Saturday, January 13, 2007


The talk on conflict of civilisations

For too long have we been fed on the false notion that the world is heading towards an Armageddon with armies of Islam ranged on the one side against Christians, Jewish and Hindu forces on the other to a final battle which will end in the destruction of the human race. It has been described as the clash of civilisations as well as a conflict between obscurantism and modernity. Such analyses are simplistic, bordering on the stupid. What we need is a cool-headed, unbiased and historically provable explanation to answer simple questions like why so many Muslims feel that non-Muslims have deep-seated prejudices against them. Why do non-Muslims feel that Muslims are backward-looking, put their women in veils, indulge in polygamy and are intolerant towards people of other faiths? Lord Meghnad Desai has tried to answer such questions in his latest publication Rethinking Islamism: The ideology Of The New Terror (Tauris). The book deserves the attention of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

There was a time when Muslims were well ahead of others in science, mathematics, the arts and philosophy and the first in holding that all men were equal in the eyes of God. Their armies swept across the Middle East, North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean and into Spain. A little later they conquered northern India and spread into Malaysia and Indonesia. Theirs was indeed the higher civilisation and ideology. They rested on their laurels while others moved ahead. Europeans freed themselves of the shackles of religion on the state by demarcating their different roles. Muslims stuck to the belief that religion must play a decisive role in politics. As late as the 20th century, the two-nation theory ideologue Allama Iqbal maintained: Juda ho deen siyasat say to reh jaatee hai Changezee — “if religion is separated from politics, what is left is anarchy.” He was wrong. The Western world and secular India proved that separating the two did not lead to anarchy but to free societies and democracy.

The rise and fall of Muslims is powerfully summed up in Iqbal’s Shikwa (complaint) to God. They boast of what they did in God’s name:

“Of all the brave warriors, there were none but only we,
Who fought your battles on land and often on the sea.
Our calls to prayer rang out from the churches of European lands.
And floated across Africa’s scorching desert sands.
We ruled the world, but regal glories our eyes disdained,
Under the shades of glittering sabres your creed we proclaimed.”
Allah puts them down in their place:
“The only people in the world of every skill bereft are you.
The only race, which cares not how it fouls its nest, are you.
Haystacks that within them conceal the lightning’s fire are you.
Who live by selling tombs of their sires are you.
If as traders of tombstones you have earned such renown,
What is there to stop you trading in Gods made of stone?”
Then comes the call to arms:
“With reason as your shield and the sword of love in your hand,
Servant of God: The leadership of the world is at your command. The cry ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ destroys all except God; it is a fire.
If you are true Muslims, your destiny is to grasp what you aspire.
If you break not faith with Muhammad. We shall always be with you.
What is this miserable world? To write the world’s history,
Pen and tablet we offer you.”
This is the call that men like Osama bin Laden have given to their followers in their own words.

It is a grave error to regard Muslims as one people. They are divided by race, language and even religious belief: Sunnis, Shias, Ahmedias, Khojas, Bohras, Aga Khanis, etc. Muslims have fought more wars against fellow Muslims than against non-Muslims.

However, one thing that Muslims of all denominations share in common is a sense of grievance. They have been left behind in a state of jehalat (ignorance). Instead of looking within themselves, they find it easier to blame others for conspiring against them. So we have Osama bin Laden, his Al-Qaeda and its many offshoots: Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and dozens of other terrorist outfits.

They did not have a trained army, tanks, fighter aircrafts or battleships. They have discovered a more lethal weapon: Guerilla fighters who lay down their lives to settle scores with those they feel have wronged them. It was not love of the Prophet, the Koran, but hatred of those they considered as enemies of the Umma — the faithful.

It does not need much training to fire a gun, hurl a bomb and hijack a plan, bring it down with a bazooka or ram it into a building. That’s what they did: Attack American embassies and encampments in Africa and Saudi Arabia, crash into the Trade Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, blow up buses and tube stations in London, kill white tourists in Bali and wage a relentless war against India in Kashmir, blow up our temples and mosques.

What Muslims needed was a forward-looking leader like Kamal Ataturk Pasha; what they got was a mulla-type Osama bin Laden. The tragedy of the Muslim dilemma is told in all its poignancy in Desai’s new book.