Friday, 7 November 2014


This piece is intended primarily as a rebuttal to this article, which is doing its rounds of social media ‘shares’, but this piece also goes deeper into the Western left-liberal discourse seeking to act as apologist propaganda for Muslim extremism. I may indeed clarify right at the outset that Islamism is a totalitarian ideology of imposing supposedly Islamic values, coupled with a sense of hostility towards non-Muslims, and Islamism is certainly not to be equated with Islam in its true form, a tolerant and peaceful religion, strictly prohibiting forced religious conversions, considering the killing of one innocent civilian amounting to the destruction of the entire humanity, and saving the life of even one innocent civilian amounting to saving the life of the entire humanity, and advocating war as a last resort only in case of either being forcibly displaced or deprived of religious freedom, and I consider Islam a beautiful religion in many ways, especially for its strong rejection of demagoguery and emphasis on socioeconomic egalitarianism.

Speaking of Islamists (not Muslims in general), some Islamists are more extreme than others, and as Meredith Tax points out with reference to the Muslim right-

I define the Muslim Right as a range of transnational political movements that mobilize identity politics toward the goal of a theocratic state. It consists of those the media call ‘moderate Islamists’ who aim to reach this goal gradually by electoral and educational means; extremist Salafi parties and groups that run candidates for office but also try to enforce some version of Sharia law through street violence; and a much smaller militant wing of Salafi-Jihadis, whose propaganda endorses military means and who practice violence against civilians. The goal of all political Islamists, whatever means they may prefer, is a state founded upon some version of Sharia law that systematically discriminates against women along with sexual and religious minorities.

Let me keep this simple – Malala bravely defied terrorists for a cause as a teenage girl. Yes, many innocent civilians are shot at by different security forces and militias across the globe, and that is unfortunate, and if it does go beyond what we understand as collateral damage under international humanitarian law, then that must be condemned in the strongest terms. However, not all those innocent civilians are specifically, as individuals, targeted for defying a mighty armed enemy, for a cause that, by modern human rights yardsticks, would be noble. There are all those left-liberals in the West, lamenting about how Malala has attracted so much attention but not the innocent girls in Pakistan who have died in drone attacks. Well, leave the drone attacks aside, Malala has even attracted more attention than any of the innocent civilians that have been attacked, successfully or unsuccessfully, by the Pakistani Taliban. The reason is that while all such instances of targeting by the Pakistani Taliban must indeed be vociferously condemned*, Malala stands out as a heroine for having defied terrorists and stayed put where she was, for the cause of girls’ education. For her defiance, she was specifically targeted as an individual, given her online critiques of the terrorists, which was not the case perhaps with any of the victims of other terrorist attacks by the Pakistani Taliban** and certainly not the US drone attacks.

That the Nobel Peace Prize has had some blatantly undeserving awardees (like Barack Obama) and the Nobel Committee has omitted some all-time greats of world history (like Gandhi) is beyond debate, but if it gets a deserving awardee, why must we take away from her legitimate achievement by resorting to senseless whataboutery? What, after all, does Malala’s deservingly winning the prize, have to do with the unfortunate reality of innocent civilians dying in US drone attacks? I am not an expert on military strategy; so, I won’t opine on whether the drone attacks lead to legitimate collateral damage or cross the line going by international humanitarian law. Sure, I have no problem with someone bravely campaigning against drone attacks, if they are indeed genuinely uncalled for, also being awarded the Nobel (and just, by the way, Malala has condemned the drone attacks), but the question is - why spoil the “Malala moment”? Unfortunately, the truth of the matter seems to be that many of the left-liberals in the West (like many of their counterparts in India and unlike their counterparts in Muslim-majority countries), given their obsession with acting as apologists of Islamism on one hand and only crying hoarse about Islamophobia on the other, are upset at the prospect of coming face to face with how Islamism is being challenged by practising Muslims themselves, with the help of some in the West, Malala being the prime example these days. On the contrary, the fact is that the left-liberals’ campaign against Islamophobia would do well to make Malala its symbol, as a “good” person among the Muslims standing up to the “bad” among them, to demonstrate that Muslims ought not to be seen as a monolith. A European acquaintance of mine told me that Malala’s pictures are to be found outside cultural centres in certain cities in Italy and France, which are known for having xenophobic and Islamophobic elements, and this has actually led to a change in perception of Muslims in these elements.

