Are Muslims special?
26 December, 2006
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
Khan G Farooq from Norway has raised a disturbing query: “What is wrong with us Muslims? Why do we want our own separate states in every country we are living in? What really has those independent Muslim states achieved that is so great? Are Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria anything except piles of population and corruption? Why do we not learn from the Jews? Would they have been as influential as they are now, had they demanded their own little state in the USA? By being a part of the USA, they are ruling the USA and the world”. These are a part of his comments on this writer’s article: ‘Kashmir: Musharraf not the lone ‘revisionist’’.
In the post 9/11 environment the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Muslim World’ have been used so much by all, including the Muslims themselves, that it looks as if the Muslims are at the centre of the universe. Poor Muslims, do they stand anywhere? They are a part of third world and that is all. It is habit with Westerners that they overreact not only to unusual things, but to minor issues as well. It is not a bad habit. Debate is their strength. It has helped them solve their problems and reach present stage of development. However, their post-9/11 debate on ‘Muslims’ was mostly one sided and negative. Most of the Muslims who joined them in this debate rather strengthened their view point.
Terrorism cannot be justified for any purpose whatsoever. What the Muslim intellectuals and the Muslim leaders, including Musharraf, did was that they linked terrorism with the political problems of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan; and emphasised that until these root causes are addressed, the terrorism would continue. It is heartening that this argument has not come up for so many months. In Pakistan Killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti raised the question, why when it comes to Pakistan, the root causes are not talked about. Elsewhere, theses days the Muslim and the Western intellectuals are searching for the root causes of a 1400 year old Sunni-Shia tussle and rise of ‘Pushtoon nationalism’.
Anyway, the debates, no matter how one sided, have positive effects also. Before 9/11 hardly any Muslim would raise such questions as Khan G Farooq did. It is improvement even if it has involved only a small number of the Muslims. There are common people in Pakistan who now think that the rigidity of the Muslims is an obstacle to the intellectual development of entire mankind. Accordingly people do ask when the Muslims are free to preach Islam all over the globe, why are the others not allowed to do so in any of the Muslim majority countries. And will it ever be possible for a Christian or a Buddhist or a Sikh to preach his religion in Saudi Arabia?
Muslims are undoubtedly a very special people as for as the religion is concerned. It is not possible for the Muslim majority countries to be flexible on the question of conversions. In this regard there are no chances of a change. Others will have to live with this side of the Muslims. For the people of developed world it should not be a problem. They have already thrown their religion in the backyard of their memory, only to be recalled for burial ceremonies.
However, ‘the Muslims are obstacle to intellectual development of mankind’ is an exaggerated opinion. Muslim societies have created matching equilibrium to this effect. The Muslim children do read in schools the theory of evolution and not the ‘intelligent design’. The same is true for Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Sociology, Medical Sciences and Economics. In fact all of the present day knowledge is secular and in many areas anti-religion and it has been accepted by the Muslims. Not even children of religious scholars would avoid it. Even very religious people send their sons and daughters to Europe and America for higher education.
The Muslim behaviour as far as separation is concerned is not unique either. The people of all religions, races and continents are involved in separatist activities. Notwithstanding that his opinion is limited to Muslims only, Mr. Farooq is right in a broader context, and to explain that, his query demands a debate. The urge to separate exists at all levels— be it between individuals or families or societies or states— and it could be for multiple reasons including religion. What must be calculated is whether doing so is beneficial or not; and also if it is possible or not. In case of East Pakistan it was possible; in case of Balochistan it is not; and that is why the Baloch are demanding meaningful autonomy only. The problem with most Muslims who are engaged in separatist movements is that they do not calculate the benefits of union, the chances of success of their struggle and the nature of outcome. The Turkish Cypriots would have been much better off today, had they remained with the Greek Cypriots. They preferred to separate 32 years ago. Now they are repenting. They want to reunite but the Greek Cypriots are not ready. It is a case where a union, a nation, disintegrated. It happened because Turkey invaded Cyprus, and not due to the efforts of the Turkish Cypriots.
The examples where separatist movement are unlikely to succeed are many, and even if they somehow succeed, their story will be no different from that of the Turkish Cypriots. The Kurds have been struggling for independence from Iran, Iraq and Turkey for so many decades. They would not succeed unless present political divisions in the region are changed. And that is not going to happen; and if it happens at all, it will not be due to the Kurds, Major powers would do it only if it is in their interest. So, autonomy to the Kurds, in their respective countries, is the best and the only option. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils will not attain separation, no matter how many human bombs they detonate. For them at the most a kind of self-rule is a possible target. The same is the case of the Indian Kashmiris. Their meaningful achievement would be to regain the self-rule that they lost in 1953: And as for as Chechnya is concerned, it too will have to be content with the self rule. All the calculations support this concept. The Chechens must know that 71% of the people of 15 Soviet Republics voted against separation. They wanted to keep the USSR intact. It must be encouraging for Mr. Farooq, because some of these republics comprise Muslim majority population. In fact it was big Russia who wanted separation.
In continents of America separation is not an issue. Though the French of Quebec wanted to have a country of their own, time, referendums and relevant calculations taught them that remaining within Canada was much more beneficial. In Africa the Christians of Sudan and Nigeria wanted separation, but no one from outside supported them; and that has rationalised their approach. They are not extremists either. They would not keep on dying and killing others for their cause. An economically progressive Nigeria, if it becomes so, would be a safer place for them. Sudan too is rich in resources. All that it has to do is to become normal. Islamic fundamentalism cannot succeed in a world of today. Nor can it help grow the Sudanese economy, which is a must for societal harmony.
The Palestinian issue is different but as being perceived it is not as complex as being perceived. Though here too a one state solution is the best option, the Israelis and Palestinians are not as yet ready for that. The second option of an independent Palestinian State has been accepted by all. What is required is to adopt Bill Clinton’s ‘Land for peace’ approach. Israel will have to surrender more area to the Palestinians. It is likely to happen, but first let Israel have some years of peace also.