“Liberal Muslims’ Double Jeopardy - Militant Mullahs and the Angry West”
Despite the prevalent Western misgivings about the bona fides of the Muslims as peace-loving, normal human beings, the impassive facts remain unaltered: the Muslim community is neither an amorphous monolith nor are the overwhelming majority of Muslims supportive of terror and violence in the name of their religion.
Again, what often goes unnoticed is the rising voice of the liberal Muslim throughout the world. Liberal Muslims – irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds, differences in their political ideologies, levels of education and devotion to their faith – across the board, especially since Nine-Eleven, have been registering their contempt for the so-called ideology of jihad which promotes murder and terror, including suicide attacks on Muslim or non-Muslim non-combatants and innocent people anywhere in the world. Not only modern-educated, well-to-do and middle class Muslims represent the liberal stream, but the bulk of the orthodox and conservative clerics, sufis, shopkeepers, peasants and artisans who adhere to Islam may also be categorized as liberal and peaceful.
Nevertheless, liberal Muslims do not always reap the right harvest. While militant mullahs and terrorists despise and often attack them physically for opposing Islamism and terror, Western media, intellectuals and policymakers in general either ignore them as irrelevant, and even worse, portray them as silent or potential supporters of Islamist terror. Of late, a few leftist Muslim intellectuals (often agnostic and atheistic) have been romanticizing and glorifying Islamists, including the Taliban, as the last bastions of anti-imperialist freedom fighters. Then again, sticking to their guns, the more numerous and influential liberal Muslims have been denigrating both the Islamists – including the ultra-orthodox Saudi and Iranian regimes, al Qaeda and Taliban – and Western highhandedness and even cynical promotion of Islamism and autocracy in the Muslim World.
In view of the above, Canadian Muslim author and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Tarek Fatah has raised his voice both against Islamism and imperialism posing the question of whether liberal and secular Muslims can work together to neutralize the militant mullah and his angry and uninformed counterpart in the West. His recent lecture at the Family of Hearts convention in Toronto on January 11, 2009, “The Challenge of Fundamentalism and Imperialism: Can Secular and Liberal Muslims Work Together?” was simply inspiring and dazzling; worth wide circulation among liberal Muslims and non-Muslims for the sake of peace and order in our life time. As renowned Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have endorsed Fatah’s moderate and conciliatory views as expressed in his book on the mythical “Islamic State”, so are they full of praise for this lecture.
As Fatah has stipulated in the lecture, it is time Muslims across the board realize that as Western imperialism is baneful to human progress and global peace so is the dogma of hate and intolerance that invokes Muslims to hate everything the West represents through democratic and secular values. Most importantly, Tarek’s razor-sharp critique of some leftist intellectuals condoning Taliban atrocities and portraying them as merely “Pushtoon nationalists” is very timely and insightful. He has aptly cited the yawning gap between the “indigenous” and “foreign” secular/liberal/leftist Muslim perceptions of the so-called Global Jihad.
While the former group of Muslim intellectuals, due to their first-hand experience of Islamist terror and intolerance in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries consider the Islamists as backward-looking monsters, their secular/liberal counterparts mostly living in the West, romanticize the Islamists simply as “friends” out of sheer lopsided logic and understanding. He has rightly singled out Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Ali as representatives of the “indigenous” and “foreign” Muslim secular/liberal intellectuals, respectively.
Considering all enemies of your enemy as friends could at most be cynical, at worst counterproductive and dangerous, so goes the main thrust of Fatah’s argument. As innocent victims of Western imperialism in Iran and Afghanistan have been suffering today for preferring Islamists as lesser evils to the pro-Western Shah and pro-Soviet communists respectively, Tarek’s warning is very pertinent and timely, especially for the secular/liberal Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has appropriately congratulated Pakistani and Bangladeshi (Muslim) voters for their en masse rejection of mullahs as their representatives. What he wants to see in the Muslim secular/liberal camps is solidarity against all forms of imperialism, intolerance and terror, Western and Islamist.
Registering his contempt for many Westernized bourgeoisie in Pakistan, who in his inimitable style, are “infatuated by the Islamists, romanticizing them in the same way a yuppie drives a BMW while wearing a Che T-shirt”, Fatah has provided an eye-opener for us all. His citing Hoodbhoy to warn the unaware is incisive: “A Taliban victory would transport us into the darkest of dark ages. These fanatics dream of transforming the country [Pakistan] into a religious state where they will be the law. They stone women to death, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, force girl-children into burqa, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death…. Even flying kites is a life-threatening sin.”
One could not agree more with his insightful syllogism drawn from the lessons of history:
Thus when Japan attacked the US, its anti-American stance could not be and was never understood to driven by an anti-imperialist doctrine. Similarly, when Hitler’s Panzer divisions fought advancing American and British troops in Western Europe, only a fool would have placed Nazi Germany into the camp of anti-imperialism.
Today, just because the Taliban or Hezbollah or Iran attack Americans or blow up their embassies and fly planes into the New York Towers, does not mean their anti-Americanism translates into anti-imperialism [italics mine].
Tarek Fatah has demolished the Trotskyist Tariq Ali’s position that Islamist Iran could be considered as “anti-imperialist” while the country practices “unbridled capitalism”, where even the sea ports are privatized and trade unions banned. He has appropriately cited Mark Twain as an example of anti-imperialist intellectual in 19th century America, lamenting the fact that there are not that many Mark Twains [let alone a Bertrand Russell or a Noam Chomsky] in the Muslim World; and hardly any voice among Arab Muslims to speak out against “the occupation by Arab countries of Kurdistan, Western Sahara and dare I say, Darfur.” He is also critical of Pakistan’s sixty-year old military operations in Baluchistan.
His “maverick” (from the conservative Muslim view point) albeit constructive ideas for a rapprochement between the Western and Muslim worlds are timely and commendable. His bridge-building ideas are noteworthy: “The Western tradition is not Western in any essential sense, but only through an accident of geography and history. Indeed, Islamic learning provided an important resource for both the Renaissance and the development of science [in the West]. The ideas we call ‘Western’ are in fact universal, laying the basis for greater human flourishing.”
The inherent optimism in Fatah’s writings about secular/liberal Muslims uniting to fight Western hegemony without compromising with the Islamists in the long run is noteworthy. One may cite his path breaking book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State (Wiley, Toronto 2008), in this regard. His stern warning against supporting the Islamists who in the name of fighting the West (which has been both hypocritical and opportunistic) want to establish fascism in the name of religion is very well-timed and laudable. Most definitely, Tarek Fatah is the voice of “liberal Islam” – for Muslim regeneration, enlightenment, progress and above all, “peace within and peace without”, the cardinal principle of Islam.
- Taj Hashmi.