The situation globally is as follows:
1. As my friend Biju Abdul Qadir defined the situation: “In my understanding, there are two scenarios playing out almost all over the globe, in general, and in the ‘Muslim’ world, in particular. One is the very clear and present injustice being perpetrated through the physical invasion, occupation and devastation of ‘Muslim’ countries for the greater interests of the power-and-arms lobbies within certain governments, thus leading to extremism and calls for blind vengeance among the thousands so traumatized.
The other possible scenario is the devilish execution of an insidious strategy of setting up bogeymen organizations and individuals projected as Islamic forces but which do everything – spectacularly and horrifyingly – against the spirit of Islam, so that, ultimately, the negative tarnishing of Islam and ‘Muslims’ happen effectively, with little blame on the real plotters and script-writers behind the scenes. In both these scenarios – whether the open, or the hidden, one – the loser is the ‘Muslim’ nation.”
2. Blatant dichotomy that the Western world applies to itself (read ‘White’) versus the rest of the world (read ‘non-white’) where it supports the opposite of the principles it holds sacred and inviolable in its own society. Take freedom, human dignity, human rights, sanctity of human life, child care and protection, justice, equity and compassion – and you will find that Western powers support the opposite in all those places where they have an economic interest. Western countries support, fund and supply the worst dictators and totalitarian rulers with all that they need to keep their populations enslaved and turn a blind eye to the torture, violation of human rights, unlawful imprisonment and killings that those rulers do, all the while claiming the high moral ground of being ‘global policemen’ to ensure justice.
The daily reports of Israeli troops using pregnant women for target practice, imprisoning children without reason, legalized torture of political and war prisoners; proxy wars fought in Muslim lands at the expense of the lives and hopes of local people; drone killings legitimizing murder by using remote control technology; Rohingas being slaughtered without pause, the list is endless. Muslims see this as a global conspiracy to annihilate them and wipe Islam off the face of the earth. This leads to a siege mentality and a sense of helplessness and desperation. The thundering silence of Western leaders in the face of all of the above, especially when compared with their frenzy when a white person is killed by alleged ‘Islamic militants’; is a study in hypocrisy. As a friend said to me on the deaths of Mohammed Ali and Abdul Sattar Eidhi, “Whenever a great Muslim dies, he is anything but a Muslim. But whenever a Muslim kills, he is nothing but a Muslim.”
The latest is the revelation (as if it was a secret) of the Chilcot Report that the Iraq War was a fabrication of lies led by the Bush-Blair combine which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, looting of an entire country and destruction of their nation. Question is, what is going to happen to those who are now seen for what they are i.e. murderers and bandits of the worst kind, responsible for genocide of an entire population of innocent people. A rather humorous analysis of it is here.
The report itself is on the internet and you are welcome to read it. If some action is taken on this report and Bush and Blair are impeached, then it will restore some trust in global justice. As it is cynicism far outweighs hope and that is very dangerous. The key question to ask is what every Muslim asks daily, ‘What if the situation had been reversed and it was Iraq which had invaded Europe and America?’ How would the world have reacted? Are lies alright for white people and not alright for non-white? Sorry to keep talking about skin color but that is the reality of the world.
3. The Muslim world demographically has a very young population which has all the same aspirational goals, attractions and hopes that any average Western youth aspires to but without the ability to reach them because they are living under conditions that prevent them; thereby condemning them to a fate of poverty and deprivation. Add to this the fact that Muslims (and all people with a mind and a conscience) are very angry at the rapidly tightening grip of the Military-Industrial Complex (read Western countries) on their lands and resources either directly through military occupation (Palestine, Iraq & Afghanistan) or through proxy rulers (too many to list) and at the blatant disregard for loss of Muslim lives. Not only that but the fact that in films like American Sniper, killing Muslims is celebrated; can only be viewed as crass and hugely provocative to put it politely. The extremist statements of people like Trump in America and similar myopic leaders in other countries adds to the anger.
A young population that is unemployed, poor, has time on its hands, has access to global media, has nothing to lose and is very angry – is a combination that is more dangerous than sitting on a powder keg with the fuse lit. Alienation born out of poverty and dearth of choices, that a vast majority of Muslim youth faces in almost every country that they live in; is their reality.
