Wednesday July 24, 2024

The new fascism

Islamabad diaryYou can disagree with the written word, take exception to images on the screen, be revolted by cartoons. But the answer to the written word should come in the form of the written word and the answer to the cartoon should come in the form of either ignoring it

By Ayaz Amir
January 13, 2015
Islamabad diary
You can disagree with the written word, take exception to images on the screen, be revolted by cartoons. But the answer to the written word should come in the form of the written word and the answer to the cartoon should come in the form of either ignoring it or writing a diatribe against it.
What impels us of the faith to seek a response in violence to what we don’t like, or what causes us outrage? The use of the brickbat or the bullet against tyranny and oppression is a worthy, even a noble, response. But as a literary rejoinder violence can only be the weapon of the ignorant and the boorish.
The world’s libraries are full of content that we do not like. There are passages in Dante and Gibbon that would outrage any run-of-the-mill Muslim cleric. But are we latter-day Mongols that we should go around burning the libraries of Baghdad and covering with burnt paper and ashes the waters of the Euphrates?
Who compelled anyone to read Salman Rushdie’s Shame? I tried going through it and gave up because I found it heavy reading, and not worth the effort. Who was under any obligation to watch that third-rate blasphemous movie made by some crank in California? But the world of Islam erupted in violence over something which most people had never seen, and in the ordinary course of events would never see. What accounts for this response?
As a tribute to that episode YouTube remains banned in Pakistan and governments are too scared to do anything about it. The same governments are expected to take the fight against religious extremism to the finish.
And there were wiseacres in Pakistan writing that Hurricane Sandy which hit the New York coastline was divine punishment for the blasphemy. The movie was made in California, the West Coast. The hurricane was on the other side of the American continent. Were they suggesting that the Most High was getting His geography wrong?
There’s much that can be said about the concept of freedom of speech in the west. When it comes to some topics – say, Israel – this freedom miraculously shrinks. As a mainstream media reporter in the US try writing about Israeli excesses in the West Bank and you’ll have a hard time holding onto your job. And where’s the American Congressman or Senator who can afford to be open about Israel, except in the most mind-numbing manner? So it is fair to ask whether the right of free expression is best exercised by publishing stuff which millions across the globe find deeply offensive.
But having said as much, the question still remains: what should be the response to stuff we don’t like, or which even causes pain? Does this justify violence or going on a shooting spree? The west has double standards in so many things. The US and Britain went to war in Iraq on the back of lies and cooked-up falsehoods, to mention only this out of a long list. But how does any of this, how does anything in Islam or any other religion, justify the cold-blooded murder of journalists and other innocent people because of something on the written page, however offensive that may be?
We must be able to name this phenomenon. This is a new form of fascism arising out of the bosom of Islam. Christianity, or a perverted form of it, begat the Inquisition, forms of Christianity countenancing the burning of ‘witches’ at the stake. Out of the bosom of American democracy came the witch-hunt that went by the name of McCarthyism. American democracy countenanced slavery and the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a different story today, at the altar of Islam the worst forms of violence justified – bombings in which innocents die, slitting of throats, the murder of journalists, and the slaughter of school children.
As a Muslim – although not a very good one, my lapses from the true path, alas, many – I find it deeply offensive that terrorists should be shouting Allahu Akbar when they enter a school in Peshawar and cold-bloodedly target over a hundred school children (and some of their teachers). I find it deeply offensive that the two gunmen who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris should be shouting Allahu Akbar as they gunned down their hapless victims. I feel revolted by the idea of linking God to the perpetration of such deeds.
To recite the litany of horror once more, throats slit, churches attacked, Shia places of worship bombed, shrines blown up and children slaughtered, all in the name of Islam. What Islam is this? And there is no shortage of people in our midst who can’t bring themselves to openly denounce such acts because in their hearts they retain a soft spot for the Taliban…or because they are just afraid and don’t want to stick out their necks.
There’s something fundamentally wrong here. Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, is sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes for daring to criticise Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi clerical establishment. After Friday prayers he was given the first instalment of 50 lashes a week (this is to go on for the next 20 weeks). To his honour, he tightly shut his eyes without uttering a sound when receiving the lashes. What is a greater insult to Islam, this punishment or Badawi’s purported crime?
There are laws in Thailand against insulting the king. Is Islam like the Thai monarch that it is so easily insulted? Look at the application of our blasphemy laws. As a Pakistani I find myself diminished when I see a poor Christian woman like Aasia Bibi, who can’t make out one letter of the alphabet from the next, in prison and sentenced to death on a charge of blasphemy. To suggest by our actions that the dignity of a great religion is threatened or compromised by a poverty-stricken woman is not to enhance the dignity of that faith.
Revolutions we are familiar with – Bolshevik, Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, etc – were led by intellectuals, carrying a book in one hand, a gun in the other. Those were epic struggles with no shortage of blood, privation and suffering. But do we read of throats being slit, children slaughtered or churches bombed? What did not the Vietnamese suffer at American hands? But did they respond by carrying out slaughter of civilians in Saigon and other South Vietnamese cities? To American atrocities – the use of napalm, carpet bombing, the use of chemical agents – they responded by intensifying their military struggle.
And let us not forget that their heroic struggle was not predicated on the chance of any divine intervention, or the promise of divine reward. They fought for the liberation of their country…which was reward enough for them.
But concerning the holy armies arising from within the world of Islam fired by a twisted interpretation of the faith, we see no revolutionary elite at their head, only the most primitive elements of society in whose hands have been placed, by Providence or circumstances, the means of violence. This is our tragedy.
What are the alternatives on the other side? What is there to set against the mindless primitivism of the Islamic terrorist? (Yes, this terrorism has a name.) Unelected governments, symbols of despotism and autocracy, most of them gyrating to music set by western powers. Pray, what would you settle for, a knife across your throat for being on the wrong side of the holy caliphate of the Islamic State or 1000 lashes for insulting the Wahabi clergy? The utter beauty of this choice is our other tragedy.
From where will come the Islamic reformation? Or has time passed us by and we are the victims of our own history?