Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Not so silent majority

In the wake of any terrorist attack by the Muslim named criminals, the usual question always is - what are Muslims doing about it? If it is only a tiny fraction of Muslims who condone the extreme violence committed by organizations like Al-Qaeda, what is the rest of the people doing? When Islam's symbols are offended, we have seen the mayhem that had engulfed the Islamic world. Why isn't there a same outrage against terrorism? These are the questions raised by media pundits all the time - in particular, Gene Burns from KGO was discussing this in great detail last week. Any number of callers with Muslim names who called in didn't help him understand the diverse world of Islam. People in the west tend to see Islam as a monolithic block whose members believe and act in the exact same way all across the world. The belief also extends to the idea that most Muslims are sympathetic to the cause carried by the terrorists, if not the acts themselves. There is also a concept that Muslims as individuals are responsible for the acts of people who have Muslim names and they somehow should be able to stay alert and repudiate every act committed by the elements in Muslim societies.

That is a lot of stuff. At one level, I wouldn't burden any responsibility on the individual Muslims who believe in Islam or have Muslim names to repudiate anything that is going on the world. They have no more responsibility than a member of another community in condemning a particular act of violence. That said, we know the workings of the world, the society (thanks to the innate nature of brain), whether you like it or not, work based on experience. The patterns are formed from experience and patterns and stereotypes are powerful things. While we have to continue to work against false stereotyping, it is also important to change the experience itself to change the pattern. Repudiation of violence by the Muslim population is part of changing the experience.

One could also take the view - what if I don't care about the perception that Muslims are terrorist sympathizers? It isn't me who committed those acts and there is nothing I need to be sorry about. While this is logically accurate, your inaction could lead to violence against you or other people of your faith. This backlash, while there is no justification for it, is still something that can be avoided by voicing the contempt you are holding in your mind. But as a matter of fact, we have seen an incredible amount of repudiation from the Islamic world on the violence in Mumbai. Muslims across the world From Cairo to Malaysia, Pakistan and India, expressed the utter condemnation on the violence in Mumbai.

Looks like, Gene Burns does not read anything beyond what the American media regurgitates. It is in that light, I am heartened by the report on Washington Post. Here it is Gene, it gives you an idea of how Muslims reacted in India and here is it from NYTimes too. It is nothing new, but the very fact that it is reported in a major U.S newspapers would be an eye-opener for people like Gene Burns.


The Gori Wife said...

I think there's also a big hinderance in media bias. My mosque is really gung ho about intercultural projects - our Friday religious services are even held in a jewish synagogue. But does the media cover this? No. So they show up at our talks and seminars about tolerance and the scourge of terrorism? No. They did, however, show up during the cartoons fiasco. Some might say because this fits with the image that the conservative media wants to portray of Islam - crazy, unforgiving, easily swept up into fervish. This helps perpetuate what I see as the inaccuracy - in my community, at least - that Muslims do not speak out against terrorism. So many of us are.

Najeeb said...

I agree, the cartoon fiasco was an anomaly but it is always the one that gets drawn as an example of muslim protest. the amount of time and energy and money many muslim organizations pumping into fostering intercultural dialogs is amazing, but as you rightly pointed out that doesn't fit the general image of crazies running around beheading infidels.