As another friend, Khadeeja, put it, ‘The Dhaka killings were, according to media reports, perpetrated by youth from affluent backgrounds. They went to posh international schools. While economic poverty is a lurking phantom that feeds the cycle of desperation and resulting violence, there is also another kind of poverty among young Muslims be they from affluent or non-affluent families- a poverty of hope that they can change the world. As a result, what we see is an insular way of thinking because of fear/hatred of the Other, of being ridiculed about their idea of Self by their own fellow ‘secular’ Muslims. This kind of insularity or perhaps even victim mentality in thought adds fuel to the fire of helplessness.’
4. Take away everything from a person and you have just created the most dangerous creature on earth – one who has nothing left to lose. A feeling of ‘nothing to lose’ has nothing to do with the material possessions that a person may have. People from affluent backgrounds are as prone to this as those who have little. So also hope; it resides in the heart and has to do with the individual’s faith in his future. That is what has happened to a large section of Muslim youth. They seem to have fallen into despair. They have aspirations like everyone else but the means of fulfilling those dreams are denied to them either because they are too poor to get the skill training or because of discrimination (official and unofficial) which shuts the doors for those who have gained skills with great sacrifice and determination. So like a lot of African American youth, they are footloose and susceptible to anything that gives them the illusion of empowerment and recognition. This is where recruitment for all kinds of things, from drug dealing to petty and more serious crime to religious extremism comes in. And they fall into the laps of the recruiters and the vicious cycle starts.
So there you have it. That is the problem definition. The challenge therefore is also twofold:
1. Dealing with global aggression, invasion, demonization, blatant injustice and discrimination and the psychological impact it creates
2. Dealing with the helplessness, lack of self-esteem, lack of opportunity and the negative impact of free time and loneliness
Life is a precious gift only for the one who has the means (not only money) to enjoy it. For those born in circumstances where life is a burden (material or psychological), it is not a gift but something that must be borne willy-nilly. For some of them (very few perhaps) the chance of a moment of glory, of power, where those they envied, cringe before them and are at their mercy; is a moment for which they are glad to give up a life that is in any case worthless and meaningless in their eyes. They are not afraid to die because to live means nothing to them. They have nothing to lose. Thanks to their circumstances they have suffered (real to them) indignity all their lives. They have carried resentment in their hearts against those who poured that indignity on them; the ‘haves’ of society and the establishment which they blame for their fate. And so when someone offers them a chance to hit back, they take it. That is what’s happening today. People are hitting out blindly, out of frustration, without thinking of the effect of their actions. Disastrous.
So here is my proposal for a solution:
1. Dealing with the effects of global aggression:
I recall going to a Vipasana (Yoga) academy in Bangalore many years ago to learn a relaxation technique called Shavasana. As I was in the class I overheard a conversation between the teacher and a middle aged man who was also in the class.
Man, ‘I have a problem with acidity. I like to eat chilly and fried things and every time I eat them; I suffer all night with high acidity. Is there a Yoga technique that can help me?’
Yoga teacher, ‘Yes. Stop eating chilly and fried things.’
It is really as simple as that. If we, the people of the world, are really tired of dying and losing our lives and livelihoods, then we have to get up and say, ‘Stop this shit.’ As long as we keep electing leaders who are subservient to the war machine; weapons manufacturers, oil companies, banks, rapacious business people, we will remain condemned to die. We have to elect leaders who commit to shutting down weapons companies, commit to alternate energy and environmental protection, who commit to spending on education, food and public health instead of on amassing weapons of mass destruction. The solution is simple and clear. To implement it will not be easy as we have given up our freedom and have made ourselves enslaved to immoral political leaders and their handlers – the 1% of the world who run the world because we allowed it. I know some of you are going to say, ‘This is not practical.’ But I invite you to reflect that having 1% owning 75% of the world’s resources and deciding the fate of the 99% is even less practical. But it is happening, right? And it is happening because you and I allowed it. So take it back, if you don’t like what is going on.
We’re seeing a sudden surge of dictatorial fascistic leaders around the globe. People give the example of good governance as Singapore, or Malaysia under Mahatir, or India under Indira Gandhi by saying that the national leader was a CEO. My point is that yes, they were great CEO’s and that’s precisely what was wrong with them and their style. The fault of the rest of us was that we accepted this situation without understanding what was behind it and were happy that the trains ran on time in exchange for our freedoms which were quietly taken away.
