This year’s International Religious Freedom Report was prepared by the US government prior to the tragedy in Mosul, where Christians were forced to flee their homes. However, the report stated that 2013 witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in modern history. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents.”
I think there are two factors worth highlighting. The first is the weakness of a global leadership that should be capable of resolving what has become a real crisis threatening several countries’ stability around the world.
The second one is the Muslim world’s lack of vision and will, the repercussions of which are emerging either through the rise of desperate extremist movements that kill, destroy and displace in the name of Islam, or through Muslims suffering from racism coming from followers of other religions and sects. Racists tend to pre-emptively inflict injustice on Muslims after the success of the enemies of Muslims in associating the entire religion with terrorism and extremism.
This reminds me of a response I wrote a few years ago to an American journalist who attacked what he called “Islamic terrorism,” holding Muslims responsible for it and accusing them of keeping silent about extremism, fanaticism and terrorism.
Back then, I said that confronting any form of religious terrorism must be led by moderates within each religion and sect. It must not be led by religious extremists or fanatics from other religions and sects, because extremism begets counter-extremism, and fanaticism not only engenders counter-fanaticism but also creates excuses for it. I explained to the American journalist that the pragmatic Western mind must not expect a moderate Muslim to support campaigns by extremists of other religions on extremist Muslims. The same goes for any other religious group. For example, I don’t think a liberal Christian would be happy if extremist Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus attack Christian extremists, but I suspect he would not mind if the attack came from his fellow moderate Christians, who do not act in the spirit of vengeance.
Religious extremism and fanaticism are aberrations not exclusive to Islam, but have existed for centuries all over the world. From the Crusaders’ 1099 massacre of Muslims after the Siege of Jerusalem to the Spanish Inquisition and the displacement of Muslims and Jews during the “Reconquista” of the Iberian Peninsula. In more recent history, there was the Holocaust and the massacres that plagued the population exchange in the Indian subcontinent on the eve of Pakistan’s independence.
Massacres are to be found in inter-faith conflicts. Between 5,000 and 30,000 Christian Huguenots were killed in France by armed Catholic gangs in sectarian cleansing that began on Saint Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. Sectarian “troubles” that raged for decades in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants are another example.
The language of extremism and fanaticism currently dominates around the world. Earlier this year India, the most populous democracy on the planet, elected a prime minister widely accused of fomenting fanaticism and colluding with extremist Hindus against the Muslim community in his state, Gujarat. This problem can also be seen in another big democracy, the United States of America. There, it is clear that the policy of withdrawal and isolationism practiced by President Barack Obama’s administration has helped set instincts loose, encouraging groups and people who show no respect for coexistence to take control.
For example, the negative and shameful stance Washington took in Syria has been the best gift to extremists, who gratefully hijacked the Syrian revolution. Now these extremists have turned the revolution into a “Caliphate” project, which they believe gives them the divine authority to murder and eliminate others.
The negativity of Washington’s policy is also shown in how it has deceived itself into thinking that it left Iraq safe and democratic. However, we can all see the bitter truth as Iraq is currently ripped apart by Sunni and Shi’ite extremists while Christians are being displaced and the Kurds are detaching themselves from the blood swamp by speeding up the establishment of their own independent entity.
The Palestinian occupied territories too have paid for a heavy price for Washington’s negativity towards Israel’s land grab and occupation. Washington has abstained from pressuring the hawkish Likud leadership to stop its settlement projects, thus creating the necessary conditions for the growth of an extremist Islamic movement that confronts Biblical slogans with Qur’anic ones, to the dismay of the moderates on both sides.
This lack of leadership as shown by Washington and the United Nations has led to a sharp rise of intolerance and resentment all over the world.
This brings us to the second issue. Muslims the world over have no other alternative than to save Islam’s reputation and cultural heritage. Muslims must act to protect their own interests from those who claim to speak in the name of their religion and seek to monopolize it. At this point, the Muslims are to blame, and the responsibility falls on them.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) today represents what Al-Qaeda stood for in September 2001. Back then, the whole Muslim world was clear in its condemnation of the September 11 attacks. The Al-Nusra Front, which markets itself as less extremist than ISIS, has not abandoned its pledge of allegiance to Aal-Qaeda’s central leadership.
All in all, both groups—ISIS and Al-Nusra—have provided an excuse for the international community to stab the Syrian people’s uprising in the back and to overlook Iran’s expansionist aims in the region and Likud’s crimes in the Palestinian territories. Let us also recall that most of ISIS’s fighting is against Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, Al-Nusra, whether it states it or not, has contributed to the inability to establish liberated zones capable of providing security and basic services to their populations.
Yes, the world’s Muslims, before anybody else, must take the initiative to confront their own extremists and confirm the reality of tolerant Islam to the world.
The scenes of destruction in Mosul, Aleppo and Gaza eloquently summarize this tragedy.