Making A Difference

'Globalization Has Added Fresh Salt To Many Festering New And Old Wounds'

Joining the debate -- It is not Islam that has turned angry, rather it is some Muslims, believers and practitioner of Islam, who are angry or getting more so...

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'Globalization Has Added Fresh Salt To Many Festering New And Old Wounds'
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Why do you think Islam has turned increasingly militant?

Please avoid assigning Islam the power of agency. It is not Islam thathasturned angry, rather it is some Muslims, believers and practitioner of Islam,who are angry or getting more so. The reason is well known but oftenignored:it is the imposition of dictatorial, corrupt and oppressive governments uponthe Muslim by colonial and post colonial Europe and America.

Bydenying theMuslims the right to govern themselves in a democratic manner, the West andAmerica has relegated the great majority of Muslims into the abyss of poverty,ignorance and hopelessness. Through the use of nationaldictatorships thenatural and human resources of the Muslim world has been seriously exploited bythe few leaving the majority hungry and dispossessed. Globalization hasaddedfresh salt to many festering new and old wounds.

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Support of colonialoccupation forces in the Muslim lands--Russia in Chechniya, Israel in Palestineand Lebanon, China in Eastern Turkistan, and India in Kashmir, among others--are another reason for the Muslim anger. But it is important tonote, whilethe grievances are many and legitimate, it does not justify terrorism as ameans to combat injustices. Islam strictly forbids punishment of theinnocentfor the sins of others.

There is a view that many of the militant groups are a reaction to the decayin their own societies and that this is because Muslims have turned away fromtheir religion.

The decay in Muslim societies is a fact of history. But this decay isalsoan important legacy of colonialism and post colonial policies of the US andEuropean powers who have supported unrepresentative and exploitativenationalregimes in Muslim countries, who in the name of secularism denied their ownpeople a proper Islamic education with relevance to the changing realities ofthe last century. The elite were offered a Western secular education voidofany knowledge of Islam, while the underclasses got buried, when lucky enough,with parochial old madrasa "education" often innocent of knowinganything aboutsocial sciences, humanities and history and politics of the modern world.Thedecaying society was bifurcated into the rabid "secularmodernist/Communists,etc" and the even more rabid "traditionalist" ignorant Mullahs.They areincapable of talking to each other. All politics is also personalized andthepossibilities for discussing issues and ideas is impossible. The quarrelsaremade personal and the fights eternal-- a perfect condition for the birth ofextremism and terrorism.

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Why is the Quran invoked by the militants for their violent brand ofpolitics?

Qur'an and Islam are universal messages and open to all those who arewilling to turn to them. How they are used, like all other universalreligioussacred texts, is contingent on the real flesh and blood individual humanbeing. For Muslims in general, and the socially, economically andeducationally deprived Muslim, these may be the only sources of guidance andsolace. Religion also helps resolve individual and collective problems ofmeaning-- suggest answers by references to the supreme powers of thesupernatural to questions that have no readily available rational responses(why death? Why me? etc); makes pain and suffering bearable; and addressestheprickly questions of injustice in this world by reference to the next.Invoking the Qura'n for a Muslim is a socially and culturally conditionedreality. The real question is, not why or whether Muslims invoke theQur'an,but why a few of them invoke it to justify their own criminal acts. But onthis question, Muslim do not have a monopoly.

To what extent has the Palestine Question added to the anti-US sentiment?

Enormously. The clear and unconditional economic, political andmilitarysupport of the government of the United States for the Israeli policies ofabuse and oppression against the peoples of Palestine, without a doubt plays avery important role in the anger directed against the US, especially in theArab world.

There is a popular perception that Islam is resistant to change..

Such a perception is purposefully created and maintained by the Westernmedia in the mind of their own people. But this is far from the truth:Muslims have for well over 200 years tried to bring about reforms, but thecolonial and post colonial Western powers have consistently attempted to stymiesuch efforts by Muslim movements and intellectuals repeatedly. Theirweaponhas been local corrupt political regimes who have fought tooth and nail anypossibility of bringing about positive change in Muslim societies within theframework of Islamic values. The obstacle to change in the Muslim worldhasnot been Islam and believing and pious Muslim. Rather, the true obstacletopositive change has been the Western support of corrupt and oppressive regimesin the Muslim world. In rare cases where Muslim regimes have come topower -- e.g. in Iran-- the West has instigated every conceivable conflicts andwarfare to prevent an Islamic regime from serving their Muslim people.

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Does this resistance to change stem from the immutability of Quran, as wellas because Islam makes no distinction between personal and public domain?

Qura'n is immutable, but its interpretation, understanding and implementationis contingent on Muslims. Only some basic tenets of faith are beyonddisagreements -- personal, social and collective concerns of the community areopen to wide array of interpretation, well attested by the diversity of schoolsof shari'a law in Muslim societies today.

What do you think are the reasons why democracy is absent in large parts ofMuslim society? Why have most Muslim states been unable to separate the Churchfrom the State?

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The reasons are suggested already-- colonial legacies and their continuitywith Western support of the corrupt regimes. Separation ofChurch and stateis not essential for democracy. Its occurrence in European history ispeculiar to that history. There is no necessary causal connectionforgoverning a society justly and separation of the so called Church andState.Another aspect of the problem is the imposition of the Western model ofnation-state in multi-ethnic Muslim societies which has given rise topractices of internal colonialism by the ruling groups.

Why is the condition of women in Muslim societies subservient to men?Considering Quranic injunctions--and their very narrow interpretations--aboutpolygamy, divorce, dress code, etc., what are the ways out for women?

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The answer to this question has been offered by some important Muslimwomen scholars such as Leila Ahmed and others. The main problem is thepatriarchal cultures in much of the Muslim world which predate Islam. InMalaysia and Indonesia, with less stringent patriarchal cultures and parts ofMuslim Africa south of the Sahara Muslim women do much better. If Muslimmenin patriarchal Middle East, Central and South Asia learned and acted ontheirMuslim faith, the gender gap will diminish very soon.

(Dr. M. Nazif Shahrani is Chairperson, Department of Near Eastern Languagesand Cultures and Director, Middle Eastern Studies Program and Professor ofAnthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Indiana University,USA)

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