Bombay revisisted

So, it seems a lot of Muslims disagree with me and Umar over the perceived need to condemn the recent terrorist attacks in Bombay. Amad at Muslim matters was one of the first Muslims to actually publish a notice of condemnation; others have stated that we should condemn attacks like it because it is wrong according to Islam, not because we are afraid of censure from non-Muslims. On the latter point, I partly agree, and I do not criticise anyone who actually does condemn it as a Muslim. My point was not that we should condone it or make excuses for it. My point was that we should hold our heads up high as Muslims, and refuse any demand to condemn which appears to contain an assumption of collective guilt, or which appears to be an attempt to put words in our mouths. More to the point, we should not issue condemnations simply to prove our innocence when we had no role in the incident nor any connection to it.

I do not think that the fact that two of the attackers may have been British has any bearing on this. The fact that there are some British Muslims who have got involved in al-Qa’ida, Kashmiri or Chechen separatism or terrorism in Palestine does not cast guilt over anyone other than those who helped them, or encouraged them, and only then if they encouraged them towards terrorism as such (fighting the Indian army in Kashmir, for example, is not terrorism). The fact that these reports were unconfirmed - they were just rumours, and were denied at a high political level - did not stop two newspapers making this their front-page headline yesterday; in the case of the Daily Express, the headline read “butchers of Mumbai are Brits”, without quote marks, when that was a theory, and a weak one at that, not an established fact. What are we trying to prove by issuing condemnations which will only be heard by people who do not listen? We might as well have saved ourselves the bother, and written about I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here instead.

Condemnations of terrorism from Muslims frequently do not clear the community’s name in many quarters. A recurring focus of dispute is the ayat from Surat al-Ma’ida which states, “Whoever kills a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, then it is as though he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a human life it is as though he had saved all mankind”; it is claimed (for example, in Londonistan by Melanie Phillips) that the clause “except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land”, is some sort of carte blanche and that “villainy” could mean anything, when in fact it means banditry according to the commentaries on the Qur’an, so it gives no justification for terrorism. Another example is this one by Dennis Prager, entitled “Five Questions Non-Muslims Would Like Answered”, which might be better titled “Five pointless questions intended to harass and stoke resentment against Muslims”, because they were either based on false premises or the answers were already known. The first was “why are you so quiet”, alleging that there had been no Muslim demonstrations against terrorism (actually, there were, but many Muslim countries ban street demonstrations other than state-organised ones) and that mainstream Muslim spokesmen had been “implicitly defending this terror on the grounds that Israel occupies Palestinian lands”. Juan Cole answered Prager here and pointed us to answers to earlier accusations of “not condemning” here.

Coming back to the Bombay situation, Tim Bowes has this point:

Someone argues that we have no influence on people far away who have done this. Who says we have no influence? Do we not have prayers for rain? Do we have influence on the clouds of the sky? Yet we pray and it rains. You may have a neighbour who knows nothing about Islam, who sees this behaviour and believes it is of his religion. Perhaps your condemnation might make him think again.

The difference is that Allah hears our prayers because He is Allah, and He may choose to answer them, or not. Terrorists do not hear our condemnations because they are the other side of the world and often not on the internet, or because they have heard it all before and did not care for our views then and do not now. The equivalent to praying for rain in this case is to pray that they may be guided away from the path they have chosen, not issuing more condemnations in case they hear us. As for our neighbours, we can of course sit down and explain to them that really Islam does not encourage or condone this sort of behaviour, but that these people do it because they have been told it does, or because they live in lands ravaged by war and see their victims as the enemy. This is not the same as issuing one condemnation after another, every time a new atrocity by a group of Muslim extremists is reported in the news. Then, it just becomes a ritual, or like an obligation, but Muslims should not feel obliged to go through this every single time a Muslim does something bad.

People who demand condemnations are not sated by those routinely offered, because they always see a “but”, and they do not see what they want: a condemnation of the struggle itself. Supporters of Israel do not want Palestinians to fight honourably; they want them to lay down their arms altogether, and submit to permanent Israeli domination. Thus, they demand that not only Hamas, but all Arabs, “recognise Israel”, meaning give up any Arab claim on the land that they siezed in 1948 and then in 1967, and accept that the land is rightfully theirs, which they know is not going to happen. Some of them also talk about Gandhi, and advocate passive resistance, when passive resistance is acknowledged to not always work, hence the appalling situation in Burma, in which the military junta have maintained power for twenty years, to the general ruin of their country, because the opposition did not fight. They relied on “moral force” and the western connections of the opposition’s leaders, when the junta had powerful local allies and no need of the west.

These people do not want anyone to consider the background to any terrorist attack, whether in India or in Palestine; they only want us to look at the obvious carnage and think that they are right. I should add, at this point, that the fact that terrorism usually brings on disgust in the enemy, and increases them in self-righteousness and lessens their ability to empathise with the plight of the nation or other group the terrorists came from should be borne in mind by oppressed people when faced with the temptation of terrorism. I did not, and still do not, sympathise with the people who bullied me at school, for example, on the grounds that they might have been abused before they met me. However, those of us far from the situation on the ground, such as those of us in London when terrorists struck in Bombay, have no such excuse. Consider this drivel by Michael Gove, a neo-con British Tory MP, in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday:

The arguments for negotiation are always powerful. Which is why we need to summon up all our residual moral strength to resist them. Because, far from sparing us further slaughter, any sort of negotiation with the people behind the horror of Mumbai will only guarantee yet deeper pain and further loss in the future. For the terrorists, our willingness to negotiate is not an enlightened desire to resolve deep ancestral conflicts by the application of pure reason and open-minded generosity of spirit. It is weakness. To be exploited. Terrorists look at the West’s willingness to talk, our readiness to cede ground, to see the merit in causes which have inspired violence, and they see fear. They apply to every opponent the classic Leninist principle - drive in the bayonet, if you encounter steel withdraw, if you encounter mush, push on. And for decades, terrorists everywhere have been able to slip the blade deeper and deeper into soft tissue.

