Friday, May 07, 2010
VIEW: Silence or conditional condemnation —Dr Mahjabeen Islam
Ours is a nation with many Joseph Goebbels. We rattle on in convoluted, minute details and in the effort to convince others, delude only ourselves, unfortunately so deeply that we lose the beginning of lies and the death of the truth
Unstinted condemnation with no ifs, ands, or buts. That really is what live consciences do, but stretched by money, pulled by power, crushed for survival or encased in apathy, as a nation and an ummah, we are either mute or babbling.
As though life and world politics were not tough enough, we now have a Pakistani-American, Faisal Shahzad, trying to blow up an SUV in Times Square.
Those embedded deeply in faith, practicing the details of the Sunnah with mid-calf pyjamas and beards-but-no-moustaches frequently forget the most basic litmus test of Islam: the premise of intention. Shahzad faces terrorism and explosive charges. These include “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and transporting an explosive device with the intent to kill”. The key word here is “intent”. The Quran in Surah Nisa (4:135) says succinctly: “Testify to the truth even if it goes against yourselves, your parents or your relatives.” This verse has interminable depth and it nudges you to listen to and strengthen your moral compass, for going against oneself and one’s parents is mighty hard to do.
With the construction of the Times Square bomb there could have been significant destruction and death, had it detonated. New York City has billboards all over urging people: “If you see something, say something.” And that is what street vendor Lance Orton did when he saw that the illegally parked SUV’s engine was running and smoke was emanating from it. Muslim-American and Pakistani-American organisations were quick to condemn. But at times like these there is a predictable dead silence in Pakistan. The elephant in the room is always ignored, looked around or looked through — if one can do all those things even metaphorically with an enormity such as an elephant.
Interestingly, the Friday sermon is set up such that it is not complete unless current socio-political issues are discussed. And this is the bane of mosques not just in Pakistan but even here in North America. The imams or spiritual leaders of mosques are so totally clueless about the importance of linking socio-political issues with Islam and what it says about a particular issue that when earth-shattering events occur (for example the assassination of Benazir Bhutto), the imam is found talking about some obscure, entirely unrelated issue.
Muslims are ridiculed, and I might add, rightfully so when we continually claim that “Islam means peace”, but all around us are bombs and killings by wild-eyed beasts audaciously claiming connection with the magnificence that Islam is. It is one thing for some of us to quote the Quran that “killing an innocent is like killing all of humanity and saving one is like saving all of humanity” (5:32) but it is quite another to have the corner on the market on killing non-combatants.
So the religious leaders and imams of Pakistan were silent. And the feeling that “good, the US deserves it” could be heard across the seven seas. But what has happened to our moral compass? True that drones raining bombs on innocents is beyond reprehensible, but like Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur wrote in these pages recently, two wrongs do not make a right. What does your religion say? What does your heart say?
The carnage that the US spreads in Afghanistan and Iraq, the dehumanisation of the Palestinians by Israel and the rape of the Kashmiri nation by India can never be entirely encompassed in the feebleness of words and no grieving will ever suffice. And yet justifying all acts of terror against innocent American civilians based on the injustice perpetrated by governments is firstly unjust in and of itself, and secondly, is not achieving the intended goal.
While Pakistani imams put blinders on, the leaders babbled. Instead of spending millions on mehndis, Pakistani politicians would be wise to invest in some leadership and media training. Perhaps some psychotherapy might be in order so that this reflexive conspiracy-theory-explaining-all could be dealt with. Most felt that Shahzad was being used by entities to indict and damage Pakistan. Others, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, were borderline ludicrous: Shahzad they said was now an American and so he was “the US’s problem”. Excuse me? Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had the nerve to say in an official interview that Shahzad’s, and attacks such as his, may well be retaliation for American drone attacks in Pakistan. “We should not be so naïve to think that they will not react,” he said. Interestingly, the Pakistani government overtly condemns the drones but has given a wink and a nod to the American government to bomb the alleged terrorist strongholds with impunity. Have we no shame?
Very interestingly, nowhere does one notice straight condemnation. Ours is a nation with many Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s infamous information minister. We rattle on in convoluted, minute details and in the effort to convince others, delude only ourselves, unfortunately so deeply that we lose the beginning of lies and the death of the truth.
Promote the good and forbid the evil (Amar Bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkar) is one of the foundational principles of Islam. In its elaboration we are to physically stop the wrong if we are able, if not we are to verbally do so and if that is not possible we are to at the minimum think that this is wrong. The last option is the weakest manifestation of faith.
Historically, when do Muslims protest? As a general rule when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is disrespected. But is that all we are urged by God and the Prophet (PBUH) to do? Is this all that our minds encompass and allow? How can we reduce the breadth of such an all-encompassing faith to only one item? Do we realise that ours is a faith that has stark accountability and the promise of justice in this world and the next?
With the two angels on each shoulder and God above as well as our record being handed to us on the Day of Judgement, how can those of us who hang our hats on religion justify our monocular brand of practice? And remember if we protest the veracity of the record, a time and place video waits to shame us. As I age and come across the Muslims from across the spectrum I notice, as is apparent in other faiths as well, that the ultra-right comes with inbuilt blinders and the darkest of sunglasses. And ironically they are controlling the Muslim conversation. And even more ironically, they are the squeaky-wheel minority.
The silent majority must un-press the mute button. If religion does not guide you, let your heart, let your mind. All of us in our own ways must protest terrorism, for no religion or creed, especially Islam, condones the slaughter of innocents.
And if we do not, then we should not bemoan the wholesale hijacking of Islam, the maligning of Pakistan or the endangering of Muslim-Americans. Silence means consent. And conditional condemnation is psychobabble.
Mahjabeen Islam is a freelance columnist, family physician and addictionist with a practice in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org