Paranoia? — Sure; What to Do?
Vulnerability of Power
The other day I was watching an episode of the new ABC TV serial called ‘Designated Survivor’ in which a state governor lets loose his police force on minority Muslim community after a terrorist strike on Washington DC wipes out the Capitol Hill and kills the President and all his cabinet members except the Designated Survivor. Designated survivor is usually a chosen member of the cabinet tucked away in a secured, undisclosed location when all the other members in the presidential line of succession are gathered at a single location for an event such as the President’s state of the union address at the Capitol Hill. In the designated survivor episode the Housing and Urban Development secretary becomes the President and struggles to exert his authority over the government machinery. What was very revealing and shocking was that the governor unleashed his force on the Muslim community before it is determined who is responsible for the terrorist attack on Washington DC. He assumed it must be some Muslim terrorist group based on some unverified rumor and decides to forcefully detain all Muslims in his state. The drama also shows how different forces around the new President is constantly pressuring him to accept an unproven idea of a known foreign Muslim terrorist group being behind the attack, formally announce that idea as a fact, and launch immediate attack on that group to demonstrate to the public that the US government’s swift and decisive retaliation against the enemy. This is a story of a fictitious TV drama, but it reminded me of the actual actions of the US government after the 9/11 attack, particularly the US attack on Iraq. It reminded me how vulnerable even the most powerful government can feel in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack. The better judgment can easily take a back seat.
No Compromise on Godly Matters
On September 25, 2016, a Jordanian Christian writer, Nahed Hattar, was gunned down in front of the courthouse where he would be tried for charges against him for inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islam. Nahed posted a caricature on his Facebook page that depicted a bearded man in heaven smoking in bed with two women by his side and asking god to bring him wine and cashew. After vehement public backlash, Nahed apologized for his posting saying that the caricature mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven and that it wasn’t meant to infringe God’s divinity in any way. He removed the post and deactivated his Facebook account. It will never be known who produced the caricature because Mr. Hattar didn’t get his day in the court to tell his story. Mr. Hattar is the latest victim of intolerance that has gripped the world like a hungry giant octopus. Intolerance seems to be ingrained in human DNA and when ignited, it spreads like an out of control wild fire. We observe intolerance raising its ugly head in many aspects of our human life — political, economical, social, racial, sexual, and most predominantly, in religion. Why are we so intolerant? If we believe in supremacy and all-encompassing power of God, why can’t we simply leave it with God to challenge and punish those who deny Him, defy His authority, or deride His dogma? I can’t find an answer except to say that my God won’t want me to play judge and executioner for Him. Then again, we humans cannot even tolerate trivial humanly differences, how can I expect ourselves to be compassionate about Godly matters.
Personal Liberty and Freedom — Does it Apply Equally to Muslims?
Western liberalism and conservatism both sometimes seem very contradictory and confusing. Let’s take the highly publicized French ‘burkini’ issue. Western liberals see the ban as an infringement of personal choice and freedom of expression. Same liberals would not come out so strongly in support of Muslim women wearing hijab. In fact, they think hijab goes against women’s liberty. On the other hand, conservatives think Muslim women wearing hijab and burkha poses a security threat even though terrorists across the world not necessarily wear such costume and those ultra-orthodox Christians and Jews wearing similar costumes are not considered security threat. I wonder why face-covering Chinese women swimwear is not an issue. Is it because the Chinese swimwear has nothing to do with religion? If so, what about Sikh Turban or Jewish Kippah? Jewish people wear the Kippah to show respect to God when they are praying, studying Torah, or entering Synagogue. I was told when I was a kid to wear a Tupi (very similar to Jewish Kippah) for prayer, Quran study, or visiting a mosque. I wonder if the Muslim culture borrowed this tradition from the Jews. The more I learn about Jewish tradition, the more similarities I notice with the Muslim tradition. So, why Muslim costumes become a topic of discussion, debate, and occasional ban while similar garb worn by people of other faiths is not. Maybe it’s not really about personal choice or freedom — certainly not about costumes — rather the fact that Burkini and Hijab represent a faith that makes a lot of people uncomfortable and scared.