I understand that some in the West see all Muslim-majority countries in oversimplified terms, as places where almost everyone from the Muslim majority is a religious zealot, and where Muslim women and non-Muslims are a highly, highly oppressed lot (speaking specifically of Malala’s country, Pakistan, here is an article by me rebutting such a portrayal of Pakistan, and here’s another one), though patronizingly acknowledging that sometimes, there are some Muslims standing up for the ‘Western’ liberal values. This prejudiced eye-lens accepts Malala as someone who can be appropriated by the West, though the Islamic world has a long history of women’s education***, and the influence of modernity emanating from the West has already touched the Islamic world in very many ways over the last few centuries**** (just as the West has also been shaped by many Eastern influences). That said, rebutting the idea of appropriating Malala and her cause of women’s education as a product of ‘Western’ liberalism (and this article beautifully rebuts this Eurocentric worldview) is very different from trying to make a bizarre link between celebrating her well deserved Nobel Peace Prize and the undoubtedly tragic deaths of many innocent Pakistanis in drone attacks or other excesses by the West in the Islamic world.

Also, given the reference to Kailash Satyarthi at the outset (which means that the writer does know of an East beyond the Islamic world too) of the article being rebutted, the writer, while talking of Western neo-imperialism, fails to look beyond the Islamic world, even though US neo-imperialist policies have also adversely affected countries like Vietnam and Congo. It is a legitimate question to ask – why the pro-Muslim bias, which feeds the Islamist narrative? I am all for condemning US neo-imperialism, which is only about power, but undoubtedly, though many would say unfortunately, the quest for power by whatever means possible is a given that is here to stay in human affairs*****, and something that Muslim monarchs and politicians historically haven’t been free from. In contrast, as is evident globally, especially in the light of recent events in Nigeria and Iraq, Islamism (again, not to be conflated with Islam) is an ideological cancer that is feeding into the very premises of a modern society based on democracy and human rights, the way Nazism has done earlier. Indeed, in the era when the modern notion of human rights was yet to emerge, even Christians had much in their history, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to ‘witch’-burning, which was as dangerous as Islamism is today, and yes, even today, there is much in Christian, Jewish and Hindu societies that is not in conformity with human rights, frequent hate crimes against Dalits in India being a clear example. But then, to deflect attention from Islamism, especially by not lauding the practising Muslims standing up against it (and let me clarify that I consider the moderate practising Muslims as better allies to effectively fight Islamism, rather than apostates of Islam, as I’ve discussed in this article), by way of whataboutery, is surely not the way ahead.

