The Trouble With Being a Liberal, Non-Practicing Muslim Dissenter

Source: Washington Times

There is no denying that hate against Muslims is a real phenomenon around the world. But if someone said that Muslims have earned a great deal of that hate, it would probably not be too much of a stretch. A recent article by Khalil Yousuf, an Ahmediya Muslim (whose community isn’t even accepted by other Muslims in many major Muslim countries), makes the case for shutting down Geert Wilders’ Draw the Prophet contest event because it is hate speech. No, it is not shouting “fire” in a theater. It is simply playing the movie in it.

The premise of the article is that Europeans should stop organizing such hateful contests because it hurts the sentiments of Muslims and incite people to commit violent hate crimes against them. People would have greater sympathy for his case if the Muslim reaction to this alleged piece of bigotry was not this violent and outrageous. To his credit, perhaps the very small and heavily persecuted Ahmediya community has never displayed such violent language but not so much the case with the much larger and dominants Sunni and Shia schools. The Charlie Hebdo killings happened because actually a bunch of Muslims got to practice what the majority believes should be done with those who desecrate the name of the Prophet. We never got the memo when this sort of behavior became compatible with liberal ideals or democracy.

The reason why conservatives and right wingers need to push the limits of free speech is that liberals have given up on that idea. What is even worse, secularism is now losing its ground thanks to liberal governments appease such religious extremists around the world. No wonder there is a resurgence of right wing nationalism around the world.

Decades long pandering to the extremism of Indian clerics, all in the name of the rights of Indian Muslims, has led to a resentment among the Hindus which has brought us to the civil rights disaster of the cow witch-hunt vigilantes and the future of a potential Hindu Nationalist state under Prime Minister Modi. And the sad reality is that his followers in India has started taking the secular nature of their democracy for granted. This is why I endorse provocative statements such as India becoming a “Hindu Pakistan,” made by Shashi Tharoor, because this is the perfect analogy to make people understand the risks.

Not to say that the Congress is the only authority on secularism in India. Sometimes, the political difficulty of taking a stand against such behavior can be immense, as in the case of the Salman Rushdie affair but probably the Congress is suffering the consequences of its past policies today, other than lacking leadership that could inspire the people like Modi. There indeed was a time when the more secular Indian National Congress used to sweep the elections. The people are disillusioned for a reason.

Now Islamophobia (or Muslimophobia as some would prefer to call it) is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it. The family and friends of any atheist or dissenting liberal Muslims will remain on the radar of bigots all around the world, whether India, America or Europe. Furthermore, no matter how disconnected they are to Muslim extremism or even the religion of Islam, they will never be fully seen removed from the identity of their religion of birth, unless they are someone very outspoken and famous like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But telling people to shut up because Muslim sentiments are being hurt and threatening to destroy them in one breath does not go a long way to win hearts and minds either.

So, what is a liberal, non-practicing dissenter Muslim to do to survive as an individual? How can Muslims express dissent from the orthodox theocracy without further exposing the community to the risk of hate crimes? Should Muslim dissenters continue to call for reform in Islam, as has happened in Judaism, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or defend the existing absurdities like the majority of Liberal Muslims banking their hopes on different interpretations? Or should the atheists among them simply condemn the idea of Islam altogether such as Armin Navabi? I guess nobody knows the answer.

This article was originally published in MyNation.com
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Discrimination Against Ahmedis: Institutionalizing Hate in the Name of Love

Source: dunyanews.tv

Source: dunyanews.tv

The recent hateful protests by business owners demanding Ahmedi citizens to wear identification publicly have been a real eye-opener to anyone oblivious to intolerance in the Pakistani society. The protest was directed against Punjab police for removing hateful and derogatory signs from a shop warning Ahmedis to refrain from entering.

It is inconceivable to deduct that these people are calling for such measures out of sheer hate for humanity. It is clear that their hateful rhetoric is fueled by religious fervor. For the majority of Muslim citizens, these traders are only playing their due to defend the finality of the Prophethood and are doing so in the name of the love for the Prophet. The only problem is that such love has created a serious civil rights crisis.

For those who are not aware, the government of Pakistan already requires its Muslim citizens to sign a declaration of not being an Ahmedi for the National ID card registration. Furthermore, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan is also dedicated to declaring the religious sect or group non-Muslim.

The demand for Ahmedis to wear identification, which has been widely compared to the yellow Juden badge in the Nazi Germany by critics, would take the institutionalization of discrimination against them to the next level. Calls for such apartheid measures should be a great concern for anyone who is worried about the state of freedom and civil liberties in Pakistan. This should also be a great concern to people who claim that an Islamic society offers perfect protection to religious minorities.

