The other day, I was watching an episode of the new ABC TV series called Designated Survivor, in which a terrorist strike on Washington DC wipes out Capitol Hill and kills the president and all his cabinet members except the “designated survivor.”
The designated survivor is usually a chosen member of the cabinet tucked away in a secured, undisclosed location when all the other members in the presidential line of succession are gathered at a single location for an event. In the episode, the housing and urban development secretary becomes the president, and struggles to exert his authority over the government machinery.
What was very revealing was that the governor unleashed his force on the Muslim community before it was determined who was responsible for the terrorist attack. The drama also shows how different forces around the new president are constantly pressuring him to accept an unproven idea of a known foreign Muslim terrorist group and launch an immediate attack on that group to demonstrate the US government’s swift and decisive retaliation against the enemy.
This is a story of a fictitious TV drama, but it reminded me of the actual actions of the US government after the 9/11 attack, particularly the US attack on Iraq. It reminded me how vulnerable even the most powerful government can feel in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack. Better judgment can easily take a backseat.
No compromise on godly matters
On September 25, 2016, a Jordanian Christian writer, Nahed Hattar, was gunned down in front of the courthouse where he would be tried for charges against him for insulting Islam. Nahed posted a caricature on his Facebook page that depicted a bearded man in heaven smoking in bed with two women by his side and asking God to bring him wine and cashew.
After vehement public backlash, Nahed apologised for his post saying the caricature mocked terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. He removed the post and deactivated his Facebook account.
Hattar didn’t get his day in the court to tell his story.
Hattar is a victim of intolerance that has gripped the world like a hungry giant octopus. Intolerance seems to be ingrained in human DNA and when ignited, it spreads like an out-of-control wildfire. We observe intolerance raising its ugly head in many aspects of human life -- political, economical, social, and most predominantly, in religion.
Why are we so intolerant? If we believe in supremacy and all-encompassing power of God, why can’t we simply leave it with God to challenge and punish those who deny Him, defy His authority?
I can’t find an answer, except to say that my God won’t want me to play judge and executioner for Him, but then again, we humans cannot even tolerate trivial differences.
Liberty and freedom
Western liberalism and conservatism, both, sometimes seem very contradictory and confusing. Let’s take the highly publicised French “burkini” issue. Western liberals see the ban as an infringement of personal choice and freedom of expression. The same liberals would not come out so strongly in support of Muslim women wearing hijab.
In fact, they think the hijab goes against women’s liberty. On the other hand, conservatives think Muslim women wearing hijab and burkha pose a security threat, even though terrorists across the world do not necessarily wear such attire; and orthodox Christians and Jews wearing similar attire are not considered a security threat.
I wonder why face-covering Chinese women swimwear is not an issue. Is it because the Chinese swimwear has nothing to do with religion? If so, what about the Sikh turban or Jewish kippah? Jewish people wear the kippah to show respect to God when they are praying, studying Torah, or entering a synagogue.
Intolerance seems to be ingrained in human DNA and when ignited, it spreads like an out-of-control wild fire. We observe intolerance raising its ugly head in many aspects of human life
So, why does Muslim attire becomes a topic of discussion, debate, and occasional ban while similar garb worn by people of other faiths do not? Maybe it’s not really about personal choice or freedom, rather that burkini and hijab represent a faith that makes a lot of people uncomfortable and scared.
Several months ago two young Bangladeshi brothers killed both their parents at home in San Jose, California. The parents followed a traditional Muslim lifestyle and wanted the boys to follow suit. The word through the grapevine is that the elder boy was a homosexual, which the parents couldn’t accept because of their religious beliefs. This may have resulted in the doomed fate of the parents.
As society in the West is changing, people do not have to accept the old ways of life. Muslim diaspora in open societies is struggling to cope with this changing world that creates immense tension between the rigid religious doctrine and the realities of modern life.
On the other extreme, a segment of the young population in Bangladesh is getting indoctrinated into a radical ideology of Islam; and killing many innocent people, mostly of different faith or ideology.
I wonder if a liberal interpretation of the Islamic laws that accepts peaceful coexistence with differing point of view and lifestyle could have averted these tragedies.
IS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban’s tentacles have spread all across the world through affiliated local terrorist groups.
It is true that majority of the Muslim world doesn’t approve the interpretation of Islam these terrorist groups and their followers preach and practice.
But the rest of the world has very little knowledge about Islam to filter out the acts of this minority from the otherwise peace-loving Muslims of the world.
The face of terrorism that is being proliferated in the name of Islam is known globally, and the people all across the world are affected by it -- because of inadequate knowledge in the world about Islam.
So much so that the POTUS had boldly announced in his campaign trail that if elected, he will force all Muslims in the US to register into a database that will help the authorities to track and round up Muslims as and when necessary.
In the past, this kind of campaign rhetoric would be unthinkable, and would have certainly ensured the candidate’s defeat, but now it not only bought the candidate a landslide victory in the primary election, but also won him the general election.
It has created an environment of the worst kind of racial hatred towards Muslims, where people can make comments online like: “Hard to tell what we should build first, a border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims” or “the only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones.”
Muslims have an even bigger responsibility to demonstrate that their attire and values are not to be scared of, and this cannot be achieved by forcing our gay children to denounce their sexual orientation, by killing someone for posting a caricature or expressing a different point of view on Islam, or by denigrating women to a veiled world that denies them opportunities.
Muslims must find a way to embrace the norms of the world driven by science, and not be inspired by the rules of society of more than 1,400 years ago. While we all should raise our voices against the unwarranted fear of all Muslims, Muslims must also work hard to change the prevailing undercurrent of paranoia against them.
Nisar Ahmed is a freelance contributor.