Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A politics of "unity in diversity"

I guess some things never seem to tire in our weary lives.

There, in our living rooms, we sit, evening after evening, eyes fixed on the television, pondering the flashing images of destruction and chaos caused by either a suicide bomber or a wrought-up mob angry at defamatory and false caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Then, the scenes of havoc cut away and there he is, the man speaking, what he and unfortunately many of his viewers believe, for Islam, giving some tirade on something, but we’re not sure what, because, of course, it’s in Arabic.

Our only hope of understanding what’s in front is a small translation at the bottom of the screen, which reads rather sickeningly: “The West’s War on Islam is a call to arms for those who believe and must be countered by all means possible as our noble fighters have shown. This my brothers is our duty in Islam.”

After reading the scrolling transition, I like many other Muslims roll my eyes. Again, and again, it’s the same type of deranged speaker on television and the same thing to be done, rational or not, for Islam.

Repeated over and over Muslims and people of other faiths alike receive the same message. One spokesperson, one religion, one message. But this problem of one person or group being given the media microphone to speak for over 1.3 billion Muslims is not simply the fault of the media or the government per se. It’s our fault, the fault of we Muslims, all 1.3 billion of us, who passively scorn the television screen, roll our eyes, and let lunatics continue to define not only the Islamic tradition, but also every Muslim who treads the earth.

It seems that Muslim indifference to action regarding the lunatics that claim to share our faith is the result of a collective attempt to look united and uniformly consistent in the sacred sphere by adhering to an Islam that has not been hijacked, but rather forced away from its profound and enriching spiritual roots into a wholly secular and irredentist political movement that thrives off of anger and humiliation. In doing this, we have inadvertently passed this dangerous a-historical and a-contextual spirit into the public sphere allowing fanatics who by-far share more in common with fascists than the Prophet Muhammad to define our views, values and visions without challenge.

This is because we are a group whose recent attempts at political empowerment included the projection of an image and identity that is more akin to a monolithic bloc than a vibrant and dynamic polity, open and accepting, eager to heal the world. And in this process, we have undermined our efforts at coloring the post-9/11 black and white political and social landscapes with shades of gray.

Compelled by almost a century of carrying colonial baggage that packaged neatly domination coupled with predatory cultural imperialism, Muslims still remain steadfast in staying “united” as to not allow another breach of the gates they or their preceding generations faced from whence the likes of the Sykes-Picot agreement and George W. Bush’s invading army came.

I do understand, though. The legacy of Sykes-Picot in the Levant and the discovery of oil in a tiny backwater of Arabia have produced unquantifiable reverberations within the contemporary collective Muslim consciousness. Neither the splitting of the Ottoman Empire nor petrol dollars have produced their promised panaceas, but have actually undermined seemingly universal “Western” standards of secularism that instead of facilitating pluralism, have created some of the most brutal tyrants in recorded Arab history.

And it’s clear that since the beginning of recorded time, Muslims are not alone in this endeavor as minority groups have felt strong impetuses to close ranks in the face of a larger, stronger and more dominant political order. It has been conventional wisdom that being a small polity within a well established larger one requires all in the community to collectively quell the espousal of disagreement for fear that any sign of fracture would send signals that the possibilities of exploitation abound. Divide and conquer was not invented by either the Roman or British Empire in the Middle East, rather, it was perfected there.

In this tense and anxiety-laden era of a global “war on terror” that is increasingly being simplified to mean a war on so-called “Radical Islam,” Muslims must drop the monolithic fa├žade and present a global community that appreciates its members are as diverse in opinion about politics, as in different skin hues and ethnic backgrounds.

Furthermore, as we Muslims open up and share our rich juridical tradition that unambiguously forbids the crimes we see all too often today, ideologues such as Osama bin Laden will look as representative of the Islamic tradition as medieval crusading armies are of the Christian one, which, I pray, will finally end our incessant obligation to denounce heinous crimes we have no part in conceiving or carrying out. The terroristic fringe will become distinct from the sacred sophisticism of our global Muslim ummah, or community, which will allow us to reclaim our brilliant heritage that Islamic scholar Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes, “struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock’s tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic.”

No longer will the “war on terrorism” be a generational battle that casts ill-defined buzzwords like “Radical Islam” as the catchall enemy. The opponent of humanity, and not exclusively the “free world,” will be once again extremism, no matter the vehicle it takes — either secular or sacred — and Muslims as well as non-Muslims will once and for all be able to declare loud and clear that we “reject the anarchists who claim to speak for Islam.”

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