Every time anyone protested the State-Corporation reacted like its business model; put down revolts mercilessly; interpreting dissent as treason and punishing it accordingly. That’s why I don’t see Brexit, Arab Sprung (not a typo) and similar things as winds of change but as incipient rebellions which will be crushed. Sorry for the jaundiced opinion but I don’t like to fool myself or anyone else. The Arab Spring is a case in point. Those who want change will have to do a lot more than marching in the streets. Today the biggest crime is not what The Empire commits daily, openly and blatantly but to criticize the Empire. The saddest/funniest thing is to see this new morality being enforced; not by agents of the Empire but by stupid little slave leaders who don’t even realize what they’re doing. The victims are enforcing their own victimization. How convenient for the oppressors…you get what you want without the bad name that should go with oppression.
As it stands that means, supporting leaders like Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, Jeremy Corbyn, Arvind Kejriwal and other such people who appear to have kept out of the net of global capitalism. It means also holding leaders accountable. The Chilcot Report is a good test to see if there’s any change in standards in the offing. If there isn’t we mustn’t lose hope. Just try harder. It is a life and death issue in a very literal sense. Ours and our children’s. And we will be held responsible by history.
2. Dealing with alienation and despair
The second problem: Dealing with the effects of global injustice; alienation and despair; is really rooted in the first i.e. removal of injustice. If that is done the second one will go away by itself. But unless that is done, it can’t really be solved. So what I am about to outline is really a symptomatic cure to the systemic cancer that we are plagued with; the greed of those who already own 75% of global assets. I submit to you that this is not a problem of Muslims alone, but a problem that faces 99% of the world – because it is the 1% which is the cause of the problem. The Muslims simply happen to be on the front, suffering on behalf of the rest of the world. I submit to you that if the world doesn’t come together to establish justice and put an end to the global military-industrial complex and the economics of weapons manufacture and dealing, every single one of us will succumb to this cancer. The model of the 1% enslaving the 99% can’t be sustained. Indeed, why should it be?
What is the solution? Give them something to lose. I believe this has to be done in two ways, simultaneously:
1. Vocational training and entrepreneurial development leading to self-employment.
2. Ideological dialogue to refute the extremist philosophy that is being projected as Islam.
Eradicating Poverty – the most Critical Need of the Hour
A vibrant middle class is essential to the health of any economy and a measure of it. The bigger the middle class the bigger the market for goods and services and more money flows into the economy and is available for public services like healthcare, education, transport and so on. Contrary to the myth of trickle down, money doesn’t flow down from the superrich or from global multinational corporations into local economies. The superrich don’t use local services, live in ivory tower isolation and are generally unaffected by local conditions as they are surrounded by cordons of insulation. Multinational corporations are answerable to their shareholders who don’t live in local communities and so they don’t care what happens in local economies. Many don’t even employ local people, except in menial jobs because locals may not have the education and skills that they need.
So skill development is the key to poverty eradication. For this we need to:
1. Set up vocational training centers in every local school. Every child must mandatorily learn some marketable skill, whether or not he/she uses it later. Working with your hands, working with tools, creating things, fixing broken machinery and such activities are very therapeutic and inspirational. There is enough flex in the timetables of our curriculum to permit this and if there isn’t then that time must be created. Every child must graduate with a marketable skill. The vocational centers can become self-funded by selling their products and services to local communities with the education being provided free of cost. That way you will provide employment to local artisans as well as pay for the facility. The infrastructure already exists in the form of the school building. And if necessary vocational training can also be done after hours when the school has let off.
2. Children must also be taught the basics of entrepreneurship in an easy application oriented way covering the following topics:
- Writing a business plan
- Budgeting – P&L accounting
- Risk taking
- Team Building
- Selling skills
3. Institute special prizes for entrepreneurial initiatives in key areas like poverty eradication, alternate energy, education, food production, transportation, health management and other high need areas. Prizes must take into account, innovativeness, social consciousness, creativity.
4. Set up a Venture Capital Fund to provide prospective entrepreneurs with interest free loans. These must be given after a rigorous selection process of examining business plans and ensuring that they have a high likelihood of success. The capital for this fund can come from major multinational companies as part of their CSR. I know this is being done by some progressive CEO’s but it must be hugely boosted. I believe that the way to do that is by creating a full-fledged Venture Capital Fund that is available to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Business CEO’s will recognize the value of such a fund and will fully support it. Invite them to sit on the Board and run it.
5. Pair new entrepreneurs with established businessmen and women who can coach and mentor them. This will break the economic/social barriers which have taken the place of feudal barriers of old but have the same negative effects. Wealthy people must see how the poor live. It touches the heart. It makes us human and above all, grateful for what we have and the desire to share it with others.
