Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rigidity of the two extremes


The Charlie Hebdo magazine killings have had an immediate fallout and promise to make many serious and enduring changes, none of which will be positive for anyone. I remember the time that the Satanic Verses came out and how deeply hurt and offended I was. A liberal Muslim friend, in full condescension and pity mode, told me to read the Satanic Verses for I would realise how much “a work of art” the book was. I politely declined; reading the excerpts in my local paper was enough to make my stomach turn. Trash cannot be a work of art and I was not contributing to Rushdie’s millions.

And then came the Danish cartoons. I protested by writing a letter to the editor of The Toledo Blade and explained how Muslims love God and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) more than their parents. And satirizing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is like slugging someone in the solar plexus, and worse. Non-Muslim US friends appreciated the elucidation and empathised with my distress. I am certain I was a whole lot more effective with that one letter than the many threats that I could have sent to Jyllands-Posten. People respond to persuasion, not intimidation.

Muslims on the extreme right as well as the ignorant ones forget that respect for God and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is enjoined upon Muslims. Non-Muslims are free to do what they desire: “There is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256). But we got provoked and instead of Rushdie and the Danish cartoons dying their natural deaths, they rocketed to persistent fame. The reason that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was created human was for us to emulate him in everything we do and understand what perfection in a human being looks like. In every arena of living, especially in difficult times, Muslims should pause, reflect and use Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life and sayings as a guide. “What would Muhammad (PBUH) have done?” is a vital question that we must articulate within and it is amazing how the answer is immediate, unequivocal and deeply comforting.

We must also go with stories of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life that have a strong chain of narration. Even the ones that we grew up with that are well established. How the old lady would throw garbage on him every day and when, one day, there was no garbage he went to find out what had happened and found her ill. His kindness totally won her over. He could have killed her on day one. Or the story of the man who decided to urinate in the mosque. The companions of the Prophet (PBUH) rushed toward the man but Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stopped them and advised them to let him finish. He then, without cursing or scolding the man, told him that the mosque was a place for the remembrance of God and asked his companions to clean the area the man had defiled.

Justice and its accurate dispensation are vital concepts in Islam. Evidence is mandated in all contentious issues. Vigilantism and unilaterally taking the law into one’s hands is not accepted. Undoubtedly, Charlie Hebdo crossed many lines and offended Muslims, Christians, Jews and pretty much anyone whenever they wanted to. However, Muslims should have taken the “dogs bark and the caravan moves on” tack. Prior to the killing of the 17 people at Charlie Hebdo, the magazine had a circulation of 30,000. In the printing after the attack, five million copies of the magazine were printed and swooped up the same day. People who might have been neutral or inclined towards Muslims previously, despise us now.

The most tragic part is that, again, Islam has been pulled into a situation that has little to do with it. Columnist Gwynne Dyer writes that the Charlie Hebdo killings are representative of a larger Muslim civil war. Thirsting for power, political extremists who call themselves Muslim, mess with the hearts and minds of economically and socially marginalised Muslims, get them to injure, kill and maim, and fool them into believing that this madness is mandated by Islam. Destabilising Muslim governments and gaining power is their aim. This is borne out by the fact that most victims of this kind of terrorism have been Muslim.

Columnist Robert Fisk also has a captivating take on this. The French colonisation of Algeria and the subsequent massacre of protesting Algerians have bred a seething anger in French-Algerians, whose lot is worsened by their economic situation. The French prime minister alluded to this when he said that there was social, economic and ethnic apartheid in France. Young people marginalised this way are fertile breeding grounds for the planting of extremist ideology and hanging it on Islam.

All this is not to say that the sickening disrespect by the Charlie Hebdo magazine is condoned. What I found even more offensive was the printing of a front-page cartoon after the killings. And this displays the madness of the ultra-liberals. As though satire toward the sacred personalities of all major religions was like oxygen to them and without these hits in very poor taste, the satirists could not go on. The Pope encouraged respect toward all religions and alluded to the sentiment of Muslims who love Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) more than their parents: “If my assistant curses my mother, he can expect a punch in return.”

The loss of one million Iraqi civilians in a war that found no weapons of mass destruction and the decimation of Baghdad, the seat of Islamic civilization, most certainly fuel deep resentment in the Muslim psyche. But more violence is not vindication.

The innocents between the two extremes take the brunt from both sides. Muslims all over the world have to apologise for what they have nothing to do with and reiterate that satire does not deserve death. If Muslims unequivocally condemn the killings per their understanding of Islam, they risk being targeted by the handlers of the Kouachi brothers. Charlie Hebdo remains undeterred by the killings and will serve insult after insult, and the Kouachi types will continue to kill. No wonder Islam promotes taking the middle path and avoiding extremes (Quran 2:143). Whenever a discussion became contentious or futile, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would leave it and say “Wa khairun salama” (Upon you be the best of peace). I am certain he would have treated all of this in the same manner.