The stirring we are beginning to witness in the Muslim world (Muslim as opposed to Islamic or Islamist) may not yet be a harbinger of better tomorrows but still promising. It’s the stirring of normal Muslims (a term I prefer to “moderate” Muslims) the vast majority, waking up, sick of being hostage to fanaticism.
A number of signs point to the long-awaited backlash against the most extreme forms of what used to be just another faith, practiced by hundreds of millions without causing particular problems, until, starting with the 1979 revolution in Iran, it morphed into an ugly ideology. The rest of the world watched, aghast, as this sick form of Islam grew more rigid by the day, a plague spreading from country to country, insisting on a respect it no longer deserved while pursuing violence, inventing “traditions” such as the demeaning headscarf for women in countries where it wasn’t the norm, in certain cases intimidating governments into applying sharia law, recognizing polygamy, and declaring blasphemy punishable by death. Adding to the already unpleasant context was and is the strident in-your-face attitude of communities of Muslim immigrants in Western countries where rampant political correctness or simple fear of retaliation makes it a rule to accept inconsiderate demands and entitlements.
Recent developments, especially in the wake of the riots in several Islamic countries following that miserable YouTube video indicate that things may finally be turning around.
In Libya, scores of people have dislodged from their barracks Ansar-al-Sharia, the brutal militia responsible for the violence of this past September 11. People mourn the deaths of the American diplomats killed in the attacks and pay homage to Ambassador Stevens as a friend of the Libyan revolution who will be greatly regretted. In Tunisia, the “street,” i.e., public opinion, is becoming vocal as ordinary Tunisians, interviewed over the last few days, voice their shame at the present turmoil that they see as a disproportionate response to a perceived insult. In France, Muslim leaders, including the influential Rector of the Paris Mosque, who asked their flock to pay no mind to caricatures of the Prophet published this last Friday in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, were by and large heeded. In Iran, there is growing resentment of the clerics’ stranglehold on people’s daily life. Women especially chafe under the clothing restrictions and in recent months have sent to emergency rooms more than one mullah who dared reprimand them.
Two festering sores remain Pakistan and Iran. The first has an impossible regime, not only corrupt but an ally and supporter of Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and irrational, easily combustible masses (look no further than Silent Waters, the superb 2003 film by female Pakistani director Sabiha Sumar, to understand what drives them). A brave but squashed opposition, mainly among the judiciary, can’t make much of a difference. The second festering sore, Iran, sees a highly civilized, articulate and secular population held in bondage by the awful theocracy in power.
The Muslim world can only be saved by itself. A discussion is starting in many countries, including in the West, about what is holding Muslims back. Scholars, theologians, journalists, are questioning the more rigid tenets of a 14-century old religion whose followers are often bypassed by the world’s progress. In Iran, where the Shiite clerics have the run of the land, a number of these same clerics would prefer politics and faith to be separate. Many are far more open-minded than Iran’s present context would lead us to believe (when the serial killer Saeed Hanaee was arrested and ultimately hanged for murdering sixteen prostitutes, the men in the bazaar laughed it off, saying that the women got what was coming to them. In Maziar Bahari’s heart-rending documentary detailing the story , “Along came a spider,” a young mullah is the only person appalled by the crimes against the women whom he says deserved to live as they were as much “creatures of God” as anyone else.)
In the meantime, the West has to stop pandering. Political correctness, as I see it and often write, is nothing but a blueprint for cretinism. It is also condescending in its insistence on explaining why thugs are actually victims and fanatics are fanatics. One recent example is Fouad Ajami’s disquisition on how the long list of grievances of Islamic countries explains (and, I suppose, justifies) these constant explosions of fury.
Ajami writes: “There is an Arab pain and a volatility in the face of judgment by outsiders that stem from a deep and enduring sense of humiliation. A vast chasm separates the poor standing of Arabs in the world today from their history of greatness. In this context, their injured pride is easy to understand.”
Really? In this reading, the crisis in Greece is the direct result of the Greeks’ inability to accept the end of their empire (sometime around the sixth century) and the world should carry a permanent hatred of Germans for inflaming the world twice in the last century (World Wars I and II caused an aggregate loss of life of between 70 and 90 million). And let’s not forget that after many a bloody battle, the British, irked at losing America, their most lucrative colony, set fire to Washington in 1812. Where would we all be if we carried hatred and a wish for revenge in our hearts for the past indignities history had inflicted upon us?
I would suggest that we stop trying to find excuses, paying lip service to different traditions and cultures, not all of which we need to understand and accept (female genital mutilation and cannibalism are also part of other “traditions” and “cultures”) and insist on general principles—first and foremost having religion retreat back to the private sphere where it belongs—that may bring some serenity to this tormented planet of ours.
First published in http://thecounterargument.wordpress.com