Why Muslims aren’t pacifists

A demonstration featuring a large number of South Asian men, many of them with reddish dots on their faces and holding large metal knives or long swords.Martin Luther King junior famously wrote a Letter from a Birmingham Jail, a response to local White clergymen who had urged him to be less strident and roll back on the direct action. One paragraph sticks out:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This paragraph sprang to my mind when I read an article by a writer I had not previously heard of but who appears to be an Indian Hindu liberal, one Barkha Dutt of New Delhi, in the Washington Post. The article bemoans recent terrorist attacks in Kashmir including the lynching of a Muslim policeman, Ayub Pandith, outside a mosque in Srinagar and a massacre of Hindu pilgrims (a man and seven women) in the region, as well as the fact that “in the land of Mahatma Gandhi”, there is “not one nonviolent icon in the Kashmir Valley”. She proclaims at the start that:

There comes a moment when a “cause” gets buried under the debris of its own failings. Or when a single incident is enough for a journey to lose its moral compass. This moment has come for Kashmir.

This is not the first time I have addressed outside demands for “Muslim pacifists” on this blog; back in 2005, the Daily Telegraph columnist Charles Moore demanded an answer as to where the “Muslim Gandhi” was, advocating pacifism for the Muslims which, as I noted then, “he displays no intention of advocating for his own race”. The American liberal writer and film-maker Michael Moore has done the same for the Palestinians, advocating “non-violent resistance” as the answer to everything for them. It’s no coincidence that the same Michael Moore is an avowed Zionist who told the Republican rabbi Shmuley Boteach in 2004 that he regards the Jews as the “most oppressed people on earth” and “believe[s] strongly in Israel’s security and Israel’s right to defend itself”. Pacifism and non-violent resistance can sometimes grow spontaneously, as indeed it did in the western world in the years after the First World War. But it is also commonly the form of ‘resistance’ people like to preach to those whom they would like to see crushed. Zionists do not advocate Palestinian resistance, even if it was the cleanest war ever. They want nothing less than total Palestinian submission to permanent Israeli domination. If Gandhi were not so useful to “concern trolls” who are usually on the oppressor’s side, he would have been denounced long ago as the racist, sexually abusive dinosaur he was.

Gandhi’s movement made gains because the British were not willing to take the risks inherent in large-scale repression of the Indian public; by the time of Indian independence, the British public had just fought a war against Nazi Germany and the atrocities of that war were being exposed, and the British public (who in the age of film, even if not TV or the Internet, could not have been shielded from the goings-on as they could have been in Victorian times) would not have accepted being made an accessory to large-scale massacre. The British ruling class was also coming to regard the Empire as costly, and wanted to withdraw from it. Besides, the population of India was much bigger than that of Britain, which is not the case for the Palestinians against Israel, the Kashmiris against India or the African-Americans against their White oppressors. Martin Luther King is himself quoted as saying that if your enemy has a conscience, follow Gandhi, but if he does not, then follow Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was hanged for plotting to assassinate Hitler.

The British songwriter Julie Matthews, in her song about the British empire Jewel in the Crown, attributes to it the attitude “we need no conscience; God is on our side”. The rulers of India also have no need for a conscience; they believe the “Gods” they worship are on their side and they, the VHP, BJP and associated movements, are on theirs. The ‘Gods’ are of course a mixture of dead men and mythical characters that never existed, but Modi had a friend in David Cameron, has one in Donald Trump and the Indian public are also on his party’s side, having elected Modi prime minister of India in 2014 after the infamous Gujarat pogrom of 2002 (after which his party won two further elections in Gujarat, in 2007 and 2012) happened on his watch and in which he is accused of complicity; he certainly publicly blamed the victims instead of condemning the violence. It does not do the Indian rulers’ electoral chances any harm to deploy any force necessary to suppress any stirrings of Kashmiri resistance, whether violent or otherwise; in recent years they have taken to firing pellet guns into the faces of protesters, resulting in demonstrators being blinded. His party’s current governor of Uttar Pradesh state has referred to Muslims as “a crop of two-legged animals” and at one rally shouted “we are all preparing for religious war!”. And this is the country where Muslims have been murdered, sometimes by mobs, on mere suspicion of slaughtering cows or possessing beef. Yet our liberal Hindu writer, who in a previous article gloated that Kashmir was on its own in the post-9/11 world where “there is no patience for armed uprisings associated with Islamist terror”, finds time to mention two acts of terrorism, both by Kashmiri separatists seeking to rid Kashmir of the rule of this latter-day cross between the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

I do not indulge the “politics of suspicion” on this blog; I do not condemn on demand. I have a two-pronged policy on condemning terrorism here. When it comes to situations where Muslims had been living peaceably but a group of renegades carried out an act of terrorism calculated to disturb it, such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2005 London bombings or the recent bomb attack in Manchester, I condemn those readily. When genuine resistance movements overstep the mark, I will not condemn such acts in front of those who support those whose oppression caused the conflict in the first place; for example, I will not condemn Hamas suicide bombings to Zionists, especially who defend any Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians in the name of security, much less those who openly use derogatory language against Palestinians in general. However right the cause, almost no modern war has ever been won cleanly; powerful nations get away with it, while leaders of small ones face sanctimonious TV exposés from countries that had been desperate for them to win, and the threat of war crimes tribunals. Marge Piercy, the Jewish American novelist best known for her feminist science fiction novel Woman on the Edge of Time, told a British left-wing magazine that she would not discuss Israel with them as she did not trust ‘lefties’ on the matter, preferring to keep her activism on Israel to the Jewish community. We should have the same policy when it comes to Muslims who resist oppression, be it in Palestine or Kashmir.

It’s true that not many Muslims are pacifists. Not many westerners are either. Pacifism flowered briefly in the inter-war years as the futility of the earlier war and the lies used to justify and prolong it were exposed; it was discredited by the rise of Hitler, when it became clear that he and his totalitarian and repugnantly racist empire could only be checked, let alone eliminated, by military force. Even the Indian emperor Ashoka, who is famous for embracing non-violence in later life, first waged a war to gain control of most of India and conquer the kingdom of Kalinga (now the state of Odisha, formerly Orissa). Pacifism gains popularity at times when there is a sense of security and threats are at bay, but it’s hard to get a sense of that when your country is occupied by men who regard you as animals and will blind you just for standing with your fellow countrymen in the street. The world is not a peaceful place, it never has been, and Muslims are not masochists or fools.

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