It is a given today that there are people on the internet, who are spreading hatred and recommending all kinds of violence in the name of Islam. It is a redundant discussion in my mind about whether these are false flag operations or genuinely misguided Muslims who are spreading this message. The fact remains that they are spreading this message and there are some Muslim youth who are attracted to the message enough to wreak havoc.
What happened in Dhaka was not done by an army. It was done by a few people and rocked the world. That is the aim of the anarchist. Hit soft targets that are almost impossible to defend and create disruption in society to further their own aims of regime change. Society’s reaction; be it police brutality, media hysteria or racist and fascist statements by politicians are all blessings for the recruiter as they only help to reinforce the anti-establishment message that he wants to convey and enhance the feeling of being persecuted that the potential recruits feel. The situation therefore needs extreme maturity, patience, fortitude and wisdom to handle. Like the economic strategy, this must also be seen as a long term investment. Changing hearts is a notoriously difficult thing to do. Ideological conflicts are the worst and most difficult to resolve, but resolve we must. Our lives, quite literally depend on it. I suggest the following steps:
Restore confidence in Government and in the Justice System
I won’t go into the reasons why this is perhaps at an all-time low. The reasons are clear to everyone who has eyes and ears and a mind that can think. I want to focus on what we can do to change that situation. And change it we must, if we want to achieve anything at a national or international level. We can’t influence people who don’t trust us and so trust must be built. We must decriminalize legitimate dissent. Else, we risk having the bottled-up anger and frustration unleashed through violent means. When governments suppress legitimate forms of political dissent often violently, they risk radicalization and people resorting to violence for their voices to be heard. We have seen many examples of this all over the Middle East in the recent past.
Enforce Transparency in all law enforcement
To correct this situation transparency is essential. Follow due process and be transparent and treat people with dignity. I won’t describe what happens today when someone (especially a Muslim) is arrested on suspicion and his family go to the police station to enquire. I know that those who will read this are fully aware of what happens. The problem is what this has done to the image of the police in particular and of the justice system in general. People have lost hope in both. Radicalization starts with this and is fed by every incident where justice is perverted and denied by those who have authority. Transparency is essential. Justice must be seen to be done.
I propose that when someone is to be arrested on suspicion, there must be enough incriminating evidence before the arrest warrant is issued. Then this evidence must be shown to the family of the individual and his lawyers and credible members of his community so that it becomes clear to everyone that the person being arrested is indeed guilty. The fact remains and must be recognized that thanks to social stigma and irresponsible reporting, a person who is arrested is already tried and condemned before he reaches a court of law. So even when he is found to be innocent, his life is effectively destroyed. He loses his job, he and his family face a social boycott and sometimes have to move to a different town. All this not because he was guilty at all, but because the police made a mistake. Having others suffer because of your mistakes is not justice, is it? Transparency is key to restoring confidence. Involving the public through good communication is essential to good policing, especially in fighting terrorist activity.
Believe me, we the people are even more interested in fighting terrorist activity for the simple reason that we die when it happens. So involve people and don’t treat them like potential criminals. Muslims know what is happening in their community far better than any policeman can ever know and will gladly help in preventing and solving crime if they are taken into confidence, are trusted and treated with dignity. All three are sadly missing in police public interaction at a grassroots level. Our police have become used to behaving in a highhanded, arrogant manner because they can get away with it. People suffer in silence because they have no alternative. But trust is destroyed, which is our current situation. This must be built with great patience and wisdom.
Police – Public Communication & Sensitization
The police have become used to being the coercive arm of government. While this role may always be there, the primary role of the police officer should be as a partner of the public in keeping them safe. The two roles can’t happen simultaneously. So we need to choose. If police public partnership works, coercion will become unnecessary except in exceptional circumstances which will be understood by all concerned. Communication is key for this to happen.
For a start as a test of my claim that police officers maintain an intimidating distance from the people which discourages participation here is a checklist that you can give to the SHO of any Police Station to fill out. The results will be enlightening, I hope and encourage the seniors to do something about this by presenting an example of behavior. Juniors usually imitate seniors and we have plenty of examples to show of pompous seniors who won’t even answer a phone, let alone talk politely to a civilian. So send this checklist to all SHO’s and see what they say:
1. How many prominent local people do you know personally?
2. How many of them without political affiliation and from minorities or Dalits?
3. How many of them do you visit socially at least once a year?
4. Do you invite them to any function at the PS – e.g. Independence Day flag hoisting?
5. If not, why not?
6. Do you participate, even if by simply wishing, in any festival not your own?
7. If not, why not?
8. Do you visit any schools, hospitals, NGO’s, places of worship in your area?
9. If not, why not?
You can add any more questions as you wish but I believe the results will be the same. Police don’t have a relationship with the public because they don’t want to. If Indian Police really want to be partners with the public, then they have to define who they are and what their role is. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You have to decide where you belong and act accordingly.
