Dr. Habib Siddiqui
In our time there is no denying of the enormous influence of the social media employing web- and mobile-based technologies to support interactive dialogue and communication between organizations, communities and individuals. Thus, mass communication which was once a very expensive avenue to propagate one’s views is now almost a free item. Social media are also unregulated in most parts of our world, thus, allowing every John or Jane Doe to express and share his or her views on any matter big or small whether or not he or she is qualified or knowledgeable on such matters. It is, therefore, possible that while expressing one’s unfiltered views others can feel abused, demeaned and hurt. And consequently, those feeling hurt, demeaned or abused can react either proportionately or disproportionately, which can turn into violence.
Consider, e.g., the latest case involving the posting of highly inflammatory and offensive pictures in the Facebook by someone named Uttam Barua, a Buddhist in Bangladesh. Consequently, angry mob have ransacked some monasteries. There are rumors that Barua may have been a foreign agent working for the Myanmar regime to incite such violence.
In repressive and authoritarian societies where the government controls most outlets of social media, its views define the narratives on most matters. For years, thus, in places like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria it was always those governments that had a tight control on what needed to be fed and consumed for their public. But with the social media like the Internet and Facebook, which could not be controlled by the governments, the general public was no longer willing to digest government narratives on any matter of importance unquestioning. By offering an alternative source of communication, the social media have triggered something like a revolution of the mind, thus, freeing hundreds of millions of people around our globe. Thus, one after another yesterday’s despots were overthrown yielding place to the newly elected democratic leaders. Probably, one of the days not too far from today, other despots like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad would also be removed.
Social media can, however, as already hinted above, be abused spreading lies and deceptions, promoting hatred and intolerance. And we have been witnessing many such abuses of freedom of expression in many western liberal democracies, especially in its treatment of Islam and Muslims in the post-9/11 era.
According to the U.S. government accounts, the tragic event of 9/11 was brought about by terrorists that were linked with OBL’s al-Qaeda. [Note: there are many credible engineering experts who doubt the government narrative on this tragedy.] In spite of Bush Jr.’s announcement that the religion of Islam had nothing to do with this tragedy, it was no less of a person than his own attorney general who would later go on to say that ‘Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for Him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends His son to die for you.’ John Ashcroft is an evangelical Christian and his bias is understandable, although he later indicated that his remarks to Christian columnist Cal Thomas did not “accurately reflect what I believe I said.”
Sadly, Ashcroft was not the lone Republican politician in this media campaign against Islam and its adherents. Others like Giuliani, Gingrich, Palin, King and Bachmann joined the hate campaign. Many of these promoters of hatred are individuals with very flawed moral fiber and their views on Islam revealed far more about their own evil selves than anything else. And then there were others — intimately tied up with the Zionists on the contentious Palestine-Israel debate — who for their own religious or political beliefs or inclinations jumped on the wagon of intolerance. They became the mouthpieces for the land-grabbing Zionists in Israel. Nine-Eleven for them was a Reichstag Fire moment to launch an all out war against the Muslim world so that not only could Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestine with settlements and dehumanization of the Palestinian people be sanctified the entire Muslim world would be brought down to their knees as a subjugated people. They even planned for redrawing the map of the Muslim world. However, with the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq going wrong, dragging valuable American resources and killing thousands of soldiers, their evil plan had to be shelved.
The intellectual leadership for Islamophobia and intolerance of anything Islamic was provided by some pen-pushing frauds and charlatans who mastered the art of cherry-picking Qur’anic verses out of context to suit their ludicrous theories about Islam. Thus, came disingenuous and greedy guys like Ibn Warraq and others, who basically repackaged the centuries-old missionary polemical writings against Islam to justify Islamophobia and bigotry against Islam. With material support provided by powerful pro-Israeli Americans and Europeans, virtually anyone (or so it seemed) who could ridicule Islam soon became a media celebrity. In the post-9/11 era of Islamophobia, they were to become the new faces of ‘experts’ on Islam. Interestingly, many of these ‘experts’ (including some with Arabic sounding names like Irshad Manji and Ibn Warraq, and other Christian and Jewish zealots like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, respectively) hardly know the language of the Qur’an. But who dare question their expertise on Qur’an and Islam or the Muslim world when they are promoted as experts in media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s TV channels, tabloids, newspapers and magazines, and have powerful advocates like Daniel Pipes and Ann Coulter!
But probably nothing was more sinister in this scheme of things Islamophobic than the Jerusalem Summit, a think tank that was sponsored by Michael Cherney Foundation, which provided the first venue for anti-Muslim zealots (including Hindu and other extremists from countries with records of deep intolerance against their Muslim minorities) around the world to unite on a common agenda in Jerusalem in 2003. The ideology of the Summit was summed up by its four-point declaration: radical Islam is a threat to civilization, the United Nations is a failure, Israel is in need of defense and the war on terrorism is a righteous cause.
