May Allah help this Ummah but we are living in very difficult times. The biggest challenge seems to be to maintain emotional and psychological equilibrium in the midst of the battering as if in a storm. While we are battered by storms, some of our own making, we still have to keep walking on the path of life, trying to make sense of whatever little we can see through the haze and fog and keep hoping that when we step off into the darkness of the unknown, there will be something solid to stand on or we will be taught how to fly.
In times like this it is only natural to fall into the trap of defining ourselves in the terms that the propaganda wordsmiths set for us and to respond in their language without realizing that by definition it is to our disadvantage.
Language has and will always be a weapon in the hands of the experts to be used to color the picture in the hue of their choice. For example, British historians called the 1857 War of Indian Independence, “The Sepoy Mutiny”. Intrinsic in the term being the need to legitimize the colonial rule. If you call it a ‘Mutiny’ then any draconian measure to crush it becomes justifiable and that is precisely what they did. Of course to our own eternal shame as Indians, Maratha and Sikh troops fought under the command of British officers and did the deed and literally hundreds of thousands of brave Indian patriots, Hindu and Muslim, were brutally murdered. All in the name of the great British civilization.
Today the same tactics are being used where freedom fighters are called ‘insurgents’ and ‘terrorists’. Their brave attempts to fight an overwhelmingly superior force invading and illegally occupying their countries are called ‘acts of terrorism’. And the real terrorizing of the whole world is called ‘War on terror’ and the people committing these terrorist acts are called ‘democratic forces.’
When they die in this unequal fight at the rate of about 1 to every 100 of the freedom fighters (ICH: as on August 29, 2007 – 3732 US troops to 1,025,092 Iraqis) their death is called ‘heroic’. And when whole neighborhoods and cities are wiped out in genocidal acts, this is called ‘collateral damage’. When random acts of violence happen where misguided people take the law into their own hands and attack innocent civilians, their actions are and are called ‘dastardly’. But when bomber pilots of the so-called ‘Democratic Forces’ shoot missiles that destroy hospitals, schools, mosques, bomb shelters with men, women and children smashed to rubble it is called a ‘surgical strike’. I can go on but won’t.
The point I want to make here is not about what the wordsmiths of the fascists do. But about our own people falling into their trap. For example as we speak Buddhists in Myanmar are carrying out a state sponsored genocide of the Rohinga people who are inhabitants of Burma/Myanmar for centuries. Men, women and children are being slaughtered, burnt alive and their homes, mosques and schools are being torched. All this while the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama are silent witnesses who don’t even speak a word against the oppressors. I believe it is essential to look at the reality and stop fooling ourselves if we want to find a solution to the problem. As long as we keep calling it a problem of Islamic fundamentalism there is no solution to the problem. Once we accept that the problem is to do with the ongoing push for Western Imperialism (albeit today in the name of ‘democracy’) push for global domination, then we will be well on the way to solving the problem.
Frankly I am not even against the idea of global domination because I recognize it to be the natural outcome of economic and military power. However it is the means adopted to dominate which must be questioned. When these means sow the seeds of global suffering and slavery hiding behind a veritable fog of lofty ideals, then they must be resisted and exposed for what they are. For a nation to seek markets is not wrong provided others can share in its economy and are not reduced to abject slavery albeit in another name. However the West, which is the ideological heir to the Roman Empire, continues to use the language of Julius Caesar and Imperial Rome – ‘bringing civilization to barbarians in the name of the Republic’. That enabled them to create a state which was based on the logic of perpetual war which was the engine behind their commerce and trade. I believe that for anyone wanting to understand global politics today, reading a history of the Roman Empire is essential.
To return to our subject of how language is used as a tool, even weapon, of domination, unfortunately we see independent journalists also using the language of the oppressors when defining Muslims and calling them ‘Islamist’, ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and so on. This is a big mistake and an indication of mental subjugation that many of us have become the victims of.
Muslims or Muslim countries have not invaded any other country. They are not the ones who are imposing their economic, religious or moral system on anyone. They are not the ones stealing others’ assets, looting their countries or attempting to overthrow their governments. They are not the ones who are imprisoning others for no cause, torturing them in heinous ways or passing life sentences on them because they demanded justice and spoke against oppression. The citizens of these countries, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and others, who happen to be Muslims are fighting for their rights. The right to life, to dignity, to not being murdered, tortured or raped. The right to education and clean water not contaminated by depleted uranium or sewage from the illegal settlements deliberately being dumped into the Palestinian aquifer that is the only source of their drinking water. The right of their children to play in the street without being picked off by snipers taking pot-shots at human beings. Yet they are called fundamentalist terrorists, most painfully of all, by their own simple minded brethren.
We as bystanders have a very important task. One that history will hold us accountable for and which we will answer to our Creator for on the Day when all will be called to account for what they did. And that is the task of bearing witness. Being truthful recorders of what is happening. We may not be able to change what is happening or to stop it from happening. But we can bear witness to it and name the beast correctly. This is a sacred duty of every citizen, irrespective of nationality, religion or race. To bear witness to the blatant oppression that has been unleashed on the world. Remember my friends to bear witness truthfully and not to use the language of the oppressors when you do it.
Call genocide, genocide. Not ethnic cleansing or riots. Call bombing cities and killing civilians as such, not collateral damage. And call Muslims, Muslims, not Islamists, Talibanists or Fundamentalists. ‘Terrorism’ is bad English. Terror is not an ‘ism’ – and ideology but a tactic used by various ‘isms’ to achieve their own ends. Anti-Semitism is to speak against Semitic people. While one may argue the purpose of isolating a single race to become the target of the world’s love, if one is to accept that Anti-Semitism is a crime, then to say anything disparaging about the Arabs will be a crime as Arabs are as Semitic as Palestinian Jews while European Jews are not Semitic at all. As in the story of the white bull, we die not on the day they come for us, but on the day we fail to raise our voice against the first innocent killed. The greatest cowardice is to stay silent in the face of injustice and the pinnacle of faith is to speak the truth in the face of the tyrant.
