‘Blind Faith’ by Irshad Manji (WSJ, May 20, 2004) – A short analysis

In her latest piece, Blind Faith (Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2004), Manji writes: “Muslim reaction to the beheading of Nicholas Berg tells us a lot about what’s happening in the Islamic world. More than that, it reveals what’s not happening, yet needs to, if Muslims are going to transcend the intellectual and moral crisis in which we find ourselves today.”

Obviously as far as the Muslim reaction to Nick’s grisly killing is concerned, Manji is quite vague about what is it that concerned her. If I were to assume that she meant "slow reaction of the community," something that was whined by some western press and the U.S. Secretary Colin Powell, the charge is unfounded and insincere. Muslims from all walks of life, both inside and outside Iraq (not just a “handful,” as cited by Manji), have condemned the horrendous crime. If the western press did not quite report the ‘Muslim reaction’ in time, the fault lies squarely with the press and not with Muslims. Soon after the incident was reported in the west, CAIR and many Muslim organizations, for instance, condemned it. From the reports that I received from Muslims who had joined the Friday Jumu’ah prayer service in various Islamic centers, there was routine condemnation of the act. I sent a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which like many others written by other Muslims, did not see the light. Such a deliberate attempt, apparently a concerted one, by the western press to arrest Muslim views from being heard, is anything but new, nor fair, and shows a tendency to foster hostile attitude about Muslims.

Violence is nothing new to our world, especially in the Middle East since the short-lived occupation of Kuwait by Saddam’s army in 1991. No, we don’t have to go that far back in history. Just the last couple of months would do. Now one may ask, where was the condemnation of murder of Muslims by Christian and Jewish forces before and after Nick’s murder? How about the murder of Sheikh Yassin or Dr. Rantisi? There are many who believe, and probably rightly so, that without Bush Administration’s approval, during the Bush-Sharon meeting in Washington that preceded, such murderous acts could not have taken place. And actions speak louder than talks/speeches. Not only did the Bush administration condone such murders, it even blocked any resolution from passage in the UN that was critical of the Israeli action. Where was the outrage among western citizens on these murders? Why this double standard? Why the western governments and their bemused citizens and puppets (like Manji) are so prompt in condemning the alleged "slowness" of Muslim reaction to the murder of Nick but not what is done by their own governments and their comrades in arm?

Extra-judicial killings of any sort by anyone are criminal. We simply cannot let such happen. A viable deterrence is to punish those who perpetrate such crimes, and also those who provide material and moral support to such crimes from happening. The unfortunate, albeit an ugly one, reality is: monumental hypocrisy – which is so pervasive in the western governmental actions and reactions – something that trickles down to ordinary citizenry. Nearly a thousand Palestinians were made homeless in the Rajah refugee camp in the latest Israeli campaign, under the pretext of finding tunnels linking to Egypt. Not a single new tunnel was, however, discovered. In a reminiscent of Jalianwala Bagh massacre, tank-shells were fired at unarmed civilians demonstrating in the camp against Israeli occupation. American-made helicopters fired missiles into the crowd. The outcome: killing of nearly 40 civilians, mostly teenagers. Israeli snipers killed Palestinian children in their own homes. Amnesty International has condemned, and rightly so, all these acts as war crimes. But where is the moral outrage from the western men, or their governments for such war crimes? Why don’t they stop these murderers? Why do they elect them? Why do they reward these criminals?

Mutual respect and trust is a two-way transaction. When thousands of Muslims are killed by war machines fired by western, non-Muslims, and not an eyebrow is raised for such heinous crimes, as if those killed are not worthy of anything, why should Muslims be expected to prove their disgust with the murder of a single non-Muslim? (Don’t misunderstand me here. As I said many times, I, like most Muslims, condemn all such murders, including Nick’s.) Yet the condemnation for Nick’s murder was unanimous amongst Muslims; not a single Muslim was to be found who was not outraged by the murder. I wish I had seen a similar outrage for the murder of thousands of unarmed Muslim civilians that have become so common nowadays, thanks to Bush, Sharon, Putin and other white-collar war criminals running our world.

