Red, White and Black

The Silence
6 September, 2006, 11:59 pm
Filed under: general, Islam

This week’s blog-surfing led me to this post, through Eteraz’s blog, to which a reply was posted here. A number of questions [a couple quite inane in nature] were raised at the Gates of Vienna and responded to succinctly by Eteraz. But there is still one question that stood out:

What counts is the collective action (or passivity) of millions upon millions of ordinary Muslims, folks who know nothing of Spinoza or Voltaire, or even Arabic literature.

When hundreds of thousands of Muslims take to the streets to protest violence against infidels in the name of Allah, then I will believe that Islam can be peaceful. When I see protest signs against jihad parading up the streets in Riyadh or Tehran or Jakarta, then I will believe that Islam is indeed reformable. But not before.

Such things have never occurred.

This is not the first time I have encountered this question on an online forum. When such questions are raised, the operational belief remains that the majority of Muslims are silently complicit, if not actively involved, in global violence that rages in the name of Islam. They contend that since the majority are not seen actively protesting against the militancy and extremism, so they must just be pretending their opposition. This notion needs to be rebutted in the strongest words.

At the onset, it must be conceded that yes, there are no mass-scale protests to be found in opposition to the militants and extremists. Working with the belief that the silent majority is indeed non-violent, non-extremist and conservative [if not progressive or liberal] then we need to address why is that they don’t speak out?

For me, the answer lies in the socio-political composition of Muslim societies. The point to note is that unlike the Western societies, Muslim societies do not have a strong tradition of political or social activism. These are societies still recovering from the cruel trauma of colonization and the subsequent decolonization. In most cases, neo-colonialism has just taken over and the masses have had no emancipation from corrupt autocratic regimes.

In such political setting, the prime struggle is to make ends meet. There is no economic security, no literacy, no social support networks and no space for voicing political dissent. In most cases, the masses are just zombies that are heralded from one crisis to another. They just have one lifeline in the form of their religion. Some give in to the frustration and take the militant route, but for the rest it is one avenue from which they draw strength. The majority can be fairly characterised with having a mild countenance – they hold their religion dear but they are not fanatical about it. On the political front, there exists a struggle between the state and self proclaimed religious leaders to acquire a monopoly over religion. In such societies religion is not just a matter of belief. It becomes a medium to woo in (and control) the masses, which means that both parties end up holding religion hostage to their political struggles. Further, these societies are marked by the utter lack of religious scholarship and of mass-scale intellectual regeneration required in response to the modern times.

All of this elaborate descussion was necessary to establish the character of the Muslim majority across the globe. Now we can turn to the critical question.

Why, then, would this religion loving majority take to the streets in protest against Danish cartoons and Israeli atrocities and not against the sword rattling Jihadists who soil the name of their religion?

There are to angles to this: one, there is a general sense of apathy in Muslim societies. You would NOT see the masses stand up to any issue and register their protest. Political activism is non existent and political space is mostly monopolised by a select few [the political middle does not exist]. Muslim societies have been numbed; two, the easiest formula to rouse the masses is to raise cries of Islam/Muslims under attack and voila, you have thousands streaming on the streets. In 90% of the cases, such demonstrations might start off in protest to the ‘enemies of Islam’, but are essentially used as mediums of voicing political dissent against the indeginous regimes. Pakistan, Iran, Egypt – all Muslim countries would exhibit this characteristic.

So taken together, the masses only end up taking a strong stance when they are dragged out by the political leadership. And the political leadership finds it profitable to bank on all that anger and frustration for myopic political benefits.

The masses are not guilty of supporting the extremists – they are only guilty of apathy and ignorance. And that is where the Muslim world has failed and failed miserably at that. Those who are cognizant of this whole mess have made no serious effort to reach out and educate the rest. They  need to replace the selfish political elite. Of that failure they can be held responsible. But not more.

At the end of the day, all is not lost – I do believe that the first remedial steps have been taken.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

First, I have nothing but regrets for not visiting your blog often enuff earlier. I am now hooked. It’s well written, succinct, delightful, and thought provoking. Stands out among a host of blogs. So I am now on RSS feeds from here. Love it!
Second, your arguments here are logical and deserve serious attention by those who make blind accusations. However, while they do present a set of answers, there is a partial truth to the accusation. Perhaps I shall write about that some day and we can discuss it. At the moment there is constraint on my time, as I am travelling.
Third: Wow! Keep this blog going, kid.

Comment by Zakintosh

Thank you for the wonderful feedback! 🙂

Hmm, I am not sure if the majority would support all of this extremism knowingly. But then it would be definitely be interesting to hear your side of the argument. Please do write, whenever you get the chance!

Comment by ayesha

Ayesha, you have nailed it with two of your points. First is the colonialism, which is still too new and fresh in people’s minds. We have a living generation, which has gone through it around the globe and still doesn’t understand their true value and potency. Second point is to do with the concept of ‘Islam under attack’. This idea has been used and misused over and over again. The non-violent Muslims, who as you have mentioned don’t unite to do anything to their militant brothers are just too terrified and too contented living their lives.

Keep your excellent thought process.

Comment by Asif M. Mohammad

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