The Solidarity of Civilizations
The above photographs from left to right are of protests in Bhopal, Beirut, and Tehran.
It is easy to paint a picture of Muslims as a monolith, infact Muslims have a variety of civilizations and cultures.
Islam does not exist in a vacuum; it thrives within a wide array of cultures - each giving a unique flavor to how we Muslims experience our religion. However, as a faith, Islam leads to a way that transcends narrow boundaries of nationalism, tribalism, and stateism.
Millions of Muslims have by now demonstrated across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and even in Venezuela. It is difficult for us to unite on much - but we have come together around our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) what better cause could there be for this expression of solidarity? Alhamdulillah! May Allah guide us through these times, and may the hearts of momineen grow closer in love towards each other, and towards Allah. A lot of work lies ahead of us, and we will need much hikmah (wisdom).
Imams, sheikhs, leaders, intellectuals, academics, and even petty bloggers like myself, have a responsibility to express beauty, hope, and an optimistic view for our collective future. There is a hadith of Imam Ali(AS) that a real religious scholar is one who does not make the people lose hope in Allah. I find way too many articles, blogs, and grand statements that seem to, instead, be fanning the flames of despair.
It is easy to fall into a pessimist dichotomic trap that views the world as clashes of "civilized" and/or "uncivilized." Such views do a grave disservice, and accomplish nothing towards reaching a space for compassion and justice. On the one hand they give credence to orientalist notions that do not recognize the multiplicity of cultures and civilizations. And, on the other hand, they are expressions of age-old classist and colonial notions of "uncivilized" primitive masses (natives) going on a rampage. Both are false notions, and only serve to harden hearts.
These notions are now being given wide display on the media, and even some Muslims appear to have fallen for these ideological fallacies.
The mainstream corporate media coverage and depictions are never "objective," they reflect ideologies of the owners, along with economic and state interests. Stories, and images are selected and spun to reflect editorial slants. This is why "peaceful" anti-war protests, even if they number in the hundreds of thousands barely get any coverage, but if a handful of protesters break a few windows of Starbucks - that will result in a media outcry - painting peace and justice activists as hooligans and vandals. For those who would like to learn more, consider (re)reading Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent. Another good resource that does a decent job of dissecting media bias is Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).
Some Muslims have blamed Muslims for not being more media savvy. But the reality is that there is no such as being "media savvy" - you cannot cater to a media that has such an extensive history of covering up the truth. What Muslims should understand is that, attempting to view the world through the lens of the corporate media can only lead to Muslims becoming manipulated. Most who live outside of North America and Europe already know this very well, and have developed a very keen ability for reading between the lines. Unfortunately, some Muslims in North America assume that images created and selected to provoke specific emotions are "objective" and really do reflect what is going on. They do not - they are designed to cover up, and selectively focus on that which sends a message that protesting Muslims are crazed fanatics.
Some commentators have raised the objection that the controversy was inflamed because the rest of the world found out about the cartoons because of the efforts of one Dutch Imam. First, this incident should not be looked at in isolation - there has been a serious growing anti-Muslim/Islam sentiment in Europe (and in North America). The Danish Queen, less than a year ago stated:
We have to show our opposition to Islam and we have to, at times, run the risk of having unflattering labels placed on us because there are some things for which we should display no tolerance.
The French Interior Minister, during the heat of the "riots" last year called French youth of North African backgrounds, "vermin" and "scum." Add to this the horrendous occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, and puppet regimes that do the imperial bidding - and we should begin to understand the context of these "cartoons."
If there is a misunderstanding, it is easy to resolve those issues through private dialogue. But when the situation is abusive, the abused has the right to publicize what is going on. This is elementary domestic abuse 101 - and the dynamics are the same whether it is at the micro family level, or macro societical level. An abusive relationship can never be resolved quietly - you cannot resolve things by sitting down with an abuser. The abuser thrives on secrecy and keeping things quiet --- only when the abused goes public - that the abuser is forced into a position where they might not stop, but it sure puts 'em on notice.
This is why we broadcast issues of concern worldwide, including corporate exploitation, war crimes, torture etc. Such a situation requires making it very clear on a worldwide scale - that we are not be going to take it anymore.
The worldwide mass demonstrations, and outrage have indeed succeeded in raising the issues to an international level - this calls for a celebration - not despair and talks about "spinning out of control" - out of whose control, is a question that needs to also be asked.
Regarding the role American Muslims and "leaders" ... if they want to have any credibility, then they need to stop going to iftar dinners with Bush and Co. chumming up to the State Departments, and obligingly coming up with lop sided condemnation statements that ignores the horrid havoc being wrecked by Mr. Danger and Co. Such actions reflect on American Muslims as a whole, and totally destroy any influence on events that we might hope to have. Instead, we need to take a serious active role in anti-war and anti-imperialist struggles both here, and elsewhere in the South. Undoubtedly, this will lead to difficult situations for our children, families, and at the airport. But, so what - inaction at this time will lead to far worse consequences - as someone said Silence = Death.
Farid Esack has noted:
Muslims in the West struggling to articulate and actualize progressive values in our communities need to be keenly aware of our own location vis-à-vis the global Muslim community. We are but one small segment, albeit a highly privileged one, of the world’s Muslim population. We must not replicate the habits of an Empire that arrogates to itself the right to re-write Islamic education of Muslim countries, stage-manage their elections, and formulate their laws and economic policy without ever interrogating the appetite and greed of the monster whose appeasement determines our survival or destruction.
Muslim activists concerned about social justice should be totally optimistic about these events, - they have shown that Muslims can indeed galvanize at an international level. We should now work towards harnessing this beautiful energy towards both ending imperial occupations, and creatively working towards implementing solutions that will, in all likelihood, not be the farcecracy, and useless neo-liberal-capitalism of the United States. There are millions in the "west" who recognize and appreciate our struggles - we can and should make common cause with them. There is no need to make common cause with those who refuse to make any effort towards understanding our sentiments, nor with Uncle Toms who want to appease oppressors. We have already laid the foundation for a solidarity of civilizations, lets now expand the circle:
Surely, they that believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans, whoso believes in Allah, and Last Day, and works righteousness (waAAamila salihan) ---- their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. (Qur'an 2:62)
It is too simplistic and easy to categorize this as a clash of civilizations, a very Western perspective that explains political tensions primarily through the lens of cultural and values differences. Nor is this an argument about freedom of the press in Europe, much as our European friends would like to believe it is. It is about Arab-Islamic societies’ desire to enjoy freedom from Western and Israeli subjugation, diplomatic double standards and neocolonial policies.
This is a new form of the colonial struggle that defined European-Arab/Asian relations in the 19th century. The difference this time is that the natives in the south are not helpless and quiescent in the face of the West’s large guns. They disdain rhetoric or insulting cartoons.
Muslims, Arabs, Asians and others today are much more aware of the policies of Western states, concerned about their goals, angry about Western double standards, able to resist through the use of mass media, political and other channels. They are willing to stand up, fight back and assert their right to live in freedom and dignity. The message is that the 19th century has officially ended.