Responding to prejudice and religious terrorism

Hatred against Muslims has been fostered in a systematic manner as a policy by several states and organisations

Talat Masood March 20, 2019
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The white supremacist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was a mega event that should shake the conscience of the world. It would indeed be a great tragedy if the sacrifices of the 49 Muslims and innumerable seriously wounded are not followed up after prayers and condolences into something more concrete in the pursuit of a peaceful world. The responsibility for this rests squarely on world leaders, politicians across the spectrum and clergy of all faiths and denominations.

Hatred against Muslims has been fostered in a systematic manner as a policy by several states and organisations. Single acts of violence by debased and fringe Muslims have been broadly categorised as a universal phenomenon. This has been especially so since 9/11 and peaked during the Obama administration and continues during the Trump era with greater intensity. Some of the countries in Europe and Asia, such as Hungary or Burma, have been suffering from the worst form of Islamophobia. Muslims are treated with discrimination as a deliberate state policy. In several Western countries, valid visa holding Muslims are treated at entry as though they are suspects unless proven otherwise. The treatment they receive at the hands of the immigration authorities is demeaning to say the least.

This, however, is not to deny the most thoughtful and gracious response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the tragedy. Her compassion and leadership role would help in soothing broken hearts. It also reminds us of the statesman-like response of the Prime Minister of Norway to a terrorist attack when he said it should be countered with “more democracy, more openness and more humanity”.

But the challenge of Islamophobia that was the primary motivation of the New Zealand terrorist has become universal and is threatening the safety and security of Muslims in many foreign countries. The US that was the torchbearer for upholding the values of freedom and respect for all religions and faiths is itself a casualty of hate and discrimination against Muslims. The most recent example of hatred in a way is demonstrated by the attitude toward the two recently-elected Muslim Congress women Rashida Tlaib and llhan Omar. Sowing divisions and categorising Muslims on whims whether they are dependable or untrustworthy, good or bad had become a common practice. What is highly disturbing is that major powers have failed to suppress hate campaigns and the dangerous belief in white supremacy? On the contrary, global struggle should be towards adherence to the universal value of respect for all religions, sects and races. And as the New Zealand Prime Minister stated that abandoning these would be great disservice to those 49 who died during the terrorist attack. The bereaved families are anxiously waiting to see that the due process of law takes its course and the perpetrator of the crime is convicted to spend the rest of his life in prison.

In the last few years, the emergence of supremacist parties in Europe is posing the greatest danger not only to Muslims but also to the very value system that modern Western civilisation built. The politics of exclusion is the antithesis of democratic values and the negation of the very structure on which these states were created.

The question then arises: is this chaos and emergence of negative forces not a result of democratic decline? And if so what should be done to reverse this tide.

However, this is not to overlook the major weaknesses in the Muslim countries that have provided global powers to exploit them whilst their population generally continues to suffer. Unfortunately, majority of Muslim countries are heavily dependent on the US and other major powers. Some depend for security, many rely on foreign aid to sustain their economies and even need the military muscle of benefactors to retain their hold over the people. In short, there is hardly any element of national power — politics, economy and social cohesion — where they are not lacking, barring a few exceptions.

With the exception of Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunis and may be a few more, the remaining 50-odd Muslim countries are ruled by monarchies and dictators in the 21st century. Even nominal democracies in which I have included mine have to travel a long way before they imbibe genuine democratic values and the rule of law is applied in the strict sense. Exploitation by foreign powers and bad policies pursued over the years by Muslim countries have given rise to al Qaeda, Taliban, the Islamic State group and several militant organisations. Adding to this stew is the practice by regional states and major powers to promote sectarianism and ethnic divide. A sad spectacle of the divide is Yemen where no end to civil war is in sight and the poor population is its worst sufferer. Syria is another example where ethnic, sectarian and major power rivalry combined with ruthless dictatorship has destroyed the country and brought immeasurable suffering to its people.

Another area that we need to focus on in Muslim countries is education and especially the promotion of science and technology in which they are seriously lagging behind.

The US is maintaining its scientific and technological superiority by maintaining a lead in cutting-edge technologies. China, Japan, Western Europe, Russia and even India are a part of the current technological revolution. Keeping ahead in this race requires superior-quality education, industrial and technological infrastructure and modern research facilities.

The reason for enumerating these challenges is to promote greater awareness in Muslim countries that nothing will change until we make deliberate efforts to reform from within. As things stand, there seems hardly any genuine effort toward according education, especially science and technology, the highest priority. Progress in these areas is closely interlinked with strengthening governance and state institutions.

It is when we as people move and progress with the advanced world then only we will be in a stronger position to counter the bigotry and prejudice against Muslims both at the individual level and collectively.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2019.

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