Egyptian Coptic Christians campaigning for peace!
Here is an article written by Ranbir Singh the Chairman of the Hindu Human Rights Group. It is an interesting topic that should stimulate some debate. Please comment the article has been reproduced verabtim:
While BPCA no doubt has had some impact the fact is that Pakistan has become more intolerant since 1947. While there is corruption in most Third World countries including India (with Nigeria perhaps being the worst) the Islamisation policies with their inherent disavowal of equal rights just make this worse.
Canada’s Irshad Manji is perhaps the only significant Muslim asking for a Reformation in Islam. But fact is that Islam has never had such a change. As Manji states the gates of itjihad (interpretation) have been closed since the ninth century. While it is possible to look for human origins in the Bible and archaeology has revealed finds such as Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi, and the confluence of Jewish and Hellenic thought, to do so in Islam is largely unthinkable. This cannot but have a negative effect on scholarship of this major world faith.
Saudi Arabia is perhaps more honest in that it doesn’t hide its belief that Islam and democracy are incompatible. While Christianity has had diversity coupled with doubt and uncertainty for centuries (e.g. Southern Baptist Convention was formed to defend slavery in USA, while other Baptists were vehemently anti-slavery) and has gone through Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, Islam has had precious little of this. All changes came from external pressure, including that to abolish slavery. Just as the decline in Christian belief led to dogmatic secular ideologies (Jacobinism, Marxism, fascism) the attempts to modernise Islamic nations led to the replacement of Islam with virulent nationalism. Witness how Ataturk not only continued the genocide against Armenians in his desire for a secular Turkey, but also suppressed the very identity of Kurds, Laz and Circassians. Ataturk’s aversion and mocking of Islam was well known but did his “Kemalism” usher in a more open and tolerant society? Reza Shah was inspired by the modernisation in his neighbour Turkey and felt an inferiority complex to Ataturk. Hence the rapid reforms such as banning the veil and equal rights for women. But equal rights in what context? Reza Shah centralised Iran in order to put greater power into his own autocratic hands. His partial replacement of Islam with a Farsi centred Iranian nationalism suppressed Kurds and Azeris. The parallels to fascism were to string to resist which led to his removal from power by British and Soviet forces for getting too close to the Third Reich.
Pakistan constitution stipulates that president has to be Muslim. Sharia courts have validity. Conversion from Islam is not allowed yet anyone can convert to Islam, a brazen double standard. Ahamdiyyas cannot even call themselves Muslims. The entire Jewish community of Bene Israel are virtually extinct in Pakistan. Christians, Sikhs and Hindus remain marginalised and at the mercy of any combination of mullahs, feudal landlords, the repressive arm of police and army, and the very political system which validates their subhuman status. The Kailash, a people of great antiquity, face the threat of extinction bringing to an end thousands of years of a unique culture and civilisation. These few examples show how building a civil society with equal rights is impossible as long as temporal and religious elements remain intertwined. Malaysia is regarded as a modern Muslim country. Yet here all Malays have to be Muslim, by law. Sharia is recognised. Marrying a Malay necessitates conversion to Islam. Muslims only can be head of state. Malays get discounts in housing, have share allocation, get the best jobs and scholarships. Is there even one example of an Islamic country which has modernised on a par with the west, providing equal political rights, social equalisation and an open society? Secular Turkey became more ethnically and religiously homogenous than the Ottoman Empire (Uthmani Khilafat) ever was as Ataturk drove out or butchered almost the entire Greek, Armenian and Assyrian population. Is Algeria better off now than it was under the French? Were the sacrifices against Gallic apartheid in vain? Where are the once mighty voices of reformers such as Ali Abdel Raziq in Egypt who called for laicism?
