VIEW: Fuelling fundamentalism —Andleeb Abbas
While the Jews and Indians have invested heavily in education, skills and research, Muslim countries have been busy trying to build inequitable societies where the accumulation of wealth in a few hands is more important than an accumulation of knowledge in the minds of the masses
Fundamentalism is a state of mind where extreme views, mostly based on hardline religious preferences, create a provocation and retaliation to any opposition to the rigid stances held by the owners of these views. Sadly, this word is now considered synonymous with Muslims in general and any Muslim male who either wears a long beard or a female covering her face in particular. Stereotyping, labelling and categorisation is considered unjust and discriminatory as it results in victimisation based on appearances and not facts or deeds. However, the loudest propagators of this principle — western societies — are the biggest violators themselves. Discrimination based on colour may have died down to some extent, especially after the Obama factor, but discrimination based on religion and appearance is still rife and breeding.
The recent example of a fundamentalist reaction to a Muslim facility being proposed for construction in lower Manhattan is a sad spectacle of yet another American hypocrisy that will create a negative reaction all over the Muslim world. The protest is that a mosque is being built near the Ground Zero site and it is termed as an insult to the victims of 9/11. The basis for this protest is that, if allowed, it will encourage the terrorists to become more daring. As is the case with brainless petty minds, especially in the political circles of the US, nobody has bothered to find out the difference between a Muslim facility and a mosque. Every subnormal politician has jumped on this opportunity to condemn and object without bothering to find out the real function of the facility. To head the list of ‘dumb and ignorant’ politicians is none other than Sarah Palin, whose brainless comments have become the object of derision and parody all over the world. She has, in her ‘wisdom’, claimed that such actions will stab the heart of most feeling Americans. Not to be outdone, Mr Gingrich, former speaker of the house of representatives posed an ‘amazing’, parallel question about why there should be a mosque near Ground Zero if there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. Such is the ‘mature’ response of leading personalities in the US.
The fact that there is a huge difference between a mosque and a Muslim facility, none of these wise guys have bothered to find out. The proposed site, Cordoba House, is designed to be a Muslim facility that will act as a cultural centre with the aim to “promote integration, tolerance and community cohesion, a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a centre of learning, art and culture.” This facility will include a prayer area, sports facility, theatre and restaurant. To term it as a mosque is a huge stretch of the imagination. Another example of the cry wolf mentality of many American big wigs is that they have called it the Ground Zero Mosque as if it is being built right on the site. The proposed site is to be built two blocks away.
While most Americans, fed by a biased media, have seriously opposed the Ground Zero Mosque, some sane voices are still trying to make themselves heard. The most prominent among them are that of Fareed Zakaria, the famous Newsweek columnist and CNN TV host and President Obama himself. Fareed Zakaria has taken a strong stand against this blatant discriminatory reaction. He returned a First Amendment award to the Anti-Defamation League in protest against the organisation’s opposition. Zakaria received the Hubert H Humphrey First Amendment Freedom Prize in 2005. He said his conscience would not allow him to keep the award as the opposition to this site by this league violates its own principles.
President Obama, in an iftar dinner, forcefully supported the construction of this facility on the basis that the US must uphold its religious freedom credo. In his speech, he clearly de-linked al Qaeda from the cause of Islam and said that more Muslims than non-Muslims have been killed by al Qaeda.
However, some Americans have denounced the opinions of these two strongmen as biased owing to their own religious background. These two voices need more voices that are non-Muslim to give credence to their claims. That is why New York’s Jewish mayor Michael Bloomberg supporting Obama’s statement needs to be highlighted by the media more prominently.
The local media has reported this raging issue in the US occasionally and no prominent Muslim think tank has been able to give a logical and rational stand against this bigotry. It is important to capitalise on Obama’s statement and develop a comprehensive counter-strategy to reveal the biased approach of some westerners against Muslims. This is not only important in building up support for this facility but for the extreme discrimination Muslims are facing on all fronts. From giving visas to jobs, the clear disadvantage of having a Muslim background, especially of Pakistani origin, has now reached an almost indecent level. The strong Jewish lobby is normally credited for much of this discrimination. While we are ever ready to blame them, we have no counter-media and lobbying strategy to combat them and thus are sitting on the hope that one day the world will wake up to the reality of how unfair it all is. While hope for luck is a good sentiment, it is not very fruitful in getting meaningful results.
It is time for us to acknowledge that, if we are subject to this discrimination and humiliation, we have made a huge contribution to it. How come 1.6 billion Muslims are always defeated by a few million Jews or other lesser majorities? The answer lies in the abundance of ignorance and arrogance prevailing in the Muslim world. While the Jews and Indians have invested heavily in education, skills and research whereby they have control on major American industries, Muslim countries have been busy trying to build inequitable societies where the accumulation of wealth in a few hands is more important than an accumulation of knowledge in the minds of the masses. The need of the hour is to invest in building a knowledge base in the Muslim world that has a global standing and voice in the universities, think tanks and media of the west. Without this investment in the brainpower of Muslim countries, they will always be at the mercy of the political and economic astuteness of those who can think ahead and overtake and overrule minds barren of intellectual capital.
The writer is a consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org