Lost in that mendacious campaign are the facts that it is Israel which with its racist Likudnik Zionist leaders is a threat to every Arab neighbor and the entire region, and it is the Palestinians, Iranians and other Arabs who live in the Middle East that need protection against Israeli terrorism, and that when it comes to extremism – no religion has a monopoly there. All the extremists – religious and non-religious alike – are a threat to civilization, and they are the ones who need to be defeated. That is, secular fundamentalists in France and other parts of Europe and the Americas are no better than the Muslim Talibans of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the Hindu extremists in India, or the Buddhist extremists in Myanmar and Cambodia, or the Christian extremists in the Philippines, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Serbia, or the Christian/Jewish Zionist extremists in much of the western world. As a matter of fact because of the support that many of these non-Muslim extremists (e.g., the likes of Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani of India; Gingrich and Bachmann in the USA, and so on and so forth) enjoy from the government apparatus in their respective countries they are seemingly more dangerous than most Muslim extremists who don’t enjoy such support.
In essence, the neoconservative organizers and participants of the Jerusalem Summit wanted nothing short of a civilization war with the world of Islam. Fear of Islam and its people was exploited as one of the most surreptitious and invisible powers to denigrate the religion of nearly a quarter of humanity and encourage open promotion of intolerance and hatred against Muslims.
It is because of such a common agenda that the limit of freedom of expression to insult Islam is ever pushed to its newer heights where anything and everything to do with Islam is a fair game. Thus, the Danish Cartoons and the recently filmed ‘Innocence of Muslim’ are only part of this long list of hatred and intolerances hurled against the Muslim world. These are meant to provoke Muslims and ultimately bring about a clash of civilizations. They also have powerful backers with links to the citadels of power from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv to Washington D.C. Many of these provocateurs are also criminals who should have been locked up in the prison for the good of the society.
These hatemongering provocateurs ought to know that like anything in our world there is always a limit to freedom. With freedom comes responsibility. When their fists hit someone’s nose it is an abuse of that freedom to stretch arms. Freedom cannot be a tool to promote hatred and intolerance against anyone, and much less against a religious community. Government cannot shy away from its responsibility to punish the abusers of such freedom that breed hatred and lead to violence, which can result in the deaths of innocent human beings.
In recent months, we have witnessed quite a few of such demonstrations of hatred against Muslims in the Internet, the Facebook and the YouTube. What is interesting is that some of these social media sites had clear guidelines against promoting intolerance. However, when it came to insulting Islam and Muslims, none of those guidelines seemed to matter, and those sites did not feel obligated to remove such offensive postings. What a double standard!
During the early days of latest extinction campaign against the Rohingyas of Myanmar, I was simply shocked to see an overabundance of highly inflammatory and offensive pictures and racist remarks posted by Rakhine and Burmese Buddhists that were sure to pain most Muslims. I pondered how could any person live with so much hatred against a fellow human being? After all, hatred is taught and no one is born hating anyone. Who have been teaching the Buddhist Rakhines and Burmese to hate non-Buddhists? As I know better, in societies where such evils are promoted, it is no longer an individual act but rather a national project in which others are willing partners in such crimes.
As I hinted earlier, authoritarian regimes use government controlled media to manufacture and spread their lies. They can act as the ultimate architect of genocide or crimes against humanity. For years, within what was Burma, and known these days by the name Myanmar, propagation of hatred against the Rohingyas, who are ethnically and religiously different than the majority Buddhists, has been part of the government campaign. Falsely depicted as outsiders, land- and job-stealers, the Rohingyas have been robbed of their citizenship in the land of their forefathers, and they have been dehumanized to such an extent that no one dare say anything to restore their legitimate rights in this Buddhist majority country. An open display of racism and bigotry thus became a norm rather than an exception.
The rape and grisly murder of a Buddhist woman was exploited as what had triggered the ‘race riot.’ However, as Dr. Maung Zarni, an expert on Myanmar, has recently mentioned there was no trace of rape on that murdered Rakhine woman – Thida Htwe; and that one of the so-called perpetrators of the crime Htet Htet (who was later declared dead in his prison cell) was a Buddhist. And yet, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information which micro-manages all official publications and broadcasts went on to characterize incorrectly the three perpetrators as ‘Muslims.’
The military regime has often been the greatest perpetrator of such hateful crimes and then blamed others to incite race riots. I won’t be surprised if we, one day, learn that the local government officials and security forces in the Rakhine state were the architects of this gruesome murder to incite Rakhine violence against unarmed Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.
As a result of this targeted pogrom, thousands of Muslim owned homes, businesses, shops, schools and mosques have been burned down and destroyed; nearly a hundred thousand of the Rohingyas continue to live without a shelter. No Muslims are now noticeable in places like Akyab, the capital city. As I write their historic Jam-e Mosque is torched by a Rakhine mob; and this, in spite of the government imposition of the Section 144, which bans all movements of 5 or more people in groups. While the Rakhines are allowed to roam around and burn Rohingya homes, all the homeless Rohingyas are caged in camps with no freedom to go out. Denied adequate food, many are starving to death as a result of this extinction campaign. As to the casualty, we may never know the number of deaths. Myanmar regime won’t share that information. None of the perpetrators of the ten Tablighi Muslims has yet been arrested while it is widely known that some 300 or so of the armed Rakhines attacked them in front of police and security forces. It is no accident that human rights activists have called the latest campaign as part of a wider ethnic cleansing campaign that started since the time of Ne Win in 1962.
Can the provocateurs of hatred and intolerance be taught to love their targets or objects of hatred? Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” I wish Mandela is right.
Hatred and intolerance are unacceptable. They are like cancers and need to be routed out one way or another. If unbridled freedom promotes such cancers, a society is probably better off controlling its deadly spread through painful radiation therapy before it is too late.