Ibn Warraq’s Why I am Not a Muslim came out in 1995 and was compared to the famous Why I am Not a Christian by renowned atheist Bertrand Russell. But the part people miss in Ibn Warraq’s book is how the west became superior and the freedoms which we take for granted developed. This idea if better explained in End of Racism by Dinesh D’Souza (Indian born American conservative) which again stated how the west became superior, and also Keith Richburg, African-American journalist who in Out of America explained why postcolonial Africa is such a failure. Such writers explain that the freedoms which we take so much for granted in this country have a reason for their existence and it helps understand why they simply cannot be replicated elsewhere. Even in godly America where someone who is not church going will get frowned upon if running for political office, there is clear non negotiable mandate that church and state are separate. You simply won’t get that in Pakistan. Islamisation was extended by Zia-ul-haq but actually began with the whisky drinking Swiss bank socialist secular landlord Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Undermining of civil society and with it secularism and equal rights for all is regarded as progress by the majority political consensus in that country. The only opposition is from an impotent liberal elite, who in their avant-garde bohemian western lifestyle complete with American accents, designer suits, well stocked bars with the finest scotch and cognac, air conditioned villas and a ready supply of servants, are cut off from the masses whom they in fact lord it over in the manner of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Nothing will change effectively in Pakistan or other Muslim countries until the immunity surrounding Islam is breached as it already is being by people such as Manji, Ibn Warraq, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Brigitte Gabriel, Wafa Sultan, Ann Coulter, Christopher Hitchens and Bat Yeor. The next biggest impact will be the fall of political Islam in Iran. Under the Shah all dissent was brutally suppressed by the CIA trained SAVAK, leaving Islam the only outlet for frustration as the westernised elite in Tehran lived a short distance from recent rural migrants who lived in slums. It was obscene for many to watch the Shah celebrate 2500 years of Persian monarchy as guest drank champagne and eat the finest gourmet delicacies on gold plates and crystal cut glasses, only a stone’s throw from where the disillusioned masses lived cheek by jowl and kept in check by SAVAK and a brutal police. The response of a Pehlavi royal family princess to remark why these masses could not use private helicopters to bypass the congestion of Tehran traffic was even more laughable than Marie Antoinette’s idiotic response of how come the starving poor of Paris could not eat cake if they had no bread. Yet for the very same disenfranchised and oppressed Iranian majority, 1979 under Khomeini was not just an empty parallel to Ataturk’s 1924 revolution, but in hindsight a clearly retrograde step. Iran’s Islamic regime led initially to a futile and destructive war with Iraq and years later the country suffers from rampant drug abuse, unemployment, prostitution (called “temporary marriage”) and frustration with the regime. When it collapses there will be a domino effect just as there was when Khomeini took power, but of course this time in reverse. Outside Iran many émigrés leave Islam, and seek solace in secularism or the vibrant and dynamic Farsi speaking Christian fellowships which have sprung up in Britain and the USA. This may sound far fetched but remember how the collapse of communism took everyone by surprise? The inexorable march of liberalism cannot be halted. In this age of mass communication and exchange of ideas, Orwellian style claustrophobia cannot suppress the aspirations of those chaffing under political, economic and spiritual suffocation, any more than in the developed western democracies a spiritual vacuum can find replacement in microwave TV culture of instant gratification that bares an eerie resemblance to Orwell’s fellow author who warned us of creeping totalitarianism, but this time of the warm and fluffy kind, Aldous Huxley.
What groups such as CLAAS do is plaster over the cracks if that. It is laudable to free victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. But long-term it is necessary to find means of overturning such oppressive laws and understanding why they exist. That can only be done by realising how Islamic societies are impervious to effective reform and why western democratic norms always create more vibrant, fair and open societies. Like I said Iran would be the key. Ataturk’s secularisation of Turkey was superficial as people of non-Muslim backgrounds (unless they converted to Islam) have never been regarded as full Turks. Egypt was in its modern heyday a leading liberal Arab country, culturally and intellectually. But since Nasser’ pan-Arabism and “socialism” (Nasser suppressed the very Ikhwan who supported his 1952 coup, yet pushed his mixture of Islam and pan-Arab nationalism to the fore and thus marginalised or expelled Copts, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, while welcoming ex Nazis like Remer) it has gone into reverse gear. Iran was on the surface a modern power but look how the Shah fled in 1979. A few crumbs from the table will not change much until disillusioned youth in Iran take action. Fortunately as Christopher Hitchens has said the demographic bulge (in war with Iraq Iranians were encouraged to have as many kids as possible in order to produce martyrs) will help destabilise the regime. Just be ready not to let history pass you by but instead be a part of it. After all people make events they don’t just happen. It is important to be aware of this and resist the seductive illusions of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as Huxley’s Brave New World which will battle for our allegiance as the world remakes itself and prove that Francis Fukuyama was wrong to announce The End of History.