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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Friday, 22 July, 2005

About the West and Its Muslim Population?

By: Ghoma

       As the preliminary findings point to the London terrorist attacks were planned and carried out by homegrown terrorists, there must come a time when pertinent and perhaps heart wringing (nasty) questions have to be posed and hopefully some answers will follow. These questions must go, if we really want to come to terms with the phenomenon of terrorism, beyond what has so far been asked, i.e., Why they hate us? This badly put question, in addition to having all the ingredients to make it mere rhetorical quest, hasn't led so far to anywhere that would help understand terrorism, first, and then face it second. The question, as it was asked, has assumed a defensive tone. For the question was not about why of the terrorism in general, but only why some of it is directed against us in the West. It's suggested, among other intimations, that terrorism is an import (to the West), brought home by outsiders. These outsiders belonged to the "other," who, out of fanaticism, envy, or pure ignorance, still holds the West responsible for their blight. This view, in other words, holds that the West has become a victim, first to its own humane and benevolent policies toward the persecuted, the oppressed, and the poor; and second, to a misdirected campaign by fanatics in search of scapegoats for their vindictiveness.

       As in all questions, no matter how badly formulated, there's always some grain of truth in the attempted answers to them. How much of truth that depends on the angle the answer attempted to tackle and elucidate. We've to keep turning the coin on both sides if we hope to come to some resolutions here! As far as the affected areas: if history is ignored completely, the not-very-subtle manipulations of events and regimes in the region, and the daily constant reminders -of who really is pulling the strings which still hold the area captive to its own illusions- through the various tools and symbols of power, then, yeah the unexplainable and inexplicable charge of hate may be the only reasonable thing to explore. But if the variables listed were taken into consideration, the idea of hate becomes less compelling and something else has to account for the phenomenon of human emotions to reach such absurd limits to the degree that one is willing to immolate oneself taking as many lives as possible and causing as much damage. This something else comes in the form of a question: What makes humans chose death over life?

       If we start from the premise that life has a powerful instinct for survival. Not many, unless they've to, would give their lives easily without a fight. To accept willingly to give it in the most violent way is a mystery worth pondering. Let me start by saying I'm not here trying to denigrate what others have come up with so far to answer such a question but rather to widen the debate and bring some others insights into the puzzle. For, humans are known to endure the most horrific forms of torture, the most harsh human or environmental deprivations, and the most wrenching situations without giving in and hold to dear life. So the usual brew of poverty, ignorance, envy, etc.- since they've been with humans for a long time- are not enough to motivate people to wreck havoc with themselves and others. It must be something more lethal than the physical deprivations. What is this mortal affliction? I venture to say it must be something of the order of moral denigration, such as, humiliation, degradation, and contempt. The worst punishment many a human cannot stand for is to be humiliated and looked upon with scorn and contempt.

       Modern terrorism didn't originate in the Middle East. The Middle East is the latest joiner to a long list of others who'd used this weapon when their other weapons came short or were blunted or denied access to. If we look to where terrorism is raging now one can see the only similarities among the various warring factions seem to reside, not in the nature of the enemy, but rather in the uneven balance of power. The asymmetrical warfare, as it's now called, is between an overwhelming power and a disorganized, ill-equipped, and a degraded victim. From Palestine, to Chechnya, to Iraq -just to mention few!- the common denominator is the tightening of the noose around the necks of a captive population that has no way to fight back fairly and squarely. Here comes to mind that old piece of wisdom which says only a fool will force a scared cat into the corner. Leaving aside the high moral principle that wars should be waged only between equivalent contenders, the principle had been also adapted in the conduct of war, since time immemorial, in the advice: to always leave to the enemy some kind of alternative, an incentive to surrender, or a way of retreat. For without any of these alternatives, the enemy has no other choice but to fight to death. A desperate enemy is unpredictable and more difficult to fight. It wouldn't be a sacrilegious act to add to these the other more modern phenomenon the "Shock and Awe" tactic, where an overwhelming power of an invader, or an occupier were brought, by necessity or design, to drive its receiving side, the victims, to desperation and convince them of the lack of any viable alternatives short of the unconditional surrender; or, of self-destruction if they still want to see themselves as free agents.

       While this kind of reasoning may apply to the people in the affected areas, it cannot stretch to cover the reactions and the behaviors of Muslim populations living in the West. Here the problem is much more complicated to untangle. It's a bit of every component, and more, which historically had affected a 'dissenting minority' or a new group when joining an already established community. The multiplicity of ingredients, from religion to race and culture make of the newcomers an easy prey to stereotyping, and thus discriminations. Each one factor on its own has the potential of differentiation, and history still records what had happened to the dissenting part. The strives which had taken place in Western Europe during the age of religion reformation, among the various sects and factions, were testimony to the power of faith in conducting, and sometime deciding, human destiny. The history of the struggle which various groups (Catholic, Blacks, Jews, Irish, Italians, Orientals, etc.) were to endure and some are still enduring, in the "Melting Pot" of the New World, the U.S. of America, is another example of exclusion before inclusion. It appears, the newcomers have to prove, not only in words, but also in deeds, not only their willingness to join the existing group and to assimilate to the values that made it what it's but also their loyalties to the new countries.

