First, an Indian friend, known for his liberal ideas, asked me "I know that all Muslims are not terrorists, but why are all terrorists Muslim?" This was long before the Gujrat massacre, and I did not want to go into the polemics of Ajodhya, the Tamils and the IRA. Then, to add insult to injury, the Indian Prime Minister referring to the un-investigated train fire at Godhra tried to explain away the Gujrat massacre by saying, " Wherever Muslims are, they do not want to live peacefully". A stupid comment to make about any community. So I decided to find the right answer to this wrong question, and invited my friend to join me on a journey in quest of truth. Both of us being library enthusiasts borrowed our inspiration from H.G.Wells' "Time Machine", in order to go back into time and space, and to see for ourselves the backgrounds of the present drama. Here is what we saw:
STATION I ---We are now at the eastern edge of the Far East in the year 1450 AD. These are a group of un-named Pacific islands, inhabited by people without a formal religion and without an organized Government. We see Arab traders sailing into Borneo ports in the south, carrying cotton and silk from India and China, which they barter for spices and other local products. Their honest transactions and their humility and simple way of prayers appeal to people of the islands. As they leave, their call of prayers (Azan) continue to echo. Islam is embraced by the rulers of Brunei and spreads to the north in Mindanao and Sulu islands. By 1550 two Muslim states ruled by the indigenous Sultans are established as far north as Manila in what is now known as Philippines. As we steer our Time Machine in another direction, we leave behind an area of peace and tranquility, with green rice fields and bustling bazaars,interspersed with Mosque minarets and domes.
STATION II-----Now we are watching the beautiful valley of Kashmir, an area known as paradise on earth. The time is again set at 1450 AD. Muslims have already ruled here for a century, although Raja Rainchan Shah embraced Islam as early as 1150 AD. Majority of the population is Muslim of Kashmiri descent and lives peacefully with Hindus, sometime even sharing their devotion to the same Rishis and Makhdooms and their shrines. A benevolent Sultan Zain-ul-abdin, known for his justice and support to Hindu learning and temples, rules the area. By 1586 Kashmir attracts the attention of Emperor Akbar, the most secular of the Moghuls, who conquers and improves it further, bringing it closer to its reputation of a paradise. Peace and prosperity rule as we move on.
STATION III----We beam down at the sacred land of the three great religions in the tradition of Abraham, till recently known as Palestine. This has been a land of Arabs for over twenty centuries who became Muslims with the advent of Islam. They share the land with Jews and Christians whom they respect as people of the Book like themselves. The Ottomans conquer this area from the Memluks in 1516 AD. Being familiar with the Christians and the Jews from other places in the empire, they prove to be friendlier and allow incoming Jewish immigration. Pilgrims of the three faiths converge from all over the world as they have free access and safe passage to their places of worship. As we leave, we find it a peaceful area without any sign of inter-faith conflicts.
Having finished the journey, my friend looked at me quizzically and asked " What went wrong after this?" We decide to find out in a second round of the same places.
PHILIPPINES--- Spanish missionaries are appearing on the scene in 1550 AD. They open the way for an invasion by heavily armed Spanish galleons. Mass conversion is carried out and the islands are named as Philippines after the ruling king of Spain, Phillip II in 1571 AD. The Spaniards fail to subdue the Muslims in the south whom they call Moros after their old Muslim adversaries, the Moors, who ruled Spain earlier. The independent Muslim states of Mindanao and Solo are left in peace till 1899 when the Americans navy appears on the scene, ostensibly to liberate the Filipinos from the Spanish occupation. Like any other colonial power they refuse to go back after they have defeated the Spaniards. They try to rule over the Moros of Mindanao with the rest of the islands, who resist and fight five wars with the American forces between 1901 and 1913 to defend their independence. In one of the battles in 1906 the American troops under the command of Gen. Leonard Wood massacre 600 Moros, mostly women and children, in a large volcanic crater. He is found guilty of excesses by the Congress, but is absolved of wrongdoing by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. When Americans grant Philippines independence in 1949, they thrust Mindanao on the national Government, with its fiercely independent Muslims, who were never part of the Philippines and had ruled their own land for 400 years. They are now reduced into a minority and cornered into fighting the rulers of Philippines. Recently they have been identified as 'terrorists' and Americans are back in Philippines to help their extermination!
KASHMIR: The Moghul rule has since declined and disappeared. In 1845 a Sikh-British war takes place with the involvement of hill Rajputs known as Dogras. In a peculiar settlement between the parties, the British sell Kashmir to Gulab Singh, the Dogra warlord as a reward, for a petty amount of Rs.7, 500,000. The price works out to be Rupees 2.2 per Kashmiri or dime for a couple. If this is not an insult enough, the Dogra ruler gifts them away free to India in 1947 with the connivance of the British arbiters without, ascertaining peoples will. This becomes the only Muslim majority area adjoining Pakistan, which is prevented from joining this Muslim majority country. True to their traditional spirit of accommodation, the Kashmiris wait patiently for more than three decades for the delivery of justice either from the Indians or the world community. Their continued deprivations, and attempts to convert them into a minority by projected immigration from India, eventually prod them to revolt. Their fight for self determination has also earns the name of "terrorism" overnight,after September 11, 2001.
PALESTINE: The Ottomans lose control to the British mandate after the World War I. The latter accept the need for a " national home" for the Jews in Palestine on mythical grounds as promoted by their influential world lobby. As the Arabs oppose the move, Jewish immigration is allowed which raises the Jewish population from a mere 84,000 in 1929 to 445,000 in 1939. After the World War II, the United Nations orders a partition of Palestine establishing separate Jewish and Arab states but requiring economic unity. The Jews accept the division but the Palestinians revolt against it. The British walk away leaving behind a chaos, as usual. The Americans bolster the Jewish community by providing them heavy arms, military equipment, training and money. Israel comes into being in 1948 and massacres the entire population of the protesting Arabs in Deir Yasin. This event,and many other disproportionate reprisals,terrorize one million Palestinians into leaving their homes and live as refugees in the nearby Arab states. This process continues to the delight of the Jews who establish their majority in Israel,and declare the refugees of their own tyranny as permanently expelled. They annex some and occupy the rest of the areas demarcated as Palestine State, which has yet to come into existence. Israel becomes a regional power boasting a nuclear arsenal with the support of the USA, whose interests it protects in the Middle East. The conflict we see today is not between two powers. It is between a full-blooded military juggernaut of a State and a handful of unarmed and stateless refugees throwing stones and occasionally themselves tied with bomb,s against the enemy,its tanks, artillery and gun ships. The only thing the Palestinian have gained recently and abruptly is the new title of "terrorists".
Now it was time for us to sit back and compare our notes. Admittedly,there are no simple answers to human problems because another spectators may come out with another perception of the same situation. We,however, found it amazing how one tends to forget the beginning of a long story if the narrator chooses not to refresh the listener's mind. How many of us knew that the Moros are the dispossessed people and not the troublemakers. How many of us would like to be sold or given away to others like cattle, without being asked. How will we feel if we are driven out of our country, displaced and disinherited of our land to make room for the aliens and help them establish their majority?
We discovered a common thread of Anglo Saxon mischief running through all the three tapestries we examined. It had the common pattern of conquering territories and selling, acceding or gifting to others with intent to reverse the demographic ratio of the Muslims from majority to minority. To discover why are the Muslims the main targets or what appear to be the perpetrators of the trouble in the world, we had to rely on historical perspective of the world-power game. We saw that till late the Muslim empires dominated large parts of the known world. Now that the West has assumed this mantle, they find it expedient to dismantle what is left of the old structure. The Muslims are therefore to be disabled economically, subdued politically and demonized morally till they can struggle no more. But this does not mean that the rest the world is safe.
The self -serving corporate mammoth of military-industry complex and the politicians of the West are out to crush any opposition and snuff out the spark of independence wherever it lights up. The hallowed right of a people to fight for freedom, dignity and protection of their resources has been made to stand on its head and labeled as the crime of terrorism. They are trying out a new weapon of semantic engineering to disassociate the word "terrorism" from the State and to pin it down firmly and exclusively to the protesting and deprived people of the world. Perceptive minds will see through this covert shift of nuance and freedom die-hards will ignore the monumental deception to go on fighting against the global dominance by the oppressors.
In the sphere of human values, if there was one single answer to my friend's question or to the popular American refrain, "Why are they so angry?" it was assiduously extracted from the spirit of Islam and the Muslim ethos. It came from the unbiased scholar, Karen Armstrong long before Eleventh September and also addresses to Prof. Huntington's much publicized and somehow suggestive hypothesis about 'Clash of Civilizations.' She sums it up rather succinctly:
"The intolerance many people condemn in Islam does not always spring from a rival vision of God but from quite another source: Muslims are intolerant of injustice, whether it is committed by rulers of their own --- like Shah of Iran---or by the powerful Western countries" ***********************
S.A.Abidi is an independent commentator based in Karachi, Pakistan.