by Saad Hafiz
In yet another manifestation of the hate that appears to be deeply ingrained in Pakistan, four members of the Ahmedi community in Gujranwala were murdered last week by a mob protesting an allegedly blasphemous post on Facebook by an Ahmedi youth. A mob incited by the pulpit, feeding on suspicion and rumour, killed the defenceless for simply being different. These acts ensure that minorities live with murderous intolerance that tarnishes society at large.
It is increasingly true that Islamic extremism poses a significant challenge to the expansion of human rights, good governance and harmonious interfaith relations in many parts of the world. Saudi King Abdullah, in his recent Eid ul-Fitr message, said, “The Muslim nation is facing tough realities as a result of conflict and fanatic rhetoric. The enemies of Islam have preyed on groups who have become easy tools for killing innocent people through perverting the essence of Islamic law to serve their goals and personal interests.” The king pointed out: “Saudi Arabia was inspired by the great religion of Islam, calling for the rejection of extremism and supporting a moderate stance in every sphere of life.”
The king’s message does not quite explain why the Muslim world has experienced so much extremism in recent years. This may be attributed to the lack of democratic and pluralistic traditions in the Muslim world. These traditions include the widespread rules prohibiting criticism of Islam, leaving it the only untarnished symbol in societies that have failed politically and, in some cases, economically. Some Muslim countries permit and even sponsor extremist education and social structures, and most Muslim countries lack adequate constitutional protections for religious diversity.
The overwhelming injustices being committed in the name of religion and the widespread ignorance and intellectual stagnation of Muslim communities must make us think seriously about reform in the Muslim world. Some of the biggest challenges that the Muslim world must face in today’s world are those of intolerance and coexistence, extremism and terrorism, patriarchy and women’s rights. We have to start thinking in terms of support for a full agenda of democratic and constitutional freedoms, with human rights and tolerance for religious diversity near the top of the list. Muslims should draw on the tolerant and moderate aspects of Islam to defeat the intolerance, discrimination, violence and hatred within us. We must put respect for human rights above all else and make religion submit to universal human values.
On another front, Israel, like all countries, is entitled to peace and security but that does not give it the right to practice hegemony and oppression. Despite the controversial founding of the state of Israel in 1948, one could admire the resilience of the Jewish people to settle and defend a new land so soon after experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ground on for decades and, with the destructive persistence of the Israeli occupation, the Jewish people ever more bear responsibility for a country that is building walls and ghettos, and treating Palestinians with a mixture of hubris and racism. The policies of successive Israeli governments, in spite of the country’s vibrant educational, cultural and religious contributions, have tainted the secular, humanist and pluralist traditions in Jewish history, and the sense that Jews by and large stood on the side of justice.
In Israel/Palestine, a complete cessation of violence on both sides, as part and parcel of a comprehensive negotiated two-state solution, may sound utopian but in the final analysis is the only rational alternative to more suffering and misery. Forces on both sides of the conflict that espouse policies of expulsion and ethnic cleansing and oppose coexistence have to be marginalised. The settlement policy should be rejected because the dispossession of a people is morally wrong. Anti-Semitism must be rejected because it is incompatible with any basic morality based on shared human values.
Israel could take the lead by recognising that democratic processes are good for all people regardless of religion, while authoritarian, elitist structures weaken the democratic impulse and, thereby, threaten all humanity. Humankind as a whole must display a stronger commitment, as a matter of enlightened self-interest, to peace, untrammeled civil and personal liberties, protection of people and the environment from greed for personal gain, the rights of every people, nation or ethnic group to dignity and self-determination.
It is appropriate to end with the translation of a Yiddish poem, Dos Naye Leed, which is compatible with pacifist ideals:
“And though delayed may be the day when love and peace join hands,
Yet it will come, for it must come, no dream; it’s our command.
I hear the song of mighty throngs, the song of peace in chorus.
And each voice sings, as each note rings: ‘The sun is rising for us.’
And end to night, the world grows bright with hope, with joy and giving.
I hear the sound, it’s all around: ‘To courage, strength and living!’