A month ago, a comment from a good friend of mine left me stunned. In the middle of our run, the conversation veered towards the Paris attacks. We both were expressing shock at the barbarity of it all, when he said "Something is wrong with that religion man."
I was taken aback because this was someone whose opinions I agree with most of the time. I pointed out that the problem isn't with any religion but a host of factors including international politics, military policy, flaws in geo-political strategy etc. He stubbornly shook his head and insisted that there was something seriously wrong with Islam.
"So, where are the moderate Muslims?" he asked in defence. "Why aren't they speaking out?"
He isn't alone...
I don't understand why people expect Muslims to speak out in defence of their religion whenever an attack takes place. Are other religions squeaky clean?
Barack Obama called for "collective introspection" in the Muslim community after the Paris attacks. He said that Muslims all over the world must ask "serious questions" on how extremist ideologies have taken root.
A call for introspection and taking stock of a situation is a good thing, but by putting that responsibility squarely on the Muslim community, he has deepened the growing chasm of misunderstanding between Muslims and the rest of the world by assuming that the problem lies within their religion and that nothing else contributes to the problem.
What about unjustified military interventions in West Asia, the propping up of dictators and the selective criticism of terror outfits? If we are seriously discussing terrorism and its causes, doesn't this murky history in international policy deserve introspection too?
I don't understand why people expect Muslims to speak out in defence of their religion whenever an attack takes place. Are other religions squeaky clean? There are a million things that are wrong with the way Christianity is practiced and propagated today. I am a Christian. Around me, I hear of cases of rape, abuse of office, corruption and murder involving certain members in the clergy. Some of these acts have been committed in the premises of churches too. I don't see many Christians standing up and denouncing these acts of violence, nor do I hear voices in the media asking Christians to "introspect". In India there are terror attacks by euphemistically named "fringe elements" who believe in a certain right-wing ideology. I don't hear calls for all Hindus to stand up against these acts of terror done in the name of their religion.
The problem is terrorism... not Muslims. Ignoring this demarcation in public discourse creates an "Us vs. Them" line of thinking that delays any hope for progress.
This selective outrage informs public opinion that terrorism is only of a certain kind that can be associated with only one religion.
We must stop looking at religion for solutions. No religion can be the answer because not one is perfect. Religion has been used as a tool of manipulation for centuries. From the dawn of civilisation, organised religion has done more harm than good.
I think creating a culture of secular tolerance in our everyday lives would go a long way instead of wasting time debating religion. Like many people in the world, I have Muslim friends who are as pained as I am about the ISIS madness and feel as much revulsion as I do.
But they alone don't have the responsibility of speaking up. We do too!
I can speak out and say that I know Muslims who don't subscribe to terrorist ideologies and that the perception of all Muslims being terrorists is incorrect. Doing this, I do my bit to build public opinion --- an essential instrument in the fight against terrorism. If only world leaders would influence public opinion positively.
The problem is terrorism... not Muslims. Ignoring this demarcation in public discourse creates an "Us vs. Them" line of thinking that delays any hope for progress. Donald Trump doesn't help either.
As incidents of violence threaten to pull the world into the quicksand of hatred, we need stories of hope and tolerance from all quarters. All of us must help keep humanity afloat in these dark times. It isn't the Muslims' responsibility alone.
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