Why are all Muslims painted with the same brush?
The Paris attacks brought a huge debate to the fore — that not all Muslims are terrorists and that the non-Muslims especially the Western media were painting every Muslim by the same brush and painting Islam as a monolith. There have been other liberal, moderate and reformist Muslims who have taken this opportunity to clamour for introspection, self-reflection and dialectic criticism that is conspicuously missing in the Muslim world since the eleventh century. Then there are those who have already been brave enough to leave the fold of tribalism and are asking those who choose to stay to acknowledge them and recognise that they can work together for a secular and moderate version of Islam that many already adhere to. It is sad that the blood of many middle-Eastern people and that of the Western hemisphere took this blatant truth to take root but it remains to be seen how deep those roots penetrate into a community which is in constant denial of some of the facts of its origins and current philosophies.
I am of the generation of the 80s who are in the precarious position of having seen and enjoyed the secular and Sufi version of an Islam that we grew up with in modern India; that gave us its identity of Indian Muslims and that continues to be our bane and boon. I am also of that generation who saw the advent of Wahhabism or Salafism or as you may call it Islamism these days — a very brutal version of the literal meaning of the texts taken out from the ‘holy book’ and ‘packaged out’ to the unsuspecting third world through mosques, madrassas, videos, social networking sites, cable TV, literature, and the most easiest recruiting tool of all — photoshopped pictures and doctored videos to feed the ‘victimised mentality’ of Muslims the world over with the help of oil-smeared petrodollars. I saw my hometown turn gradually into an Arabised copy cat with everything from fashion attire (the hijab instead of the subcontinental dupatta, Allah hafiz instead of the familiar Khuda hafiz, Ramadhan instead of the cherished Ramzan) to the secular outlook of life being replaced with a foreign imperialistic and colonial theology.
We have been unfortunate to have had our identity stolen multiple times. The Partition of 1947 rendered our grandparents’ generation as Midnight’s Children, Jinnah’s orphans, traitorous Muslims, brave Muslims, and so it goes… The 80s and the 90s brutally brought my generation face to face with our so-called ‘statelessness’ as a Muslim majority state being ‘freed’ from the ‘occupying’ forces of a ‘Hindu’ country with the help of a ‘Muslim’ neighbour and so the narrative goes… Post 9/11 our kids found themselves at the receiving end of having to answer for the most brutal and cowardly acts of fringe groups in Islam whenever there was an atrocity or mass killing anywhere in the world. London and Madrid bombings, Kenyan mall massacre, Beslan tragedy, APS Peshawar, Mumbai attacks, Paris attacks and so on and so forth…
Who are we? If we say we are Muslims then so do the ISIS, if we say we are liberal Muslims then we give leeway to those who are hellbound in taking us to paradise explosively. If we say we are cultural Muslims we give a wide berth to those fringe elements who are bent on hijacking and cherry-picking an explosive text which evaded scrutiny for 14 centuries due to the ‘explosive reaction’ of anyone who dared question the origins or literal meanings of the very text. I need not even go into the lives of those who are apostates (I prefer the term ex-Muslims). Their very lives as surreptitious non-believers or openly character-assassinated public figures are proof enough how much their identities let alone their lives have been violated. Who are we and what are we to do?
I hear the President of the United States has called on more and more Muslims to raise their voices and to push back enough against those who have hijacked their religion for their own purpose. I hear Muslims pushing back and forcefully sometimes with their lives or the hashtag #NotInMyName to show that they are just regular people obeying the tenets of a faith that was always used by the elite rulers to invade, occupy, massacre, plunder, and expand territories for resources and an imaginary Caliphate. I see frustration, confusion, misery, fear, anxiety, and many a times downright shock at what is happening in an already volatile world and people receding more and more into the gulags of their minds or the virtual world in a desperate attempt to shield whatever semblance of an identity is left for them to hold onto. I see the heroism of different kinds with Muslims going out of their way to show they are secular and a part of the march of civilisations and cultures towards progress. I also see fascism of the old kind wherein every time there is a rightful criticism of the State and its enforcers and guardians of the law, Muslims are asked to keep their passports ready and ‘migrate’ to Pakistan.
I don’t see a clash of civilisations, instead I see the refusal of an old world to even conceive a godless society and their desperate attempts to excuse, explain away, apologise, obfuscate and sometimes outrightly lie about the actions of those who force them to confront the debilitating effects and irrationality of religion. I don’t see any mass movements of Muslims marching onto Al-Azhar, Cairo demanding that Ibn Rush (Averroes) be reinstated back to his rightful place in history and the future of Islam who upheld reason be given primary importance than text. I don’t see any long marches of pacifists and anti-war youth in the West demanding their governments stop bombing populations and neighbourhoods in already war-torn countries with broken economies. I don’t see a lot of hope and humanity now.
We have the curse of a 1947 midnight ‘tryst with destiny’. We have always been pummeled and bogged down with our history and every generation of the subcontinent goes through hell as a rite of passage with historical wounds and the collective hurt of the community downloaded onto their psyche every decade or so. We will never be able to establish our identity. We are forever doomed. We will forever be painted with the same brush.