. He will have to make a clean break from the Bush years and search for solutions to problems like Kashmir and Palestine, and he will have to end support for repressive monarchies and dictatorships and pay attention to the anger and frustration that brews beneath their surface. Only then will we put an end to hate.
AYESHA IJAZ KHAN is a London-based lawyer and political commentator and can be contacted via her website www.ayeshaijazkhan.com