By Syeda Hameed
March 28, 2019
There is something ominous about the Ides of March. That day in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by his entire senate, and the attack was led by his best friend Brutus. World War II was sparked that day when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. The Syrian war erupted on the same day. And, on the same date, in Christchurch, New Zealand, a man walked into a mosque where people had gathered to offer Friday prayers: Armed with two automatics, he sprayed them with bullets. While shooting innocents, he was also filmed the incident on a camera attached to his helmet.
The world rose to condemn the incident, led by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It was called an “act of a mentally deranged white supremacist”. No one called it Christian terror. No one equated it with religion, nor quoted the Bible. Had the assassin been Muslim, though, it would have been labelled Islamic and all efforts made to misquote the Quran. Demonisation of Muslims would trend everywhere.
The mass killing in New Zealand’s Al Noor mosque triggered an instant response from a Queensland senator, in Australia: Fraser Anning not only justified, but valourised the 28-year-old fellow Australian killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant. In a statement published on an official letterhead, Anning averred that the growing fear in Australia and New Zealand of increasing Muslim presence was bound to result in such an act. He condemned New Zealand’s immigration policy and said: “Islam is unlike any other faith… it is a religion of fascism”. He described the Prophet as “A 6th Century despot masquerading as a religious leader.”
Ironically, Australia and New Zealand are known for their usurpation of land rights and harsh treatment of the aboriginal people, the Maoris. Civilised nations the world over have a history of snatching the rights of the First Peoples in their quest for new lands and conquests. But history is usually forgotten and recalled only when an incident such as Christchurch uncovers the dirt that lies beneath the veneer of modernity.
Across the world, the aim is to not to equate terror with any religion. Even extreme right wingers have said it, albeit under political compulsion. Personally, I don’t think of Christchurch in terms of Christian terror. Nor do I think of the killing of Jews in Pittsburg or Christians in Charleston as Islamic terror. Nor do I think of Malegaon as Hindu terror.
So what do we learn from Christchurch, Brenton Harrison Tarrant and Fraser Anning?
We learn that human depravity has seeped into some minds everywhere in the world. In India, it showed up in Nuh which saw the lynching of Rakbar Khan, in Alwar with the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, in Rajsamund which saw the lynching of Afrazul, in Ballabhgarh which saw the killing of Junaid, and, in Kathua which saw the rape and murder of an eight-year-old. Our beloved country is being infected with this malaise: It incubates in the hearts of Muslim haters whose mission is to make Bharat “swachh” by obliterating their existence. Political leaders who valorise them now have a new mentor — senator Fraser Anning.
Are we letting this depravity become the new normal? In his commentary and explication of the Quran, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote about all the religions. He said that Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam all enjoin their adherents to eschew every act of violence and follow the Sirat al-Mustaqim — the straight path of love and compassion for all beings created by God.
I believe in Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who saw Hindus and Muslims as integral to the idea of India. This is best expressed in the 1923 address of Maulana Azad, the youngest Congress president, where he said that if an angel were to descend from heaven and declare that India will get Swaraj within 24 hours, provided she relinquishes Hindu-Muslim unity, “I will relinquish Swaraj rather than give up Hindu Muslim unity. Delay in attainment of Swaraj will be a loss to India but if our unity is lost it will be a loss to entire humankind”. Those were days when such words could be spoken from public platforms without the fear of lynching or assassination. They need to be invoked across the board now by secular, democratic liberal peoples and parties.
India has 180 million Muslims who cannot be swept away by a spate of violence. Globally, 1.5 billion Muslims, most of whom live in 50 Muslim-majority countries, cannot be destroyed by random killings. There is solace in what prophets, philosophers, sufis, have instructed in every text, every language, and every religion. Gandhi said, “There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seemed invincible, but in the end they always fall”. These words keep me alive.
Syeda Hameed is a former member, Planning Commission