Is Respect for Others and Peaceful Coexistence Possible in Islam?
Bangladeshi diaspora was stunned when several months ago two young brothers killed both their parents of Bangladesh origin at home in San Jose, California. The parents followed a traditional Muslim lifestyle and wanted the boys to follow suit including attending prayers and religious activities at the local mosque regularly. Even though we have to wait till the case goes to trial to know the details of this sensational murder, nothing is stopping the community to gossip about it. The word through the grapevine is that the elder boy has a sexual orientation that the parents couldn’t accept because of their religious belief. This may have caused a great deal of confusion and anxieties for both the parents and the boys and may have resulted in the doomed fate of the parents. In the old days sexual orientations that are different from what was accepted by the religion would be swept under the rug and people with those differences would carry on with accepted social norms with great pain and sufferings, both individually and to the family. As the society in the West is changing, people do not have to accept the old ways of life. Muslim diaspora in the open societies are struggling to cope with this changing world that creates an enormous tension between the rigid religious doctrine and the realities of modern life. On the other extreme, a segment of the young population in Bangladesh, in a confused state of mind, is getting indoctrinated into a radical ideology of Islam and engaging in terrorist activities — with utter disregard to their own lives — and causing death to many innocent people many of whom are killed only because they either do not belong to the faith or promotes a different point of view about the religion. I wonder if a liberal interpretation of the Islamic laws that accepts peaceful coexistence with differing point of view and lifestyle could have averted these tragedies.
Paranoia Must be Tackled
ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban are large organized terrorist groups concentrated primarily in the Middle East but their tentacles spread all across the world through affiliated local terrorist groups and individuals sympathetic to them. These terrorist organizations don’t mess with their belief and won’t let anyone else either. It is true that majority of the Muslim world doesn’t approve the interpretation of Islam these terrorist groups and their followers preach and practice. But the rest of the world has very little knowledge about Islam to filter out the acts of this tiny minority of terrorists from the otherwise peace loving Muslims of the world. There are other terrorists in the world — some of them working independently, some working as a group. Some of the non-Muslim terrorists are motivated by religion, but most act out of non-religious frustrations. In almost all cases, those terrorist activities are localized within a country or between two neighboring countries. The face of terrorism that is being proliferated in the name of Islam is known globally and the people all across the world are affected by it — from Indonesia and Australia in the East to North America in the West. Because of the widespread lack of knowledge in the West about Islam despite their long standing love-hate relationship with the Middle East, the Muslims across the board are profiled as the group to be suspicious about. This suspicion has grown to such a height that a US presidential candidate can boldly announce that, if elected, he will force all Muslims in the USA to register into a database that will help the authorities to track and round up Muslims as and when necessary. In the past this kind of campaign rhetoric would be unthinkable and would have certainly ensured the candidate’s defeat, but these days it is not only buying the candidate landslide victory in primary election but also not hurting much in the general election. It has created an environment of worst kind of racial hatred towards Muslims where people can make online comments like “Hard to tell what we should build first. A border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims” or “The only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones.” I hope we are not going back to the time of Nazis when Hitler’s government registered and rounded up all Jews only to put them in gas chambers. While this kind of vitriol against Muslims is abhorring and it deserves close attention before it blows out of control, the Muslims on the other hand has even bigger responsibility to demonstrate that their skin color, getup and costume, culture, values, traditions, and customs are not to be afraid of but to celebrated. That’s not going to be achieved by forcing our gay children to denounce their natural sexual orientation, by killing someone for posting a caricature or expressing a different point of view on Islam, or by denigrating women to a veiled world that deny them of opportunities all human being should be able to pursue. Muslim world must find a way to embrace the norms of world driven by science, and not be inspired by the rules of the society of more than 1400 years ago. While we all should raise our voices against the unwarranted fear of all Muslims, Muslims must also work hard to change the prevailing undercurrent of paranoia against them. If Muslims can improve that negative perception people will stop worrying about their safety when they see a tupi-wearing, bearded innocent Muslim man on their train or won’t be threatened by a women wearing hijab or burkini.