The Embarrassment of Standing With the Oppressed

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page – Under fair use

I am not particularly proud to be a Pakistani citizen.

I don’t really find it an unpatriotic thing to say because someone sympathetic to the country would say that provided its discriminating history. The Pakistani constitution, law and the society are largely discriminating.

So when you stand with the oppressed minority groups in Pakistan, there is this perpetual embarrassment that you need to deal with.

Take the Pakistan Christian community for an example, the most popular and widely recognized religious minority group in Pakistan. Most Pakistani people would agree with offering them security and coexisting peacefully with them.

Even with such a minority religious group, you would have the dilemma of treating them as if they were weak or not even raising that point at all. I mostly prefer to do the latter usually, though you can always agree with them tactfully about how terrible discrimination is.

Morally speaking, they are not weak, and it would be rather insulting to make that point, but let us face facts. They are not exactly powerful and are most certainly oppressed.

Especially in the wake of the Peshawar church bombing killing more than 300, the realization is increased, especially in protests and political events. But what remains is their constant friendliness, peacefulness and tolerance. What is added is a slight anger toward the intolerance, which is justified, natural and understandable.

I have no sympathies with the theology of any minority religious group, as is the case with majority religious groups, because they are as dangerous in their effect as the other. I know some Pakistani Christians, though not everyone, are as eager for their share of blasphemy law, despite knowing how harmful it can be to just about anyone.

But their religious zeal does not change anything for the better for them in the Pakistani society, where disbelief is a crime, more or less, or enough to qualify someone to be ostracized. Besides, they are not treated as equal citizens anyway, despite their religiosity.

So I want to save myself further embarrassment and would like to say that protesters and activists rallying for peace and against terrorism should raise their voices to demand a secular constitution. So while I may not exactly be proud to be a Pakistani citizen, I would have one less reason to be ashamed.

So instead of promoting gibberish like “Many Faiths, One God”, we should demand the elimination of the intrusion of faith into public life.

Keep your religion to yourself.

The Anti Defamation League, the Ground Zero Mosque and America

In relation to the Islamic Center and Mosque which is to be built on the Ground Zero site in NYC, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) has opposed the idea of its construction, and has urged that the group building the mosque should find a new spot, since the location of the mosque is causing pain to the families grieving the deaths of their loved ones in the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

For those who don’t know much about it, the Anti Defamation League is an organization which has developed the reputation of being the watchdog of antisemitism around the world, particularly in the United States, and claims to promote democratic values while defending civil rights. It works to protect the rights of the Jewish community and is an advocate of the State of Israel.

Although some Muslims who don’t take the Jewish community to be holding any sympathy for them would not have been shocked over the opposition of the Ground Zero Mosque by the ADL, I seriously think they are wrong in their assumption. But while looking at ADL, I appreciate this organization as antisemitism is a behavior which certainly should not be tolerated.  But I have been largely disappointed over its stand on the Ground Zero Mosque.

Let us try to grasp some sanity out of this emotionally charged subject. First of all, I am not a believer in building a mosque or an Islamic center on any particular spot, since Muslims can build it anywhere they choose to, so there is nothing special about building one at the Ground Zero site. I also think that the opposition of the ADL is more political in nature than religious, but still I find no reason to oppose the construction of a mosque anywhere as long as it is legal to do so.

However, the opposition to building the mosque and the Islamic center seems really absurd to me. I thought the United States was a free and democratic country, offering equal rights to every community, so why are they opposing the construction of a mosque? Prominent Republican figures such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich openly opposed the idea.

In fact, the opposition from Republican politicians was a little predictable, but the reaction of the ADL was nothing short of being disappointing to me. To me, opposing the construction of a religious center is un-American and an undemocratic act, and given the values that the ADL holds and promotes, it totally seems inappropriate to their image.

The only aspect about the objections to the construction of the mosque and the Islamic center that I could really make any sense out of is how it is being funded. It is an important question to ask from the group who is responsible for its construction and the approving NYC authorities. But we don’t hear about questions raised over the funding of any other religious buildings, do we? Why? Just because they are building it at the Ground Zero, I think.

The proposed mosque and the Islamic Center is ironically named the “Cordoba Center”, which is probably a reference to life in Cordoba, the capital of the Moorish Muslim Caliphate in Spain in which Muslims, Jewish and Christians lived in harmony, and which was considered a golden period for the promotion of knowledge and sciences, and is also associated with prominent Jewish figures in history, such as Maimonides, a 12th century philosopher and scholar, who had also served as physician to Saladin.

Probably, this is the reason why noted journalist Fareed Zakaria, who is a member of the Muslim community in the United States, has returned the First-Amendment Hubert Humphrey Freedoms Prize presented to him by the ADL in 2005. He sees the move by the ADL as a mistake and as something which will harm their reputation, since he thinks that this could affect their value of upholding religious freedom in America.

While this is Zakaria’s personal act, I cannot help but agree with him in coming to the conclusion that the opposition from ADL of the Ground Zero Mosque was totally inappropriate and inconsistent with the democratic and American values, or even with the values of the organization itself. How can it safeguard the rights of one community when it does not recognize the rights of another? They certainly would have spoken out if the construction of a synagogue were opposed in this way.

What is even more shocking than that is the hatred of mosques among a lot of American citizens, who apparently oppose the constructions of mosques pretty much everywhere, leave alone the Ground Zero site, since many see mosques as monuments to terrorism, has appeared as a result of the debate over the controversial mosque. Unfortunately, secularism these days have become more anti-Islam these days more than anything else, which is not secularism by any means by the way.

It is true that Muslims can sometimes resort to actions which can really make them look ridiculous, and coincidentally the major terrorist organizations in the world such as Al-Qaeda, have their origins in radical Muslim groups, but you simply cannot alienate the entire Muslim community just because of a few terrorists. Doing so will only promote extremism, encouraging the radicals to convince moderates of the anti-Islam views of the West.

In fact, my advice to the American people would be not to alienate the Muslim community in order to curb Islamic extremism, since it would not be realistic to expel every single Muslim from the country. The only way to put an end to Islamic extremism is to accept them, and to allow religious freedom to them. A distinction should be made between Islam and terrorism, a line which has diminished in the perception of many.

In the end, whether the mosque is built at the site or not does not matter really. Even if the group backs off from building the mosque in respect of the opposition, this should not be taken as an insult by the Muslim community. It’s just that the opposition to constructing a mosque sounds unreasonable to me. At least, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks so, who is Jewish himself.