Why Muslims weren’t out in force on Sunday

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote an opinion piece in the Independent yesterday (available here if you care to pay the fee) demanding to know why Muslims did not join demonstrations like the Day for Darfur last Sunday:

Where is the shrill outrage when Muslims kill and ethnically cleanse other Muslims from their meagre homes? Why is the anti-African racism of the Arab Sudanese government and militia not damned by Muslims? Where are the perpetually appalled Muslims today?

Oh, they are otherwise engaged, denouncing Pope Benedict’s speech in Germany … The livid crowd from London to Pakistan who extracted the apology care nothing about the torture by Muslim governments of their own dissidents, and remain blissfully indifferent to the maltreatment of Christians, Bahais, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists in Islamic countries. They cannot bear to accept that, although our war has intensified sectarian hatreds, the abominable killings of civilians are carried out by Shias and Sunnis in the name of their own-brand Allah.

Now comes the greatest test of their selective morality, the genocide in Darfur. And htey have already failed the test, dishonourably and conspicuously, by withholding condemnation of the most systematic and planned annihilation of a Muslim population in the 21st century.

As it happens, I was on the Darfur march on Sunday, and it just so happens that Inayat Bunglawala is one of a list of regular Comment is Free columnists to support the Day for Darfur (see here and here). Among other prominent Muslims to support it was Shaikh Ibrahim Mogra, as can be seen on the front page of the Day for Darfur website. I don’t think there has ever been a big demonstration by Muslims against a specific tyrannical régime in a Muslim country, but the level of discontent with some of them (on various grounds) is well-known to anyone who has spent much time with Muslims.

Yasmin refers to the “livid crowd from London to Pakistan”, as if the crowd in London was significant. It wasn’t: it was a gang of the usual suspects offending Catholic worshippers coming out of Mass - nothing more than that. We’ve all seen the banners and some of us have no doubt have had a laugh over the demonstrators’ poor English, but despite the protestations from some Muslim leaders, there has been no actual demonstration against the Pope’s speech in London except for that by al-Muhajiroun’s remnants. (And how large, and how spontaneous, were the demonstrations in the variosu Muslim countries?)

As for why Muslims don’t join demonstrations for western military intervention, it might be considered that some of them are thinking of the results of the last few major western military interventions: the first Gulf War, which led to more than a decade of sanctions against Iraq, and then Afghanistan and now Iraq. There may also be the issue of some Muslims having a misguided affection for the Sudanese government because it was one of a few countries to attempt to establish Shari’a some years ago, but while I’m sure no Muslim is indifferent to the fact of a group of Muslims being massacred, by other Muslims or anyone else, neither do they want to see the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq exported to a third country.

And besides which, the Global Day for Darfur was not that well-publicised anyway. It was not actually on the BBC News website, for example, until the morning of the demonstrations themselves; I found out about it through blogs, and not everybody, by any means, knows about blogs. Of course, a large percentage of those on the demo were in fact Muslims, but most of these were from Darfur itself. Was any serious attempt made to advertise the event to Muslims? If not, the community can’t be blamed for not taking part.

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