Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

It’s not about Islam and it never was

Media pundits are quick to link the Paris events to Islam but say nothing about the legitimate grievances Muslims have against Western imperialism, writes Ramzy Baroud

Al-Ahram Weekly

It is still not about Islam, even if the media, and militants attacking Western targets, say so. Actually, it never was. But it was important for many to conflate politics with religion, partly because it is convenient and self-validating.

 First, let’s be clear on some points. Islam set in motion a system to abolish slavery over 1,200 years before the slave trade reached its peak in the Western world. Freeing the slaves, who were owned by pagan Arab tribes, was a recurring theme in the Quran, and was always linked to the most basic signs of piety and virtue.

 As written in the Quran: “The charities are to go to the poor, and the needy, and those who work to collect them, and those whose hearts have been united, and to free the slaves, and those in debt, and in the cause of God, and the traveller. A duty from God, and God is Knowledgeable, Wise” (Quran, 9:60).

 It is unfortunate that such reminders have to be regularly restated, thanks to constant anti-Islam propaganda in many Western countries. The outlandish and often barbaric behaviour of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has given greater impetus to existing prejudices and propaganda.

 Second, gender equality in Islam is enshrined in the language of the Quran and the legacy of the Prophet Mohamed. “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for truthful men and women, for patient men and women, for humble men and women, for charitable men and women, for fasting men and women, for chaste men and women, and for men and women who remember God often — for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (Quran, 33:35).

 Third, the sanctity of life is paramount in Islam to the extent that “if anyone slew a person ... it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (Quran, 5:32).

Still, this is not about Islam. This is about why Islam is the subject of this discussion in the first place, when we should be addressing the real roots of violence.

 When Islam was introduced to Arabia many centuries ago, it was, and in fact remains, a revolutionary religion. It was and remains radical, certainly the kind of radicalism that, if viewed objectively, would be considered a real challenge to classism in society, to inequality in all of its forms and, more importantly, to capitalism and its embedded insatiability, greed and callousness.

 To avoid a rational discussion about real issues, many make non-issues the crux of the debate. So Islam is discussed alongside IS, Nigerian tribal and sectarian conflicts, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, immigration issues in Europe and much more.
 While much violence happens across the world in the name of Christianity, Judaism, even Buddhism in Burma and Sri

Lanka, rarely do entire collectives get stigmatised by the media. Yet many hold all Muslims directly or otherwise accountable if a criminal who happens to be a Muslim goes on a violent rampage. Yes, he may still be designated as a “lone wolf”, but one can be almost certain that Muslims and Islam somehow become relevant to the media debate afterwards.

 In their desperate attempt to fend off accusations, many Muslims, often led by credible intellectuals and journalists have, for nearly two decades, staged a counter effort to distance Islam from violence and to fight the persistent stereotypes. With time these efforts culminated into a constant stream of collective apologies on behalf of Islam.
 When a Muslim in Brazil or Libya reacts to a hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, condemning violence on behalf of

Islam, and frantically attempts to defend Islam and disown militancy and so on, the question is: Why? Why does the media make Muslims feel accountable for anything carried out in the name of Islam, even by some deranged person?
Why are members of other religions not held to the same standard? Why aren’t Swedish Christians asked to explain and apologise for the behaviour of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or Argentinean Jews to explain the daily, systematic violence and terror carried out by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem and the West Bank?

 Since Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History” in 1992 — revelling that free markets and “liberal democracies” will reign supreme forever — followed by Samuel Huntington’s supposed contrasting, but still equally conceited, view of the “clash of civilisations” and the need to “remake the world order”, a whole new intellectual industry has embroiled many in Washington, London and elsewhere.

Once the Cold War ended, giving the West an inflated sense of political validation, the Middle East became the new playground for ideas about dominion and military hardware. Since then, it has been an all-out war, either instigated by or involving various Western powers.

It has been a protracted, multi-dimensional war: a destructive war on the ground, an economic war (blockades on the one hand and globalisation and free-market exploitation on the other), cultural invasion (that equated the Westernisation of society with modernity), and topped with a massive propaganda war targeting the Middle East’s leading religion: Islam.

The war on Islam was particularly vital, as it seemed to unify a wide spectrum of Western intellectuals, whether conservative, liberal, religious or secular. All done for good reasons, including: Islam is not just a religion, but also a way of life. By demonising Islam, you demonise everything associated with it, including, of course, Muslims.

The vilification of Islam that morphed into massive Western-led Islamophobia helped validate the actions of Western governments, however violent and abusive. The dehumanisation of Muslims became an essential weapon in war.

It was also strategic: hating Islam and all Muslims is a very flexible tool that would make military intervention and economic sanctions possible anywhere where the West has political or economic interests. Hating Islam became a unifying rally-cry from advocates of sanctions on Sudan to anti-immigrant neo-Nazi groups in Germany, and everywhere else.

The issue is no longer the violent means used to achieve political domination and control of natural resources but, magically, it all was reduced to one single word: Islam, or Islam and something else: freedom of expression, women rights and so forth.

 Thus, it was no surprise to see the likes of Ian Black commenting in The Guardian hours after gunmen carried out a lethal attack in Paris against a French magazine on Wednesday, 7 January, with the starting line: “Satire and Islam do not sit well together.”

 Not a word on the French military and other forms of intervention in the Middle East, its destructive role in Syria, its leadership role in the war in Libya, its war in Mali and so on. Not even a word on François Hollande’s recent statement about being “ready” to bomb Libyan rebels, although it was made only few days before.

 Sure, the pornographic satire of Charlie Hebdo and its targeting of the Prophet Mohamed was mentioned but little was said, by Black or the many others who were quick to link the subject to “7th century Islam”, to the hideous wars and their horrible, pornographic manifestations of torture, rape and other unspeakable acts, acts that victimised millions of people — Muslim people.

Instead, it about Western art and Muslim intolerance. The subtle message was: Yes, indeed, it is a “clash of civilisations.”

 Did any of these “intellectuals” pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the violent responses to the desecration of Islamic symbols reflect a real political sentiment, say for example, a collective feeling of humiliation, hurt, pain and racism that extends to every corner of the globe?

And that it is natural that war, constantly exported from the West to the rest of the world, could ultimately be exported back to Western cities? Is it not possible that Muslims are angered by something much more subtle and profound than Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless cartoons?

Avoiding the answer is likely to delay a serious attempt at finding a solution, which must start with the end of Western interventionism in the Middle East.

The writer is founder of Palestine

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