Recent terror killings in France and later in Canada in the wake of controversy over the cartoons on Islam’s Prophet Muhammad has once again foregrounded the so-called clash of civilizations between the Christian – secular West and the Islamic world in global media and political discourses. It has huge implications in Hindu and Buddhist-majority countries like India and Myanmar also where ethno-religious politics is already reigning at the top.The row has overshadowed the unprecedented global pandemic and its staggering tolls in terms of millions of human lives as well as massive economic devastation that has ruined livelihood of billions, mostly poor across the religio-ethnic divide in both the hemispheres.
Informed and civilised debates are most welcome. The theory and practice of secularism and multiculturalism in different parts of the world, freedom of speech and expression and its limits including right to criticise religions, blasphemy and atheism should be examined. Particularly, the reality check on the religio-cultural freedom and other rights of minorities vis-a -vis majoritarian ‘national cultures’ dominated by one or other religious creed must be done based on lived experiences. However, what we are witnessing now are fanatic violence, both physical and verbal, in the name of divine and secular faiths.
Hypocrites are ruling the roost as every side is playing up their victimhood in a vicious cycle of hate crimes blinded by deep-seated prejudices to people of other races and religions, cultures and colors while hiding the fact that blood of innocents is in their hands too. This hellfire is being fueled constantly by many state and non-state powers who are hellbent to impose supremacy of their beliefs and ruling systems on the multitude of masses.
Terror in Thy Name
We have no qualm in condemning those killing in the name of Allah and Muhammad. These self-appointed avengers for Islam are no different from those who have massacred people for long or still running murderous campaigns in the name of Christ, Moses, Rama even Buddha. Tech-savvy Jihadists with medieval, misogynist mindset in Al Queda, ISIS and tribal Taliban as well as other non-state terror networks have ruled their proto-states as killings machines even for Muslim sects who differ with their version of Islam.
Like the fundamentalist Christians and Hindus, they refuse to understand and follow scriptural injunctions in their historical contexts and use human intellect and rational faculties to mitigate the current troubles. Instead, they want to bring back either the dawn of Islam in seventh-century Arabia or later-day global Islamic empires, at least pan-Islamic one in the 21st century world.
History is the witness to the fact that most of these modern avenging angels for Islam are the Frankensteins of the Western powers since the colonial times down to the anti-Soviet Afghan war in the eighties. Osama Bin Laden and other Jihadists had collaborated with the ‘greedy but god-fearing’ Capitalist West during its post-WW2 Cold War with ‘helpful but godless’ Communist bloc. Radical Islamists have replaced the hated commies as the first enemy of the US-led European nations, predominantly Christian, after 9/11. The lone wolves inspired by them are mostly underprivileged and alienated youth, ignorant about the rich and diverse history of the Islamic civilization and its huge contribution to humanity. Killing to avenge insults to the prophet undermines those contributions and exposes a lack of confidence and seized mentality of a weak mind.
But the other side of the coin is hardly different. West-dominated global media generally call Muslim attackers as Islamic terrorists. But it never identifies the bigots from other faiths with their creeds or probe into their association to organised terror. Even the most liberals often demonise fanatic Muslim youth as horrible monsters in human forms who bear the DNA of an alien and abnormal species. But they treat neo-Nazi killers as freak but fringe elements in a normal society. American White supremacists, anti-Muslim, anti-black and misogynists like Proud Boys who have stood by Donald Trump during the Black Lives Matter protests are considered mere aberrations. They never raise any Doomsday alarm about white Christian fundamentalism when lone wolves mowed down black Christian congregations or Muslim worshippers en masse in the US and Norway to New Zealand.
The Hypocrisy of the Politicians
Consider the roles of other wily politicians like young French president Emanuel Macron and his grey-haired Turkish counterpart Recep T Erdogan. Both the right wingers are deliberately playing with fire knowing well that it would open up the Pandora’s Box again. Our discerning readers may know how deeply entrenched is the current tirade in the grand narratives of historical rivalries between former Christian and Islamic empires since the days of Crusades and Jihads as well as ‘secular’ colonial and postcolonial history.
