The “religion of peace” and the politics of appeasement

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

-George W Bush, September 2001

Sufism is a celebration of diversity and pluralism, expressed in the words of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, that every people has its own path of truth, beliefs and focus of reverence. These words reflect the divine message of the Holy Prophet that there is no compulsion in religion; and also that to every people, we have appointed ways of worship which they observe.

Narendra Modi, March 2016

The media’s interpretation of Modi’s comments was “Islam is a religion of peace.” If that is to be believed, then two leaders of two separate, disparate democracies have made basically the same comment, 15 years apart. But Modi is also a member of a right-wing Hindu nationalist umbrella group, some of whose cells are openly anti – minority, directing their ire particularly towards Muslims. How can Modi then be making such comments contradictory to party interest? Hadn’t he said that he would not appease anyone before he became the Prime Minister of India? Well, reality check. Or realpolitik, if you like. Welcome to the world of appeasement.

Even as Europe is trying to cope with an exodus of refugees from mainly Muslim majority countries in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa, and intra – EU differences over policies regarding their intake, and even as the wounds Europe had incurred from the 13/11 Paris attacks last year were beginning to heal, Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU has come under attack today, witnessing two separate explosions at the airport and at a metro station close to the EU’s core institutions, obviously targeting people of business and business itself. Witnesses apparently heard now-much-dreaded Arabic chants before the bombs went off, which means that the airport attack might have been suicide bombing, which has by now become a signature of jihadist mass murder and destruction. It’s now been determined that the terrorist group IS was involved in carrying out this latest spell of barbarism on humanity, and so there is little doubt as to where the injunction to kill, maim and terrorize came from. If someone had indeed chanted something in Arabic before committing their grisly suicide-murder, it’s a safe bet that he didn’t martyr himself for the cause of Communism at the heart of Brussels.

After the Paris attacks, a massive combing operation was launched in all of France and EU nations, specifically Belgium, collaborated to help track down the plotters and surviving terrorists from that attack. France went into a prolonged state of emergency, which is still operational at this time. The investigation culminated in the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the 26 year old terrorist who was the only one surviving out of the 10 who carried out the attack on 13/11. There are speculations as to whether or not the attacks in Brussels are linked to the capture of Salah Abdeslam. Although it seems a bit unlikely that attacks on such a massive scale could have been planned in a matter of 3 days, it certainly does say that terrorists are being able to breach the security system inside European countries more consistently than one would like to think. What could be the reason?

Immediately after the Paris attacks, focus was on a small neighbourhood in Brussels, named Molenbeek, because this Muslim ghetto had long been under the watch of the Belgian authorities for suspected radicalization of youth there. Salah Abdeslam, no surprise, was apprehended there three days ago.

Security forces have zeroed in on a poor Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, where several people were detained in a series of raids since the ISIS-linked attacks. Tiny Belgium — with a population of just 11 million — has the highest number per capita of militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, experts say. Many are from Molenbeek, which has a long history of links to extremism.

This attack will now lead to focus being shifted to Molenbeek anew, without a doubt. But the problem is obvious. Most of these terrorists are technically European citizens carrying out deadly attacks on their countries of birth or upbringing. Terror is becoming homegrown. What was a laughable idea two decades ago – terrorists being homegrown in Europe – is becoming a harrowing reality now.

Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected lynchpin behind the Paris attacks, lived in the district but is now believed to be in Syria. He is also said to be linked to thwarted attacks targeting a Paris-bound high-speed train and a church near the French capital earlier this year.

These terrorists were brought up on ideology and hatred for the country they have lived and grown up in:

Molenbeek provides a grim lesson of what is happening in other parts of Europe, according to Adam Deen, a former British radical who is now part of U.K. anti-extremist organization the Quilliam Foundation. Muslims are increasingly being offered a very narrow interpretation of Islam — Wahhabism, the strict sect aggressively promoted by Saudi Arabia throughout the world, he said.

“What this does is create a sense of alienation from the place you were born and brought up. You begin to hate the society you were brought up in,” said Deen, who says he still practices Islam but has abandoned extremism. “Now what happens is that any Muslim who wants to be active within the Muslim community, the default position is Wahhabism or a varied form of it.”

He added: “Wahhabism creates a binary outlook on the world. That kind of indoctrination [which preaches that] all non-Muslims are non-human make it is quite easy to put a bomb in a public place.”

Saudi Arabia. Home to Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest places in Islamic faith. Of course there isn’t any connection, necessarily between all of Islam and the stated fact. But it’s also a fact that there is no real opposition -from any part of the Muslim world unless it’s Shia, and that too only because Shias and Sunnis are at loggerheads by principle- to the mass murder that Saudi Arabia carries out every year using Shari’a. It’s also been revealed that Saudi nationals have been funding the IS blithely, without the least bit of concern for humanity. No action yet. All because the world needs oil to power itself. In principle, Saudis are dealing with creatures that are supposed to be non-human according to their doctrine. Just because they can. Just because they possess oil. Just because Islam is a religion of peace.

Even with the serious threat that Molenbeek evidently is to Belgian and indeed all European security, there is no shortage of appeasement:

…. officials have not taken on the extremist ideology head-on, Moniquet said.

