Tavleen Singh, Jun 07, 2009
The day before President Obama set off to win Muslim hearts and minds last week, I had an interesting conversation about Islam with a Lebanese gentleman and his wife. I met them at a discourse by an ex-Buddhist monk who smiled a lot and talked of happiness. It was when he said that all religions were the same that trouble began. An Indian friend I was with pointed out that Indian religions did not urge believers to rush off and brutalise (or convert) the nearest unbeliever while Islam did. This made the Lebanese lady angry and she stomped off asserting that the Koran said ‘to each his own belief’.
Then her husband got really angry when the subject of women’s rights came up. He said the Prophet of Islam had given more rights to women than anyone ever. I pointed out that what was progressive fourteen hundred years ago may not be progressive today. Many Islamic countries continue to declare nine as the age of consent for girls because the Prophet’s wife Ayesha was nine. I drew his attention to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia (the Prophet’s native place) and reminded him that 60 girls were burned alive in a hostel some years ago because the morality police would not let them out unveiled. This infuriated him. “What about Mumbai,” he said, “where they sell the eyes and liver of young girls. If you hit on Saudi Arabia I will hit on Mumbai.”
I recount this exchange to make the point that when it comes to winning hearts and minds, the exercise must happen both ways. It is not just President Obama who should be required to do all the ‘outreaching’; the Muslim world has its share to do as well. Why should Saudi Arabia be allowed to get away with funding virulent strains of Islam in countries like ours? Why should Pakistan get away with textbooks that teach school children about ‘evil’ Hindus and Jews? Why should Pakistan get away with releasing Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed?
What is the point of fighting the Taliban in Swat and Waziristan if you can release the man who created the Lashkar-e-Toiba? The organisation he created has been declared a terrorist organisation not just by us but by the United States. It has been responsible for terrorist acts on Indian soil, including the attack on Mumbai. By any standards, that makes Sayeed a terrorist. If Pakistan were serious about fighting Islamist terrorism, they would have charged Sayeed with the crime of starting a terrorist organisation. Even before Mumbai was attacked.
The jihad did not appear one morning out of a clear blue sky. It happened because of a system of education in most Islamic countries that perpetuates the idea that Islam is the best thing that happened to mankind and that pluralism is wrong in Allah’s eyes. As for us happy idol-worshipping types, we are doomed to damnation. This idea is in direct conflict with the Indian idea of ‘sarva dharma samabhaava’. But, it is more than just religion that is the problem.
The Islamic sense of grievance is now so confused that the Americans are blamed for ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan after the Russians were defeated. Now that they are back, they are blamed for interfering in Islamic affairs. In the Middle East the stated objective of the jihad is to obliterate Israel but if Israel attempts to resist this fate it is charged with being brutal to Palestinians. It may not be politically correct to say this but the truth is that there could have been a solution in Palestine decades ago if Yasser Arafat had not been corrupt and amoral. The peace treaty that nearly got signed when Bill Clinton was President was as good as anything President Obama will be able to deliver. Do Palestinians ask why it did not go through?
What saddened me most about President Obama’s speech was that without actually apologising for America’s mistakes he made it sound as if all the mistakes were on one side. It would have been nice when he mentioned American mistakes if he had mentioned a few made by Islamic countries. Pakistan ran a black market in nuclear bombs. Saudi money builds madrasas in Indian villages that poison our happy heathen atmosphere. The war with the United States was started by Osama bin Laden. India is under constant threat from terrorist groups that continue to be nurtured by the Pakistani state. The release of Sayeed is proof. And, the reaction of President Obama’s government is to give Pakistan more aid than ever before.
President Obama seems not to know that there are more Muslims in the Indian sub-continent than anywhere and that we lived in relative harmony till Saudi money started to fund Wahabi Islam.