Religious freedom can be a funny civil liberty. While there is apparently no hint of doubt that all religions preach peace and love, this unexpected exceptional case warrants enough liberties to one side to infringe on those of others. As a matter of fact, this almost always occurs in overwhelming religious majorities, but hardly truer in any case in modern times than that of the persecution of Ahmedis in Pakistan and apparently there is no social contract to keep such religious freedom in check.

What are you going to do when such a force of public sentiment influences provisions in the law and the Constitution? Some would even argue that improving the law would hardly prove to be of any effect, but there is no doubt that eliminating profiling would make a world of a difference, if not the Second Amendment.

Probably the answer to the question of reforming Islam lies in the belligerence against Ahmedis as well. There is a reason why Sunni Islam has survived over 14 centuries. The school so fiercely and often violently represses any deviation to its orthodoxy. The Sunni clerics ensure to establish a hostile environment for suppressing novel religious ideas, and possibly, with the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the Shiite branch has been establishing its own state orthodoxy as well.

In the case of Pakistan, eliminating the persecution of Ahmedis would probably prove to be even more difficult than reforming the blasphemy law. At least not as long as a fairer social contract is in place. Possibly in a reaction to the Ahmedi movement, local clerics have aggressively established the theological narrative to counter its supposed claims over the last century. While such firmly rooted beliefs insisting on the legal definition of Islam would sound fine as a theological position, the subsequent activism for their excommunication has led to the formulation of such dangerous laws.

Some would argue that the bureaucratic and political elite had surrendered to the theological pressure for discrimination the day they agreed to establish an Islamic Republic. However, it is imperative to remind the people of the problem by pointing out that such theocratic provisions are a serious violation of civil liberties and religious freedom.

Furthermore, the institutional and systematic persecution of Ahmedis is the greatest evidence that minority religious groups are not safe in a Muslim majority society. It also shows that theocracies cannot be trusted to ensure religious freedom to communities not following the state religion. The Pakistani lawmakers have very deliberately formulated the sort of laws that would physically threaten a certain group of Pakistanis and the clerics deem them perfectly according to the Koran and the Sunnah.

The theocratic Apartheid state is only a logical conclusion to such a foundation.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

How could the Chairman Savior be wrong?

Source: Reuters/Dawn

Source: Reuters/Dawn

It’s very much understandable that many of the PTI supporters and thought leaders are in denial of the Judicial Commission report on the 2013 general elections, from the very authority that they recognized and demanded for before their utterly ridiculous “sit-in” protest campaign in Islamabad. It’s déjà vu really, because all of us clearly remember how everyone was convinced how perfectly impeccable the person of Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim would be for the role of Chief Election Commissioner for the 2013 polls, only later to be dismissed and demonized.

Just like the integrity of Justice Ibrahim was questioned after the unfavorable results of the 2013 general elections, the majority of the PTI following is still in denial, if not resorting to condemnation, of the findings of the Election commission. How could it be true if the Chairman Savior said otherwise? Despite the fact that the Chairman Savior Imran Khan reluctantly accepted the findings, the PTI leadership in general is doing nothing to change that impression among the party members. Of course, the people are not to be blamed for this. However, their trait of “questioning everything” would be far more admirable, if they took the trouble of questioning the judgement of their Chairman Savior every now and then.

PTI has created this political narrative of conspiracy theories for traction, cashing in on the miserable mood of the general masses. While it does work pretty well, it also proves to be counterproductive for the democratic process and progress, when the people completely give up any hope in the judicial institutions of the country, and rest all of their hopes in the person of the party Chairman, something which PTI hardly ever discourages.

The larger PTI narrative is worsening the already dying belief of the people in democratic institutions and the judiciary, while trying to enter and reform the same. This is why it is hardly any surprise that you would find so many among the urban middle class who support the party, while fiercely defending their democratic rights, but also resorting to condemn democracy at the same time, considering it “an inappropriate system of governance for Pakistani people.” Never thought I heard anything more insulting to the people of Pakistan. But then again, people who don’t vote for political parties that you side with always appear stupid. Many of such disgruntled supporters would even consider a military takeover than seeing the likes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in office, which sounds pretty familiar. Leaders such as ally Sheikh Rasheed are the perfect proponents of this view among the public.

