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Why Muslims need to embrace a Politics of Moderation

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Message Prakash Kona

It is as imperative for Muslims to embrace the politics of moderation as it is for the western governments and media to open space to the voices of moderate Muslims and give them an opportunity to be leaders in their communities. All this discussion about this not being the "real" Islam and no "real" Muslim would do something like that -- all these lines are becoming stale and pointless. No "real" anybody would do anything about anything: let me assure you of that much. This applies to believers of every religion. No one says that all Christians are evil or accuses the Holy Bible of preaching hatred, though the violence of colonialism and anti-semitism is enough evidence to make a statement like that seem plausible to the jaundiced eye. Therefore, the discussion along the lines of whether the religion preaches violence or not, has really nothing to do with what so-called believers do in their private and public lives.

The reaction we've seen in the past few days to the film that denigrates Islam's Prophet held by believing Muslims as a model to humanity with a silly and mediocre title like The Innocence of Muslims (which by the way is supposed to be ironic; that's enough clue as to the miniscule IQ of its makers) is shocking to say the least. This is a film made by some ignorant right-wing Christian fundamentalist group or individual who is not a mainstream film maker with a large audience.

I did not like James Cameron's movie True Lies (1994). It shows Arab Muslims in such shamefully poor light. In my own experience I've never met an Arab Muslim or a Muslim for that matter who had extreme views about anything. Usually they are moderate people though discussions on religion can acquire a degree of sensitivity which is true of people who belong to any religion. I would've understood any protest -- within certain limits and non-violent, needless to say -- that challenged a movie like that of Cameron because it has an audience who might be influenced in a negative manner. But, a movie like the current one which is causing all these protests across the world is the ranting of a fanatic and best ignored. This wholesale global reaction to a film whose only purpose is meant to provoke, lead by fundamentalist groups, is gradually reaching Beckettian proportions in terms of its absurdity.  

The killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens in reaction to the film is unforgivable to say the least; what makes it a horror is the fact that an ambassador is a symbol of a nation's integrity. More than symbolism, embassies are institutions that are born when nations come into existence. To kill an ambassador is not only to violate those principles on which nations are founded but also upon which they agree to live in a state of peaceful coexistence. It violates the laws of hospitality that separate the civilized from the barbaric simply because the latter lacks the ability to discriminate what is just from what it unjust.

There are certain issues at stake here. Anti-Americanism in the third world needs greater clarification than is usually admitted. If Anti-Americanism meant anti-imperialism it makes sense at a certain level. Violent reactions of the kind we're witnessing on television do not help the cause of Anti-Americanism especially when it comes to the Muslims. On the contrary, it gives a poor and unfortunate image of the religion and the believers. There is a need for liberal Muslims who genuinely believe in dialogue to come out strongly against the extremist elements in the religion. The politics of moderation is vital for them to create a serious anti-imperial platform that will challenge western hegemony in the Middle East and by extension in the third world.

Another important point is not just the image but the substance as well. Is this kind of meaningless reaction a reasonable one? Given the nature of internet-based technologies anybody can practically post anything against anybody and sometimes without any basis at all. These are purely acts of prejudice and blind hatred to which my response would be: just ignore them! How many protests are you going to begin for every video or article or cartoon posted by some joker on the net or in a newspaper? How can you be a puppet to somebody's whims and fancies knowing full well that the other person wants you to react in this particular manner? It just becomes more and more insane to say the least.

Responses have to be carefully thought out and loaded with meaning keeping the power of the enemy in view. The US and its allies continue to be powerful and to dislodge them would mean a new era in the history of humanity. In one of his interviews to David Barsamian (from the remarkable book Confronting Empire), the late Eqbal Ahmad (d. 1999), a true embodiment of the kind of politics of moderation that I'm talking about says: " I don't think American power is permanent. It itself is very temporary, and therefore its excesses are impermanent and reactions to those excesses have to be, by definition, impermanent." He further adds: "Britain had a will to dominate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Britain punished for very small crimes its most famous empire builders. Robert Clive was impeached and Warren Hastings was impeached, because an imperial society instinctively knows that it will not command respect on a global scale unless it shows uprightness at home. Unless it shows uprightness at home, it cannot commit excesses abroad. That's why imperial countries very often tended to be puritanical societies. The people of America don't want Clinton to resign because they think he's been a good president. They can separate his being commander- in-chief from his personal behavior. This is not a people with a will to rule. This is a people with a will to violence, yes, but not a will to dominate." The last line is of course the most important one. The US professionalizes in the art of violence but not in the politics of domination. They are seriously impoverished at that.

American imperialism is a temporary one and no one knows it better than those in positions of power in the American establishment. The politicians and the military know it. The ones who don't want to know it are the ones in Hollywood and the MNCs who are perpetuating the illusion of American invincibleness. American imperialism has neither the relentless character nor the ruthless cunning of British imperialism. In allowing a complete moron who made the film The Innocence of Muslims and a company like Google (which refuses to remove the film from its youtube website, knowing full well that American lives are endangered in the process) to call the shots, you don't think this imperial project would last for long. If you are engaged in taking by stealth and force the resources of the third world, the least you could do is respect the people whom you exploit, however hypocritical and farcical that respect might be. Firstly, you are in their country without their permission and secondly, you humiliate them and expect them not to react, especially when the masses know full well that you are an enemy and not a friend! I don't know how that works out to the benefit of the imperial project. Already the US shows signs of a strained nation ready to collapse. Its imperial agenda is not going to work too long. Eqbal Ahmad remarks:

"A will to dominate means a willingness to sacrifice, to pay the price of it. The American public does not want American boys dying. So, in Somalia, when American Marines were attacked, the United States pulled out and sent in Pakistanis to do their dirty work and clean up the mess. They don't want to send troops abroad. They don't want to die in foreign lands. That is, they don't want to pay the price of power abroad, which they were willing to do during much of the Cold War."

Given this background, acts of terrorism like the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center only prolong the life of the imperial machine that is not willing to pay any price for its domination of the world. The September 11 attacks gave a new lifeline to the imperial dream. And acts like this current spate of violence, where fringe groups are allowed to show the worst side of believers before a media that is only too happy to project them as barbarians with the others maintaining a polite restraint while silently approving is certainly not helping the Muslim image globally.

The politics of the Muslim world -- how they define Anti-Americanism, their understanding of the connection between religion and politics and the need to separate one from the other, the need for modern education along the lines of social change, the need to bring more women into the limelight and give them an opportunity to occupy public spaces (it's not a coincidence that in all the meaningless protests the women are conspicuous by their absence), the need to remove some of the ills that plague their own societies, the need to embrace moderation as a way of life, the need to use moderation as a political weapon to fight western propaganda -- all these are absolutely imperative in order for them to come to terms with the fact that Anti-Americanism and Anti-American are two different things.

There are Americans who are Anti-American in the sense that they share some of the anxieties and political arguments made across the third world. An American intellectual like Chomsky is the best example of one who falls in that category of people. It's high time that the Muslim groups stopped this business of making fools of themselves by protesting in a violent manner for every little perceived or real insult to their religion or its remarkable Prophet. It doesn't help them in anyway. Not only is the sympathy of the world lost on them which is how they must build a strong political platform; in addition, there is no way they would ever see real liberation for one thousand years with this kind of a completely irrational attitude not to mention a self-defeating one. 

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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