“They completely let the bad guys do absolutely what they wanted,” he said. “They have been too nice, too tolerant, too bland. They didn’t want to see radical Islamism in this part of the country because the only thing interesting for them is peace [and quiet] and to be reelected.”

Molenbeek Mayor Francoise Schepmans acknowledged that a small number of the neighborhood’s Muslims had been radicalized but denied it was a big problem, according to The Associated Press.

The first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge it is there, not by making it the elephant in the room. Some experts on terrorism have suggested the problem is not so much with Islam as it is with the fact that extremists/jihadists and more restrained Muslims can have no problem coexisting in the same neighbourhood. Be that as it may, it’s clear that Muslim ghettos in certain parts of the world, where they are immigrants, are places ripe with opportunities for terrorist groups to recruit and convert. Conventional wisdom suggests that it’s much better to err on the side of caution, than committing a titanic blunder by intending not to err.

But hey, this is the season of appeasement. Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish dictator who violates human rights for breakfast and dinner, has been offered a three billion dollar package by the EU to keep the refugees who are streaming in, fleeing the ongoing Syrian crisis, within its borders, as it’s becoming impossible for Greece to accommodate refugees even temporarily.

And yet people both within Turkey and in the international community are worried that the EU’s need to stem the number of refugees entering EU territory means that leaders are turning a blind eye to human rights violations and increasingly heavy crackdowns on political opposition in the non-EU country.

The issues with Turkey have been long-standing, and never ending. Apart from systematically making every effort possible to disenfranchise the Kurdish minority within its borders, it’s now regularly carrying out “crackdowns”, ostensibly in retaliation against the “terrorist” Kurdish group, PKK. This has killed and injured many innocent Kurds so far, and the terrorist attacks on Turkish soil have not ceased. Keeping in mind how hawkish Erdoğan is and how his attitude is towards Turkey’s genocidal past , the signs are definitely not good for those who care about humanity. Add to this Turkey’s regular “crackdowns” on free media, or anyone that criticizes or expresses dissent against Erdoğan’s policies, and you have a package you don’t quite want to negotiate with if you are a believer in human rights. But negotiate EU has. Or, to be less euphemistic, appease.

And while we are on the subject, Iran has started test-firing of missiles “in defiance” of sanctions placed on them. Fancy for a country which just had international sanctions on it lifted last year, and diplomatic ties with the rest of the world renewed. They now have access to nuclear fuel. And there have been fears in the past that they were trying to acquire the thermonuclear bomb. Again, oil.

Coming back to Narendra Modi, he too has a possible genocidal past that his political party and he has managed to avoid scrutiny and investigation of, thus far. The victims in his case were mainly Muslims. So why would he bother appeasing them, even though he had vowed never to appease anyone?  The most obvious answer would be ‘politics’. Votes are what the politician lives and dies for. Their job is to manufacture “causes” to represent and to secure votes through promoting those causes. But there are politicians. And then there are shrewd politicians. Modi is definitely one. He knows how to measure what he says. And there are times when he says nothing. Especially when he knows that opening his mouth might hurt his image. So what’s going on? Let’s revisit Modi’s comments then:

Sufism is a celebration of diversity and pluralism, expressed in the words of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, that every people has its own path of truth, beliefs and focus of reverence. These words reflect the divine message of the Holy Prophet that there is no compulsion in religion; and also that to every people, we have appointed ways of worship which they observe.

Here he is talking about Sufism, and trying to say that Indian Muslims basically adhere mostly to Sufi ideals and hence are not given to extremist Wahhabi ideas. So he is suggesting that Indian Muslims are less prone to terrorism because of that. While it is true that Sufism is a mystical tradition within Islam that espouses peace and love, and also there are many Indian Muslims who follow that tradition, it is by no means true that all Muslims subscribe to those views. India has now for more than a couple of decades dealing with homegrown terrorists who didn’t have anything to do with Sufi ideals. Also the part where he mentions there being “no compulsion in religion” as far as the “Holy Prophet” is concerned, is a lie, even though it’s not obvious. The Koran is replete with verses that fulminates against the unbeliever and advocates termination of all unbelief by use of the sword. You cannot have “Muhammad” and “peace and love” in the same breath. Sufism is in fact a peaceful tradition to a great extent independent of traditional Islamic teachings, and only selectively invokes Muhammad in its interpretation of Islam. No wonder they are viewed as heretics by Sunni extremists. So Modi has found a very clever way of making his point, appeasement without having to say, insincerely, that “Islam is peace.” But it is appeasement still. He is even paying a devotional visit to the mecca of fuel, Saudi Arabia, although for slightly different reasons. So much for Modi’s principle of non-placation.

But why are these reassurances required all the time? Why does the world have to hear, day in and day out, that “Islam is a religion of peace”? No one has to worry about Christianity or Judaism or Taoism being religions of peace (or not). Why are special arrangements or negotiations needed to be made with Islam everywhere? Why are there Islamic councils in parts of Europe demanding Shari’a ruled zones or constituencies? Why is the religious faith of a Muslim person so often the most highlighted or projected when he/she is the victim of an atrocity, rather than their humanity? These questions might not have simple answers, but they pretty often become a problem, and the solution so far has been appeasement. One wonders why you would need to appease a religion of peace. The answer to that might be a lot simpler than one thinks.


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