Macron’s defence of the cartoons on Prophet Muhammad and Erdogan et al’s reaction have underlined that both sides are resorting to age-old straightjacketing and stereotyping aimed at mutual demonization and vilification to gain in domestic electoral fortune and larger geo-political influence.The renewed tirade on radical Islam Vs Islamophobia have provided both leaders the opportunity to mask their ongoing resource wars over natural gas and oil in eastern Mediterranean region from Cyprus to Libya as well as old power rivalries in Syria-Lebanon, even in latest Armenia-Azerbaijan war over disputed territory of Nogorno-Karabach.
The latest spate of Jihadi terror attacks had begun following the French president’s provocative TV deliberation on his ‘anti-seperatism’ bill on 2nd October. He went on denouncing ‘Muslim seperatism and Islamic radicalism, preached and practised by foreign-funded mosques and social- religious associations’ which prefer ‘home or community schooling’ to secular state-run public education etc. France retains an overwhelming white Catholic majority but it also hosts the largest black and brown Muslim population in Europe, a historical consequence of its colonial past.
Macron knew well that the French society is already deeply divided over the cartoons and Hijab controversies that had led to terror attacks in churches and mosques as well as public places like Jewish market. But he brazenly rubbed the raw scars of earlier anti-government riots in dingy and crammed Paris suburbs.The suburbs witnessed intermittent violent protests by immigrant youth including those were born in France against poverty, unemployment, lack of civic amenities including sports facilities as well as police brutalities and other institutional discrimination. The president sparsely admitted the scars left by the French colonial past on Algerian and other north African Arab and Barber immigrants. He fleetingly mentioned that the ‘government’s withdrawal’ or cut in state expenditure in poor suburbs had facilitated the alienation and separatism.
But his matra for Muslim integration was far from persuasive and inclusive healing touches capped with long-term economic moves to generate jobs for poor minorities as well as social security and social justice for them as their legitimate cultural space expected in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. Instead, he feigned to be a savior of Laicite or French version of secularism and made public schooling mandatory for all children except those can’t attend schools on health grounds. He also thundered against foreign-funded mosques et al and promised to come down on them heavily through new laws. As it was not enough, he spoke of ‘Islam in crisis all over the world’ and virtually called for a global campaign against radical, revivalist Islam a la the ‘war on terror’ of junior Bush era.
Erdogan, on the other hand, complains about minority rights in France and lack of sanity in Macron’s mind. Only a few months back,he had reconverted the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the historic symbol of the East-West meeting point, into a mosque. The medieval cathedral-turned mosque in Istanbul was transformed into a museum by post-Ottoman Turkey’s secular and modernist ruler Kamal Pasha, ‘the Ataturk’ in 1934-5 in a bid to reduce the centuries-old tensions between the Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Turkey and its neighborhood. Islamist Erdogan ignored all protests within and outside Turkey while undoing the Ataturk-era ‘injustice to the believers and virtually claimed himself as new defender of Islamic faith.
Increasingly dictatorial in his long rule, he is now playing Islamist-nationalist card more aggressively to fulfil his neo-Ottoman ambition to be the uncrowned Caliph of the Islamic world. He has no qualm in suppressing violently his friend-turned foes among the Turkish Islamists and the Kurds, the largest ethnic minority as well as opposition parties despite most of them are Muslims. His contests with Saudi’s Salman, Egypt’s Al Sisi or Iran’s Rohani over the control of Libyan and Caspean Sea oil and gas reserves as well as middle east politics are still hot. The Macron has only provided him a suitable route to claim his numero uno status in Islamic world by asking Muslim masses to boycott French products..
However, neither Macron is a new Napoleon spearheading an enlightened European modernist mission in Africa nor Erdogan is a new Fatih; Mehmet II, the Ottoman conqueror of the Byzantine Constantinople which was the centre of medieval Eastern Christianity. Despite their best efforts to don the cloaks of the new champions of Western and Islamic identities respectively, neither have managed to hide their domestic economic failures and outsmart their regional challengers. Both– Macron and Erdogan, the opportunist and ambitious politicians are busy in mainstreaming the discourse of their domestic far right racists and bigots with an eye to the upcoming presidential elections in their countries.