“Nothing goes off suddenly; even the earthquakes set in motion from the depth of the earth to the rooftops of villages.” This line from a poem written two decades ago by a renowned Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti was quoted in American media last year to explain the long-brewing frustration over the political morbidity of Western-supported authoritarian culture in the Arab world and eruption of violent reaction to this phenomenon in many Arab countries, a process that came to be known as the Arab Spring.
Barghouti’s line is no less reflective of the grotesque events of the past couple of week in the Muslim world in reaction to a highly provocative film maligning the most revered and pious personality of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). No words are adequate enough to condemn this blasphemous film, which has deeply hurt the feelings of Muslims all over the world. The shocking backlash across the world to this nefarious film is saddening but also an eye-opener.
No one can condone the attacks on embassies or the tragic killing of the US ambassador and other diplomats in Benghazi. Islam forbids the killing of innocent people. These violence-led killings were condemnable and every one in the Muslim world did condemn them. Nor can one accept the unruly scenes of violence, arson, ransacking of public property, burning of cinemas and gas stations or pelting stones on private vehicles that we saw on our streets last Friday as a civilised way of demonstrating our love and reverence for the Holy Prophet (pbuh).
Sadly, it is also no secret that abominable actions have been relentlessly staged in the West in the name of freedom of expression, coinciding almost with every anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity and unnecessarily provoking hatred, discord and enmity within societies between people of various faiths. There couldn’t have been a more reprehensible act than the release of the blasphemous movie in question on the eve of this year’s 9/11 anniversary. One only hopes the neo-crusaders are not laying the minefields for Samuel Huntington’s a ‘clash of civilisations.’
Irrespective of the questionable credibility of Huntington’s theory, there are already signs of civilisational conflict on the post-9/11 global horizon. One must admit, however, that this conflict is not a 21st century phenomenon. It started with the advent of Islam, which the then European civilisations saw as an ideological, intellectual and political challenge to their power and prestige. Islamic victories, soon expanding to the East as well as the West, made it a formidable reality as a global power that the West was just not prepared to accept.
That was the beginning of the clash of civilisations, with ups and downs in the adversarial relationship, climaxing into crusades in the 11th century. In this process, caliphates emerged as a unified Islamic polity and an institution representing Muslim unity and power. But after centuries of civilisational development and ascendancy, from the 15th century onward, Muslims began to decline at every level; this coincided with the rise of European civilisations. The 19thand 20th centuries saw the colonisation of the Muslim world, collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and after the First World War the division of the Muslim world into small states as Western-controlled fiefdoms.
In 1917, General Allenby spoke of the West’s sense of victory over Islam when entering into Jerusalem, he shouted “The crusades have been completed.” Likewise, when the French military commander entered Damascus, he went straight to Saladin’s tomb and shouted emotionally: “Nous revenons, Saladin” (We are back, Saladin). What we must recognise is the fact that it has always been, and remains to this day, a political conflict. The post-9/11 situation is witnessing this conflict with renewed intensity.
Islam is being demonised by its detractors with an obsessive focus on the religion of individuals and groups accused of complicity or involvement in terrorist activities. Islam is blamed for everything that goes wrong in any part of the world. What is being conveniently ignored is the fact that most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 tragedy or of other terrorist acts were dissident runaways from Arab countries and had a political agenda of their own in their misguided pursuits. The perpetrator of the latest blasphemy, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is also a Coptic dissident of Egyptian origin using the US soil to avenge his personal grievances.
The problem that the world now faces is that religious hatred fueled in the West against Islam is only rekindling historical grievances and provoking conflict within and between states with serious implications for global peace and security. Those familiar with the UN’s working know that its human rights agenda is increasingly becoming a political weapon for the West to discredit and pressurise its global adversaries. These policies are inherently dangerous and must be revisited if the current drift into global chaos is to be stopped.
Another misperception in the West often voiced by its leaders has been that Muslims are contemptuous of western values of freedom and democracy and are jealous of the West’s economic and technological progress. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is not hatred of democracy and freedom but the desire for them that has made Muslims around the world resent US policies, which they consider responsible for perpetuation of undemocratic and, in some cases, hereditary autocratic regimes in their world.
People in these countries are fed up with the growing economic crunch and deprivation, and are openly repudiating the politics of deceit and servility that they have been enduring in their countries since their independence, which in some cases had Washington’s blessing through notorious deals and conditionality-based aid packages. President Obama had apparently sensed the simmering sentiment of despair and despondency among world’s Muslims when in his famous Cairo speech three years ago he chose to address the specific issues of violent extremism, religious freedom, democracy, economic development and equal opportunity.
It should now be abundantly clear to him that there is an increasing awareness and desire in postcolonial Muslim societies to rebuild their civilisation as a harbinger of inter-faith peace, respect, harmony, tolerance and mutual understanding. But to their dismay, they find that self-serving motivated collusive alliances and deals between corrupt, authoritarian and dictatorial rulers in the Muslim world and the West is the biggest barrier to their access to freedom, democracy and self determination.
In Pakistan, extremism is the legacy of two long spells of military rule in our country – 11 years of General Zia-ul-Haq and nine years of General Pervez Musharraf. Both ruined our social fabric by fueling religion-based militant extremism as a tool of their statecraft. And both were the blue-eyed boys of the West.
What should also be clear to the world today is that the scourge of extremism is the product of a broader mix of problems caused by bad governments, corrupt politicians and militant leaders who exploit grievances for their own ends. When there are no legitimate means left for addressing the massive and systemic political, economic and social inequalities, an environment is created in which peaceful solutions often lose out to extreme and violent alternatives.
It is this perverse mindset that has been flagrantly visible in recent weeks on the streets in the Muslim world. And this mindset has to be treated as a disease, not a crime. While seeking inter-faith harmony and tolerance, states must come together in preventing abuse of ‘freedom of expression’ and eliminating other causes of hatred and discord within and between societies.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@yahoo. com