… Anyone who takes the trouble to study their beliefs will realise that al-Qaeda wants to fuse every country with a Muslim population into one totalitarian state run on Taliban lines, before securing the submission of the whole globe to their path. The militant Islamism of al-Qaeda, like the totalitarianism of fascism and communism which it so much resembles, is a creed which seeks to build a new world order drenched in martyrs’ blood.

The terrorists behind the atrocities in Mumbai, or Madrid, or London on 7/7, are not protesting against a particular turn of American foreign policy or a specific set of decisions taken by the Israeli state or some alleged folly of Tony Blair’s. They don’t want an end to settlements on the West Bank, they want extinction for the state of Israel. They are driven by a hatred of the West for what it is, not what it does. They hate the freedom and licence of the West, the ideological challenge democracy poses to their violent, oppressive fundamentalism. That is why they target places where cultures meet and mingle, where the young laugh and let their hair down. That is why Mumbai now joins Bali as a place of loss and mourning. Talk? Yes, let’s talk. Urgently and intently now about how we beat these people and defeat the evil ideology which drives them to mass murder. Let us talk in language at once controlled and yet defiant, confident in the strength of our values and conscious that if our enemies had their way all talking, save for the words of compliant surrender, would cease.

The article attempts to draw a parallel between the recent Bombay attacks and the bombings in London in 2005, when there is significant evidence that the perpetrators were Kashmiris. If Israel fell tomorrow and London became the capital of an Islamic state the day after, the fighters in Kashmir would fight on until they had achieved their aim of driving the Indian army out of their country. To suggest that they are primarily interested in a global Islamic state is to engage in self-deception, or is a dishonest bit of rhetoric if aimed at others. Assuming they were Kashmiris, it is likely that they attacked Bombay not because it is a meeting-place of east and west, but because it is a major economic centre of the country whose army oppresses them.

While recent examples of Bombay’s notorious communal trouble, and the far worse trouble in surrounding regions, have not been reported much in the western media, the trouble in Kashmir, in which the government has imposed curfews to prevent political rallies, and shot at those which have taken place (and done their usual military business, such as firing live rounds and tear gas into hospitals), has been. Bombay is in India; the Kashmiri separatists are fighting India, and one of India’s biggest commercial centres, and its window to the western world, is Bombay. That it did not become a target for Kashmiri separatists sooner is what is remarkable (and one might ask where the Indian army in Kashmir comes from; it cannot be entirely composed of Hindus from Jammu). If you are a tourist in a country with civil strife or oppression, you run the risk of being caught up in it.

That is a fact of life. It does not make acts of terrorism against tourists and other defenceless people justified, least of all those of last week, in which the terrorists also attacked a hospital for women and children; India is a big place - much bigger than, say, Israel, and without the militarised populace - with a population bigger than Europe’s, so people travelling to Bombay might not consider that the money they spend there might be used on weapons for soldiers in Kashmir or used for any other nefarious purpose. Being a tourist in an oppressive country does not mean that you deserve to be murdered. The problem is that any such attack, particularly nowadays when apparently perpetrated by Muslims, would receive much sanctimonious condemnation in the western media, with comparisons to 9/11 even if there were no obvious connection, regardless of whether locals were suffering to keep the tourists sweet, and even if it was perpetrated in response to communal riots in which a community were subjected to murder, rape, arson, looting and general violence, and no doubt Muslims in the west would be expected to join in.

A couple of years ago, the American novelist Marge Piercy was interviewed in the British left-wing magazine Red Pepper, and when the interviewer broached the subject of Israel, she replied that she would discuss any issue besides that, that she did not trust “lefties” on Israel, accusing them of holding Israel to a different standard of morality to other nations, and that she confined her campaigning on Palestinian issues to within the Jewish community. Alongside not feeling obliged to publically condemn every bad act by a Muslim, this should be our stance when we see double standards being applied: when people want to see the carnage and ignore the oppression, when the talk show host wants to talk about the bombed-out buses but not the women giving birth at checkpoints in occupied territory, when everyone is talking about the poor tourists but forget about the fact that the country is ruled like Ceausescu’s Romania or Mississippi in the 1950s.

This does not mean we should support it amongst ourselves - indeed, we may try to stop it if we have any channels whatsoever to those involved (which we most likely do not) - or that anyone asked as a matter of fact what Islam says about these kinds of actions should tell anything other than the truth, or that we should make excuses for al-Qa’ida types who attack innocent people; what it does mean is that we do not join the friends of oppressors (of Muslims or anyone else) in their sanctimonious, hypocritical, fake moral outrage. When expected to disavow or condemn oppressed people who have overstepped the mark, and the people making the demands include people obviously sympathetic to the oppressors, who make ludicrous, self-justifying claims such as “they just want to set up a global Taliban caliphate” as alleged by Michael Gove above, who openly defend massacres of civilians in western wars (e.g. Hiroshima) by saying the end justified the means, and then cry “no moral equivalence”, we should resist. We should not wallow in our own self-justification, but neither should we wrap ourselves up with others in theirs.

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