As I did in my last piece on this portal, I may clarify that I am an Indian Hindu who is very critical of left-liberals like Arundhati Roy and Muslim communalists like Azam Khan, and that I strongly condemn the terrorist attacks in Paris (a beautiful city I have visited on more than one occasion, and there happen to be friends of mine who are French) and condole the victims. Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies killing innocent civilians, and there should be no sympathy whatsoever for those doing so. Besides, an ideology of hate not only for those of other faiths or sects of the same faith but for anyone even of the same sect who doesn’t accept your leader as his Caliph and which is fundamentally opposed to civil liberties, especially for women, is certainly not only a product of being victim oneself, and indeed, the Yazidis in Iraq have never harmed anyone.
However, when we set out to honestly understand the larger picture of what led to the rise of the ISIS, one really has no alternative to acknowledging, to whatever extent, the role of the West. Many countries across the globe have their own instabilities in democracy, including countries that are not Muslim-majority like Myanmar, Rwanda, Uganda and Thailand [and violent hard-liners killing innocent people exist among Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists too (their victims not always being Muslims), and you have moderate and extreme interpretations of all these major religions, and apostates harshly critical of all of these religions too, but that doesn’t mean that we generalize those regarding themselves as practising adherents of any religion to all be violent extremists*, something even many apostates emphasize, as you can see here and here], but who sponsored the most hard-line rebels against the Assad regime just because Assad was closer to Russia and China, who went on to form the ISIS? And who is refusing to support Assad against the ISIS? And who taken more pains to protect and rehabilitate the Yazidis? And who have shed most blood fighting the ISIS? Arabs and Kurds or Westerners?
And who toppled the Saddam regime, killing innocent civilians in the process and torturing prisoners of war in Abu Gharib, based on false claims of weapons of mass destruction? And, in fact, who started the trend of violent non-state actors fighting under the banner of jihad as a serious global phenomenon in the context of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the 1980s?
Much of the trouble in the Arab world was created by the West. Did we hear of much religious extremism in Iraq or Syria (where Christians occupied senior positions in the Assad regime, as did the most heterodox folks like the Alawites, and where a statue of ex-Muslim atheist thinker Al-Mari stood, which was bombed by the ISIS) before the US toppled the Saddam regime? Saddam was a ruthless dictator, not very different from the regime we have in China in the context of crushing dissent and even resorting to mass murders to that end (as he did with the Kurds), but he never invoked religion even when the US attacked, and there are numerous reports to show that Iraqi Christians and Yazidis felt safe under him. His party claimed to have a secular mandate.
None of this is to suggest denying that Muslims globally (not just Arab Muslims), even in places where one doesn’t see much religious extremism, like Kosovo or Kazakhstan, have a responsibility to fix the menace of terrorism in the name of their faith. Muslims undoubtedly need a renaissance (here are my suggestions for the template it needs to follow) that needs to take place very soon. Having said that, the West can’t be absolved of its wrongs, nor can Arabs be blamed for everything. A medicine requires a correct diagnosis, and following puerile notions of anti-Muslim bigotry would not help; so, it matters that we take everything into account, not only for the sake of peace-loving Muslims, but for the values of justice and freedom that we, who believe in the modern democratic system, seek to uphold. Besides, we, Indians, cutting across religious lines, have borne the brunt of ISI-sponsored terror that had covert US support till before 9/11, for India was seen as closer to the Soviet Union/Russia.
It’s not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
This editorial in the Times of India has put across the point well in the following words-
“Responding to the Paris terror attacks, President Obama has said it is time the Muslim world asked itself some tough questions about how extremist ideologies take root in its midst. That is certainly pertinent, but such questioning should not be confined to the Muslim world alone. Leaders in the West, led by the US, also need to ask themselves some tough questions on what led to the flowering of Islamic State (IS). The firing on Paris streets also represents the backfiring of Western strategy.
The idiotic US military intervention in Iraq, with the express intention of toppling Saddam Hussein’s government but also with a glad eye on Iraq’s oil riches, destroyed the Iraqi state and sowed chaos. IS was adept at filling this vacuum even as America got tired of the mayhem and left. Neither have such interventions been confined to the Bush era. The US and France intervened in Libya in 2011; even more foolishly, they intervened in the Sunni-Shia civil war raging in the Muslim world, partnering a Wahhabi state such as Saudi Arabia. Thus the US, UK, France and Saudi Arabia all participated in the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, which funnelled arms and money to jihadists who have morphed into today’s IS.
Following the template established by the US, Russia too decided to intervene in Ukraine. This template is spreading insecurity and chaos across the world, of which the 129 dead in Paris are the most recent though not the worst victims (the 3,00,000 dead and millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war would comprise the latter category).”
“This should prompt a change in the world order whereby the great powers, Russia included, agree to respect national sovereignty and rule out unilateral military interventions or proxy wars to change governments in other countries. Obama’s meeting with President Putin during the G20 summit in Turkey, where they agreed on a political transition plan to end the Syrian civil war that would be Syrian-owned, is a promising start. IS, of course, would stand in the way of a political solution. But any military intervention to squeeze out IS should proceed only after being authorised by the UN, thus establishing a healthy precedent for the future.”
*There are verses in the Quran like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Holy Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace. Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, I know that there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, leveling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites.