Here we go again. We churn out statements of condemnation. We demonstrate and vent anger.
Our responses have become a psychological reflex for Muslims. The latest in the series of episodes was the popeâ€™s quoting of an incendiary and ignorant slander against Islam by a 14th century Byzantine ruler.
Such provocative statements from people of authority have been appearing at regular intervals, and we react to them without fail, providing an opportunity to our adversaries to say that Muslims are intolerant and angry people.
Statements and demonstrations are needed, but unfortunately these acts are becoming reactionary and defensive. Demonstrations quite often take an ugly turn, especially in front of cameras in becoming violent, giving a chance to the media to hype and magnify such acts. The media enjoys creating the perception that Islam is a violence-prone religion and negating Islamâ€™s inherently good, beautiful, and peaceful nature.
Such demonstrations reflect categorization or compartmentalization of our views, giving an impression of a tunneled vision. The impact of demonstrations is also short–with little effect on the situations they protest.
The major achievement for the demonstrators is to vent anger, frustrations and disgust. But we need our responses to be meaningfully effective. For this to happen our responses must be broad-based, with understanding of the diplomatic and political skills, media-craft, and a strategy for intellectual responses. Failing such a strategy, blasphemous attacks on Islam will continue at regular intervals, perpetuating the myth of a clash of civilizations; because this process serves our adversariesâ€™ purpose in labeling Islam as a violent and intolerant religion.
For example, our response would have been more effective after the publication of â€œSatanic Versesâ€ in 1989 if we had pointed out the authorâ€™s lack of credentials, his drunken state of mind, the purpose behind such nonsense and the action that would pinch publisherâ€™s and authorâ€™s pockets, rather than our emotional outbursts. Complete silence and ignoring his Islam-baiting book certainly would have been the response most contrary to Rushdieeâ€™s intended outcome.
We doled out millions of dollars after the genocide of Bosnian Muslims following Yugoslaviaâ€™s breakup in the early 1990â€™s. Indeed this was the right thing to do, but if some portion of that money and energy had been spent on political and diplomatic maneuvering, we might have achieved far better results.
Our response in 2005 to reports of the desecration of the Qur`an at Guantanamo Bay was no different.
If we had adopted an enlightening campaign that said Qurâ€™an revered Jesus, Moses, Mariam, Abraham (aleihimus Salaam) and other prophets accepted by Christians, and even God Himself, perhaps those Guantanamo guards might not have been so willing to violate the Qur`an–perhaps for fear of damaging those pages close to their own hearts. The response would have been effective and lasting.
The latest in the series of provocative events is the quote by the pope. He broke the â€œcardinal ruleâ€ as a religious leader by creating divisions between communities rather than uniting them. After quoting someone, a speaker must either endorse or refute the quote. Failing to refute the statement is perhaps a tacit endorsement.
Perhaps this was a deliberately calculated utterance because it complements the present conservative policy. As expected, the Muslim world vehemently reacted in predictable manner.
As the debate goes on, we must seize the opportunity to educate the people about Muslimsâ€™ contributions to Europe–that Europeâ€™s renaissance is based on the foundation provided by Muslim philosophers, physicians, mathematicians, astronomers, scientists, academicians and others brilliant and unsung in their arts. Most of the work done by the Muslims of that period has been inaccurately relegated to Greek and Latin civilization.
Notice also the reaction from American Muslims. The response is sharply in contrast to the rest of the worldâ€™s response. There are no spontaneous or organized protests. We have learned more logic and reasoning. This could show the road to others. The problem with our intellectual discourse is that it is restricted to the individual or group level, interfaith dialogue being the platform.
To carry our message to the masses we need the presence of a strong media that would also help in building public opinion. The presence of such a media would also help in communicating with mainstream media, and educating them on our issues. The big question is how to make our people understand that the media is a must in developing positive and informed opinion on issues important to us, stigma-free society and a vibrant community.