By Arshid Majid Rather
14 May, 2014
The Arab civilization, which hundreds of years ago eclipsed Europe with great achievements in fields like mathematics, astronomy and architecture, looks as being brought down today to sadists, extremists, ignorant and sectarians. The region has turned into a battleground that is constantly threatened by destructive forces in every nook and corner. It is facing one of the worst ideological divides or a clash of religious ethos. Though there is no doubt that different faith groups are divided along sect lines, but certainly not all groups are provoking and conflicting in nature. Unfortunately the confrontation and divide among Muslims seems particularly stark and precarious.
The sectarian divide is taking a heavy toll on all Arabs and has far-reaching, devastating consequences for the present and generations to come. It has put on question even the existence or survival of states inflicted. Apparently, it looks as if different sects or sections did not make up the same community but two separate communities with parallel and irreconcilable worldviews. Peaceful and tolerant religion is made to become more and more conservative, orthodox and xenophobic in order to serve the interests surely other than religion. Reason and rationality seems to have been made worthless subordinates to ignorance and illiteracy. Sadly, the human values upheld and practiced by Prophet Mohammad SAW seem to have thrown to dusty winds.
Ironically, the main and major oil producing countries continue to lack the ability to exploit their own resources and wealth. They continue to rely on and favor Europeans. If the ‘wells of money’ would not have been spent on spreading sectarian viruses and venom and instead gone towards making every Muslim child literate, then perhaps Muslim world would not be the centre of ignorance, illiteracy and extremism. It would have been ranking in the countries bagging Noble Prizes today.
Let us be honest and pragmatic enough to admit and acknowledge the fact that Muslim countries are lagging far behind than non-Muslim nations in terms of progress, peace, prosperity, literacy, infrastructure, growth and development. What makes the situation worse is that there is still lack of willingness to face the fact that many of the wounds that Muslims have suffered from and for which they often blame each other have actually been self-afflicted. With no room for introspection, no space for reformation, lack of political will to progress and change, Muslim world is stuck in siege-mentality, seeing enemies every where.
For decades now sectarian virus has been persisting, from Pakistan to Yemen and now has become a major element of dreaded friction throughout the Middle-East. It is really heartrending to watch documentaries recently shown on BBC and Al Jazeera, whereby some popular religious figures of both sects openly issue decrees to their respective followers to kill opponents anywhere and everywhere. Many influential ‘Maulvis’ have there own private channels for spreading the venom of sectarianism. Some of them are even operating from London.
Do bear for a while as some may jump to the conclusion that this is again western propaganda. I do realize that this is very sensitive subject, perhaps more so because human nature prefers not to hear the truth and simply wants to receive good news even at the expense of reality. Interestingly, it also reminds me the stereotypical and cynical view of those people who used to blame “ISI” for every ‘broken egg’ in India.
The vicious violent attacks, suicide bombings, indiscriminate violence with sectarian overtures have killed thousands and thousands of people across Middle-East, most of them are perhaps innocents who had nothing to do with sects. This gruesome violence is actually tearing Muslim communities apart. The more serious threat to the Arab world is the possibility of the gradual deterioration of the existing ideological divide into full-fledged civil war, the examples of which we are currently witnessing in Iraq, Syria and other countries. However, sectarianism had invariably been dormant till it was stoked by political forces and narrow conservative as well as orthodox views with an aim to dominate either the state or the religious polity.
Basher-al-Assad, the president of Syria who looks like an alter-ego of Adolf Hitler, both in terms of outlook as well as ‘ideological container’ had the unique privilege of turning his own state into a ‘slaughter house’. His murderous appetite has brought tremendous humanitarian disaster, brutally executed innocent civilians either by using chemical gas or by dropping barrel bombs on them. He also had the honor of dismantling the already underdeveloped infrastructure of the state to debris, which perhaps brought more devastation than what Americans did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands have been killed; millions displaced and homeless, thousands are seeking refuge in European countries. Situation for millions of desperate people is worsening further.
The dirty matrix of Arab politics is that while Iraq, Iran with substantial Shia population supports the Assad regime, a coalition of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia backs the rebels. Wonder, who is Muslim and where is Islam? Who is killing whom and for what? Perhaps they themselves are devoid of logic and reason is rely entirely on barbarism. It reflects the most barbaric worldview that you are only acceptable if you follow my version of my faith. This planet belongs to every human being irrespective of religious affiliations.
Ironically, the extremists justify innocent killings in the name of God. To me, this is not religion not at least Islam but an obscene perversion of proper religious faith or politics masquerading religion. States whichever should stop persecuting, marginalizing or harassing their minorities (or suppressed majorities) and accept them as full and equal members of society. One can understand the job is difficult partly because we are left with those experts who specialize in the fields of conflict, trouble making, violence, division and decay. They have reduced the spirit and essence of Islam to a narrow rigid list of do’s and don’ts.
This present gloomy and bleak socio-religious and political scenario prevalent in the Arab world speaks of volumes of decline of Muslim Communities in general who got badly entangled in religious extremism, ignorance and politics of division and hatred. One can understand that there are always hawks around eagerly waiting to exploit the common man facing difficulties and dilemmas. But we also need to understand thoroughly that foreign or external forces can never dare to impede domestic affairs of any state until and unless that states inherent weaknesses and gaps provide them with the opportunity. Time has come to garner the courage and to acknowledge perhaps what previous generations had doggedly refused to, that is, the communities own role in its destruction.
Though the Arab League or the league of Arab states was created to strengthen and coordinate political, economic and cultural ties among its members and to further the joint interests of all Arab nations, it has miserably failed to deliver its core objectives and unfortunately proved merely to be a “paper tiger”. There has been summit after summit with no consensus on important issues confronting them. The criminal silence over the killings and violence unfolding in Syria, Iraq and other Arab states is somewhat understood for the reason that its efficacy and relevance has been severely hampered by divisions among its member states. There have been hostilities between traditional monarchs such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other states like Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc. For past few decades its members rarely have agreed on issues. Even when the members reach consensus as they did in their support for the Palestinian cause, such agreements rarely goes beyond rhetorical declarations, with no operational effect.
It is an established fact that many rulers in Arab countries that are acting as puppets need to have close ties with the West in order to remain in power. But it is also indisputable fact that most Muslim countries do not have genuine democracy and democratic institutions in place. The Arab states desperately need to accentuate political information and also need to take concrete measures for the upgradation and creation of new state institutions in order to protect and promote respect for human rights, equality and inclusivity. States need to respect pluralism and diversity. The Arab states in particular and Muslim countries in general must take seriously their responsibility to priorities education so as to illuminate young minds with universal human values and ingrain constructive ideas rather than be ignorant. Muslim states must not bypass the ‘Quranic’ instructions as to how Muslims are to treat even non-Muslim minorities.
Arshid Majid Rather is a lecturer at GHSS Wanpoh Anantnag.