I accept that many in the West find it more convenient to turn their attention towards the misogyny of the Taliban and other such Islamist outfits than face the reality of the excesses or even legitimate but nonetheless devastating collateral damage of their own security forces******, but they do not blatantly deny the latter. On the other hand, Muslim societies have very many elements that seek to be in denial mode by covering up for the wrongdoings of their own extremists, inventing ludicrous conspiracy theories, and Malala too has been a victim of the same, as has been discussed in this article by a liberal Pakistani Muslim. Yes, it is also true that the American government has had a major role to play in making Islamism the Frankenstein monster it has become by supporting radicalized Muslims from across the globe to fight the Soviet presence in Afghanistan (though the Pakistani government too shares the blame for the same, and continues to sponsor one set of terrorists against India and Afghanistan, treating such terrorists as “strategic assets”, while fighting the Pakistani Taliban on the other hand, as pointed out by a liberal Pakistani Muslim in this article), back in the 1980s, but that again has absolutely no relevance in the context of Malala’s courage. In the past, Nobel Prizes for Peace have gone to the likes of Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, whose work in the field of microcredit financing has been lauded globally, as also several other all-time greats of world history like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King (Jr.) as well as Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama – all certainly not being the kinds singing praises for Caucasians in the West as the beacon of civilization or necessarily being associated with being rescued by whites. In fact, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King (Jr.) epitomize a struggle against what was wrong with the power structures in or emanating from the West. Hence, the prize has gone not only to those the West can try to appropriate as being a product of their values, or use as a symbol to justify their operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, like Malala (who nonetheless deserves it, and there is indeed no evidence to suggest that the prize was awarded to her based on these considerations), or those representing Western power, like Obama, but also those who have embarrassed the West. It’s not like the Nobel Peace Prize hasn’t had its deserving awardees in the past, and if this year, that trend has come back in motion, isn’t that something to celebrate? Where is the hypocrisy? The hypocrisy, if any, lies in the fact that those who have always tried to stand out among the Westerners as being the ones who fully acknowledge and rightfully condemn the wrongs of Western governments in the Islamic world are now finding it unpleasantly difficult to come to terms with the real face of Islamism (not Islam), and how some in the West actually did well to protect a braveheart teenage girl fighting for girls’ education! Indeed, as famous Pakistani journalist Nadeem F. Paracha points out-“the crisis facing Islam today results not from the intrigues of other faiths or different ways of life, but from those claiming to be its most vehement defenders.

I surely can sense a reader’s possible discomfort at this piece opening a Pandora’s box of questions related to tackling the issue of Muslim extremism (also given my praising the religion Islam, and condemning US neo-imperialism as also the Western tendency to appropriate modernity and liberalism), but not offering any clear answers. What the solution to the problem can be in my humble opinion is something I have discussed at considerable length in this other piece of mine.

By Karmanye Thadani
Social Media  

The author would like to thank Mr. Snehashish Laik and his friend Abid Wani for their help and support for this article.

*Unlike US drones aimed at killing terrorists and also simultaneously killing innocent civilians in the process, these terrorists are targeting civilians mostly of their own faith and nationality.

**The Afghan Taliban is believed to be backed by Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), while the Pakistani Taliban attacks the Pakistani military and ISI, though the two are ideologically similar.

***The world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman, and it must be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, was a successful businesswoman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here. Like the Arab world, South Asia has seen Muslim women as rulers, who even engaged in battle, like Razia Sultan, Nur Jahan and Chand Bibi. Conservative and patriarchal attitudes that do not look upon girls’ education very kindly were to be found traditionally in the nomadic tribal societies that the Pathans of Afghanistan and today’s Pakistan have been, but while I would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, I include the oriental religions as much as the Abrahamic faiths) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education has no basis in Islamic theology.

****For instance, “modern” education in the English language with modern science has been a part of the history of South Asia (of which modern-day Pakistan is a part) for over a century, with South Asian English evolving its own words and phrases (like “loose motion”!), and the scenario is similar for all those Muslim-majority countries that were European colonies (like Egypt and Oman); so, it has become integral to cultures of Muslim-majority countries too, for cultures are dynamic and always influenced by external forces, with their history (often with the English language as the medium of instruction) and languages being taught in the same schools, and so, there is nothing “Western” anymore about modern education, just as there is nothing Indian anymore about using the number zero, though the positional scheme of numeration originated in India.

*****This problem of the “might is right” attitude in international relations can never be fully solved, though it can be possibly only mitigated by stronger international law mechanisms; to some extent, that has already happened, and we don’t have as many absolutely random wars of conquest, completely just invading another country as we did till the 1940s, but perhaps, more can and should be done. Giving the International Criminal Court (ICC) universal jurisdiction would be a step in the right direction according to me.

******That is why Nabila, a Pakistani girl whose family suffered owing to a drone attack, visiting the United States did not get even a fraction of the attention that Malala got.

Karmanye Thadani

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