How to Win – Enjoy
We have reached a stage in our development (if I dare to call it that) as human beings where our world seems to run on hatred, not love. I think we all know the many reasons for this and how the flames are fanned. I remind myself and you that all fire burns and the result is always ash. It doesn’t matter why the fire was set. If it was set, it will burn everything that lies in its path and turn it to ash. Is this what we want with our lives? Ashes? If not, I have a solution and here it is.
“If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.
If you want to get what you never had, you have to do what you never did.”
Many times we find ourselves stuck in a negative cycle, especially with respect to certain people; parents, spouses, parents in law, friends; where with great regularity we find ourselves miserable, angry or otherwise in pain. Every time this happens we tell ourselves, ‘Never again. I will never let that happen again.’ But lo and behold we find that the next time around, in the same entirely predictable way we are enacting the same script all over again.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the play, ‘The Mousetrap’; the longest running play in London. It has been running for several decades. Naturally many of the original actors have retired. Some have died. Many new actors have come into the roles. But you know something; very strangely, the ending is always the same. Now isn’t that strange??
‘Ha!! Ha!!’ you laugh. ‘How can you call it strange?’ you ask. ‘After all the script is the same. So how can the ending be different?’
‘Ha!! Ha!! Indeed’, I say to you. ‘Apply the same logic to your life Sir. Remind yourself that if you want a different ending, changing actors is no use. You must change the script. See?’
Cut to your real life’s negative cycles – many people change actors. They get divorces, marry again, change jobs, change friends, cut off relations with parents (they can’t change those can they?) and so on. And a couple of years into the new relationship they find that the same problems have resurfaced. And they are surprised. I always tell them to go and watch ‘The Mousetrap’. Not perhaps for the usual reason but to drive home the point that the problem is not with the actors but with the script.
So, what can you do?
Well here’s my solution.
I call it my 3 – step solution:
- Stop dead in your tracks
- Take back the control into your own hands
- Then do the opposite of what you normally do
Stop dead in your tracks
Remember that until you are in the cycle, it will move in the same direction it always did. So, get off. Stop in your tracks. Break the cycle. How? Tape your mouth. Say nothing. Leave the room. Pretend you are having a heart attack. Go to the toilet. Knock over the water – do anything but don’t say that thing which is on the tip of your tongue. DO NOT REACT.
Take back the control into your own hands
DO NOT REACT: Remember that when you are reacting you are merely demonstrating that you are a puppet on a string. You are moving in whichever direction the puppet master pulls the string. So, break the string. Let him pull it whichever way he wants to. Since it is not connected to you, it will not affect you. Remind yourself that NOBODY CAN MAKE YOU FEEL ANYTHING. People do whatever they want to. YOU DECIDE HOW TO REACT. Stop reacting. Instead RESPOND. What is the difference?
Responding is what you consciously choose to do. Reacting is what someone else makes you do. So instead of reacting, respond. What does that entail? Well, for one thing, it requires that you stop (refer to step 1 above) and think about what is happening. Then it requires that you think of what the best way is, to deal with it. Not what is the ‘natural way’ or the ‘instinctive way’ but ‘the best way’
Remember that what is instinctive or natural is not always what is best. Emotional maturity is to act deliberately and consciously. To do what may not be natural but is wise, useful and productive. To do that, you have to ask yourself another question, ‘What is the result that I want from this interaction?’ Then do that which will get you that result. Not what you are dying to do to score some cheap point. So, stopping in your tracks is essential. Remember, anger is natural. Controlling it is not.
Then do the opposite of what you normally do
There is a famous story of President Harry Truman (I think it is about him. Forgive me please if I’ve got the wrong president) who was locked in an argument with someone. It got to a point that when he was about to say something, the other man said, ‘Don’t even bother. I know exactly what you will do.’ Harry Truman stood up, did a summersault on the carpet of the Oval Office and said, ‘I bet you didn’t think I’d do that?’ That broke the cycle.
Do the opposite. Suddenly hug your mother in law and kiss her. Maybe she will have a heart attack and your problem will be solved. Or even better she will see the error of her ways. Do the opposite of what you normally do. A good way is to be especially nice to those who are nasty to us. Be good to them. Serve them. Be especially thoughtful. And do it sincerely. That is important. Insincerity always shows up and causes more problems. Acting can’t be sustained. Be sincere. And be consistent. Don’t be nice only once. Be nice always. Not because of them but because of you. Make being nice your brand.
The Prophet Muhammadﷺ said, ‘I guarantee a palace in the middle of Paradise to the person who has the right but gives up his right for his brother.’ He said that because that is tough to do. Do the opposite. What is the best ‘opposite’ for you to do? Well, it is your life, see? So, think about it for yourself. One rule though – it must be the best that you can do. Not simply something to score points against the other person.
Because remember the fundamental rule? When life presents a problem for us to solve, if we solve it, we go ahead. If we don’t, the same problem will come back to us again and again until we solve it. Complaining changes nothing. The problem must be solved to show that we learnt our lesson. After all there is a reason for the problem to come in the first place, see? Nothing is without purpose. We need to graduate from one class to the next. Until we are in the same class, no matter how many schools we change, it is still the same class, same exams, same books, same lessons; until we pass the exam. Only then will we be permitted to move to a higher class. The sooner we demonstrate that we learnt our lesson, the sooner will be our graduation.
In conclusion, remember it is not about changing actors but about changing the script. You are the director. It is your play. But you are not the audience. So, you must act.