I often find it hilarious when I find PTI supporters criticize PML-N for resorting to the “politics of the 90s,” even though many of them were not around to know what that means. But what is worse is that there is no shortage of such seasoned adults among them. It could be true actually in terms of politics of revenge, especially in terms of targeting of the MQM if it qualifies, but I also recall the politics of the 90s to be the politics of the sore loser. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto resorted to juvenile tactics, refusing to accept their failure in general elections, though eventually coming to terms with the facts, but all that changed since the PPP government that formed in 2008. Call it the Zardari factor, if you will. But hard lessons were learned after the Musharraf coup d’etat in 1999.

However, it seems that the baton of the “sore loser” politics from the 90s has been taken up by the PTI, when no one was even around to pass it to them. Are they not the ones who resorted to hijack the entire elected parliament by concocting unrealistic allegations of the kind of rigging that only the state would have pulled off, and that were more like conspiracy theories than anything else? Many of them, by their own admission, turned out to be pure fabrication for political purposes, such as the allegations against the Interim Chief Minister of Punjab.

What needs to be understood here is that there is probably a not-so-thin line between movement for reform and self-defeating, cynical absolutism. This is somewhere even the most otherwise-sane followers of PTI look like losing the plot, and supposedly evil and “illiterate” political parties such as the PML-N end up appearing to be far more reasonable.

However, the critics of the PTI should not forget that the party derives its power from the passion of the people. Sheer passion putting all its force behind a Messianic leader that it blindly trusts, and one that is probably thirsty for a public lynching. Imran Khan could only have dreamed to have such support among whatever following he enjoys. However, it is the measure of a leader as to how they would want to direct this force of passion that they are blessed with.

Toward patient, organized reform through the parliament, or toward destruction, impatience, and chaos, just like the spectacularly failed “sit-in protest” campaign orchestrated in the fall of 2014. Because the direction would surely push many to question the very motives of the Chairman Savior.

It’s about time PTI started realizing and learning from its own mistakes for a change, though it could involve changing their popular narrative.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Here We Go Again: The Side We Missed

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Here we go again.

Told you it would happen again and here it happens again. It’s the same old cycle with the same old thing happening over and over again with the completely same consequences over and over again and it is so pathetic that you could actually accurately predict all that if you wanted to. Such is the lunacy of this situation.

As Albert Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

In the same manner, we have yet another “publicly recognized blasphemy” and yet another insane reaction to it. This time around it’s Sam Becile’s film called “Innocence of Muslims“, which arguably falls under the propaganda category. It has sparked violent protests across the Middle East and the Indian sub continent.

Source: nydailynews.com

The riots sparked by it has even cost the lives of four US diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens in Ben Ghazi, Libya. Though the attacks in Libya and Tunisia are thought to have other reasons as well such as American occupation and attacks in the Middle East, they were certainly sparked by the blasphemy craze.

May I remind you that Muslim community, it is a community nevertheless made out of more than 1.5 billion people around the world, of various ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and cultures, has been hijacked by a bunch of extremist psychopaths which represent their entire image, much to the delight of those who want a conflict on both sides.

Source: Libya Al-Hurra Facebook Page/Huffington Post

Gawker recently raised this point by mocking Newsweek’s Muslim Rage cover by putting together harmless images of common people from the Muslim community around the world and also highlighting the #MuslimRage twitter trend. I found it interesting because I do believe that most of the Muslim community honestly has no representation in the mainstream media and they really are peacefully behaving folks, just like any other community.

I think what we do miss in these violent protests is the fact that hardly 1% of the Islamic world’s population is actively taking part in these protests, answering the generalizations that are usually made about them.

However, it can be very appropriately argued that the lack of criticism of such violence by the rest of the Muslim population makes them as much the part of the problem. That the rest of the population is either too insensitive to respond to these violent events or are simply too afraid to. Good that a peaceful demonstration was held in Libya to apologize for Stevens’ death.

In any case, the violent protesters find the most attention and it would be absolutely incorrect to say that their faith plays no part in that outcome. But by saying this, do we give the rest of the population a clean sheet in terms of tolerating violence and extremism justified by faith?

It is yet another lesson and another opportunity for the Muslims to reform their religion and its practice and to react to such perceived offenses in a more reasonable manner. What they also fail to realize is how much vulnerable they make themselves appear to the West when they are outraged, violently, by even a bit of an image, word or film insulting or ridiculing the Prophet. In this way, literally a 10 year old in the West can stir violent riots all across the Middle East. How fascinating is that.

There is an urgent need for reforms in this religion if it is to survive in the twenty-first century with dignity and respect and I think every member of this community should be worrying about it. Because with the presence of certain of its beliefs, it can hardly be regarded as a respectable and civilized belief system.

Muslims have a lot to think about and also a lot to answer to in this regard, to themselves, if not to anyone else.