Months before the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos were shown in the CBS Sixty Minutes II program, human rights groups had complained several times about systemic abuse and torture of Iraqi and Afghan prisoners to both the Bush and Blair Administrations, without much success. Soon after the capture of Baghdad, the Internet circulated pictures of Iraqi women forced to do the “Monica Lewinsky job.” There were reports of sexual and physical abuse of Iraqis, all in violations of the Geneva Conventions. (I personally forwarded such information to Senator Biden, a powerful senator from DE, requesting him to investigate and take corrective action. Nothing happened.) There was such a ‘cognitive dissonance’ displayed by our non-Muslim, western citizenry and the so-called free press that if it had not been for the CBS program, no one here in America would question the morality (or the lack thereof) of our prison guards, serving in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Even during the recently concluded Senate hearing on abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, there were (Christian) Senators justifying or finding excuses for such war crimes stating that those abuses were probably ‘reactions’ to daily ambushes of our American troops in the field. There were returning prison guards who flatly denied the occurrence of any such abusive practices. There were other veterans who were mad at the whistle-blower. It seems the buddy system really works well, probably for all intent and purpose too well, not only to protect the big dons but also the little ones following orders. Mock trials are being conducted to save our western face. But no big criminal was fired, and, in all likelihood, will not be.

Manji talks about Qur’anic ‘loopholes’ for crimes committed by Muslims. It seems that her main complaint is about Muslims trying to (what she alleges) ‘whitewash’ the Qur’anic text with the notion of context of revelation to explain away problematic verses. Is there a problem in understanding a passage contextually? If we are to set aside history, the contexts, don’t we set a trap for literary anarchy with any book? How are we to interpret the saying of Jesus: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34)?

Is this Biblical verse the justification for the slaughter of non-Christians, esp. the Afghans and Iraqis, who were killed in tens of thousands in the last 3 years?

How about the verses: “And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. … But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves?” (Numbers 31: 9-18) Are these the justifications for abuse of Iraqi women?

How about the verse: “And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain” (Deut. 2:34) Is this Biblical verse a sufficient justification or a moral incentive for causing wanton destruction of Iraqi and Afghan cities by Anglo-American forces (and Israeli Defense Force in the Occupied Territories of Palestine)?

No we won’t find Manji and her ilk losing their sleep over such problematic verses that inundate the Bible.

As I explained earlier (see, e.g., my essay on ‘Real Islam and Jihad’), all scriptures are vulnerable for misinterpretation and misuse by fanatic zealots. As much as Muslims have Osama bin Ladens and Jarqawis, so does Judaism with the Goldsteins, Meir Kahanes, Begins, Shamirs and Sharons; so does Christianity with the David Koreshes, Rev. Jones, Bushes and Putins; so does Hinduism with the Narendra Modis and Advanis. Fortunately though, in the last couple of decades not a single Muslim country has elected such zealots into power, who are bent on destroying or invading non-Muslim territories, something that Manji and her ilk cannot boast about non-Muslim war parties that they are fond of. Likudniks came to power, precisely because their agenda for annexation of the so-called Biblical territories, populated by Palestinians, was perceived as God-sanctioned. Bush Jr. was put into power by the Christian Zionists to shepherd God’s mission on earth, especially in the Middle East. His administration is careful not to repel these born-again Christians. Every policy about the Occupied Palestine is reviewed (like a scriptural sanction) with the Baptist/evangelist ministers. Vajpayee and his BJP were elected (now defeated in the latest election) to carry out the Hindu nationalist/fanatic agenda to Hinduize India. If the presence of violent passages in the Bible do not qualify Jews and Christians to ‘cradle a dangerous delusion’ about the ‘peaceful’ mission of their faith, Muslims need not undergo a selective litmus test to qualify their peaceful mission on earth.

I wish Manji had put as much energy into finding Biblical loopholes for Bush-Sharon’s actions that she now reserves for pinching the Qur’an. But as a happy puppy, willing always to wag the tails whenever a bone is thrown at by her master, she shows unwillingness for such activities. Haven’t we seen enough of her kind of shoddy analysts pestering our cyber-world in post 9/11?