       Muslim emigration to the West, in large numbers, was a recent phenomenon. It's true, scores of emigrants had always trickled to the various centers of power in the West but without making much noise or demands on the hostess populations. Until the mid-20th century when a relatively organized campaign of migration was initiated and carried out by most of the Western states. Due to a drop in the rate of growth of the population in the industrialized nations coupled with the demand of an always growing economies have forced these states to seek organized flow of immigrants from sometimes selected countries ( as Germany calling on the Turks and the Netherlands on the Moroccans) or to ease, in general, their immigration laws to encourage and receive as many as their economies can absorb. Needless to say, since most of the available jobs were of the kind that locals wouldn't deign worthy of performing, the menial or factory jobs, the new workers were accordingly sought for their brawns (muscles) rather than for their brains. Most of these immigrants were illiterate country bumpkins who'd have found it difficult to integrate to their own big metropolitan areas of their original countries. These people were thrown, without assistance or preparations, into no-man's-land of the modern world. Far from the original country, alienated from the new ones, crowded in the slums of the opulent metropolises, they found consolence, as usually in such circumstances, in their Faith, religion.

       Religion's first and foremost role is to console the afflicted and to come to the help of the weak, and to extend a hand to those who need assistance. It's a noble mission and a great role to play. However, where assistance stops and missionary zeal starts? Where counseling and pop-therapy end and bigotry and intolerance take hold? They're difficult questions to ponder but nevertheless they've to be posed. For, when religion stops to be a way to come to terms with one's life and surroundings, to care about thy neighbor, and to bring people closer together regardless of race and belief; and instead becomes an incitement to separate, a way to set apart and a refusal to deal with whatever circumstances have dealt them then there must be something that matters with either the Faith, its interpretation, or the people who follow it; or all three combined! For, Religion in its true essence, was never intended to be used as an island for separation. Its universality seeks to bringing people together in congregations, to contemplate and to understand, and to console and to assist the lost to find their way to the pack again. Religions in general came to strengthen human relations, that's why they made prayer as group, charity as a duty, etc. and work to bring the scattered energies of humans to bear on improving life as a given.

       Like any issue, the issue of Muslim communities in the Western world has multiple faces and causes. The most important is the conviviality of Islam with its contenders, the other religions. Islam as "a faith and way of life" is problematic to say the least in the present rarefied atmosphere of the secular states. Built on the alliance with the powers of the state, Islam finds itself today, in the West, disarmed, alone, and naked, so to speak, from the traditional coercive powers which enforced its dictates. It's cope on its own, like any other religion, except the others had time to adapt to the new reality. Thus, the confusion among the faithful of where their priorities and loyalties reside: is it to God or to the state? Torn between these seemingly irreconcilable polarities, many if not all of Muslims are joining the other religious strands to roll back if not to change what they deem to be the negative consequences of the liberal policies of the welfare state. Here's where the problem of these new communities reside: Their newcomer's status requires them to be liberal and fight for more rights and more inclusion, however, their Faith puts them smack in the middle of the conservative movement which seeks to narrow those same demands. Talk of confusion, what the right hands does is undone by the left hand!

       Among the many adjustments Muslims need to do to survive and prosper in the West, is to think about some of the simple but harmful attitudes. For example, perhaps it's time for Islam, and particularly in the West, to stop seeing itself as God's latest Windows version and accepts a seat in the pantheon of Faiths. Above all it must come to terms with these two major ideas: Citizenship and separation of Church and state. The first implies, among other things, the primary of the country and its political processes over everything else, and the second, Faith is a personal and private matter. Truth in a democracy is a relative thing. Religions are seen and treated as contenders to the same truth; just as different languages attempting to express the same feelings. In a multi-cultural and multi-religious societies, religions have to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence and competition and depend more on the tools of persuasion and example. They also have to teach their followers respect of others' faiths and ways of life and the principles of good citizenship. For Islam, it's to abandon the classical militant incitement to take matters into one's own hands, as in the Hadith: "If one sees a vice, he must change it with his hand, if he can't with his mouth, and if he cannot with his heart and that's the weakest conviction," and relegates matters to the agreed upon secular laws and also accepts the change comes through the collective work of political, economic, cultural, and others channels.

       Muslims have the duty to do their best to integrate into their communities and to learn to work within the framework and with the tools permitted by laws, conventions and customs of the existing societies. They've to join other religions in urging the state to stay above the fray and squabbling of who's right and who's wrong. In other words, they've to learn to express their grievances and demands politically rather than religiously; for, religion is not kosher among the political elites.

       As in all complex issues and religion in particular, there are always two sides to contend with. As the newcomers have to adopt and adapt to the new environments, the hostess countries have the duty to make life in all its manifestations tolerable and to embrace the newcomers as the latest of "us" rather than the chilling effect of treating them as "they" with condescension and indifference that verges sometimes on contempt. As it's incumbent upon the Muslim communities to seek to interact with their surroundings in a positive and more open-minded attitude that seeks the understanding and cooperation, rather than the also no less condescending and typical attitude of "Muslim superiority," of, oh poor ignorant infidels! receiving societies have to do more than throwing the crumbs of residency and citizenship to these communities and let them wallow, literally, in their own miseries; hanging in limbo between an abandoned Hell and a present inferno! If it's melting into the pot, or at least a marriage, as it should be, then the two communities have to come to each other, learn to respect each other's feelings, listen to each other's worries, take into account each other's point(s) of view, and fuse into each other.

       If the demands are a little demanding on the newcomers and if the so-called "clash of civilization" is to be contained within civilized manners of dealing with difference, then Western societies have to be aware of how vexing the continues boasting about the superiority of their civilization and the not less noxious moral grandstanding. History and the present wouldn't give those contentions much weight in light of what is going on these days. One only consoled of the fact that there's plenty of hypocrisy going on on both sides. The one which says the "War on Terror" is not against Islam or Muslims while looking to Islam as an "Evil religion" and treating every Muslim as a potential terrorist. The other side which claims to be good law-abiding citizens of their adoptive countries while their feelings and loyalties reside somewhere else. Just as in families: in good and bad, in richness and poverty, in health and sickness, until death took us apart; that's what a country is all about!


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