Sensitivity Training for the Police
One of the first courses I taught at the SVP National Police Academy was for IPS Probationers of the 1991 batch on Police Public Sensitization. This was a course mandated at the time by the Home Ministry and I believe it was one of the best initiatives of government which must be reinstated. A nation can’t progress when it lives in a state of war with its own people. There are over 200 million Muslims in India who are all good, law abiding and peaceful citizens who love their country and are committed to its wellbeing to which their own wellbeing is attached. Sadly, they have been put into the insulting position of having to declare this over and over again and yet not be believed. Especially in officialdom, the police usually being its first encounter, they are viewed with suspicion – guilty until proven innocent – though there is no evidence that this is the case. Committing crimes is not the copyright of any community. Crime must be treated as crime. Not as proof of collective evil of any community. Fairness is the foundation of justice. It is therefore essential to educate the police about Islam’s fundamental beliefs and tenets so that they are not susceptible to propaganda that Islam is somehow the cause of violence. They must also be trained in behaving with sensitivity and in treating the civilian population as partners in solving crime. Bridges must be built and policemen and women need to be trained in how to do this. If anyone is in doubt about this, let him go incognito to a police station disguised as an ordinary Muslim father of a son arrested on suspicion and experience the fun. The dignity of the individual must always be respected.
The law can’t be upheld by those who break the law. Police must uphold the law in letter and spirit and the use of torture and so-called 3rd degree methods must be outlawed and their perpetrators punished. It is good to remember that our legal system doesn’t permit these reprehensible methods in any case. But the police have become so accustomed to using them that it may sound strange to some to remind them that their actions as policemen are illegal.
Finally, the media and press leaders must also be educated in this because ‘trial by media’ which is another name of character assassination has become the norm. Media anchors and writers believe that they can say whatever they want, hiding behind terms like ‘alleged’, ‘reported’, ‘believed’ and proceed to destroy the life of someone just because it helps them to get good TRP ratings or sell a few rags. This is despicable and shameless. Journalism has lost its position as the conscience of civil society and its defender, just to make a little money. It is high time that journalists are reminded of their respected position so that they understand the need to regain it. The media is the last defence of the innocent civilian. If the media persecutes that person for the sake of cheap popularity, then it is a case of Jab manjhi nayya duboye usay kaun bachaye? मांझी जो नाव डुबोये उसे कौन बचाये
Imam Development Program
The influence of the local Imam is huge. He is seen as a confidant who has knowledge of Islam and so is often listened to with great attention. Sadly, many if not most Imams are not trained to lead. Their knowledge is restricted to a very small section of Islam and the Imam does not have the perspective or tools to interpret current events or to guide his congregation. He can’t admit that openly as he needs to maintain his aura of being knowledgeable to retain his job.
The challenge is to handle this with great empathy, sensitivity and understanding, working with mainstream scholars who the Muslim community trusts. You have to first win over these scholars and then make them the ambassadors for this program. There is a huge suspicion among Muslims for anything that seems to come from government, police, foreign agencies etc. All born out of their own bitter experience in the past. To win them over will not be easy but without that nothing can be achieved. Scholars will be very wary of associating with any program that the government runs for fear of losing their own credibility with their constituencies. To try to force them would be suicidal. What we need is a lot of patience, perseverance and genuine sincerity which I am sure will help them to see the value of the Imam Development Program.
I suggest using the Minorities Commission or a respected NGO as the front for this program as they have better credibility and to do it without fanfare and flashbulbs. It is necessary to handle this with great care because if it loses credibility with the community then nobody will enroll and nothing can be achieved. We can’t force this.
Create an Imam Development Program (must be funded) free for students over a duration of 3 – 6 month part-time course covering the following areas:
1. Understanding current events (no propaganda – just honest appraisal)
2. How to make the masjid a window into the Muslim life & culture
3. Cross cultural sensitivity, interfaith dialogue, community service
4. Refuting the message of the extremist from the Islamic ideological angle
5. Answering questions about current challenges in an Islamic context
6. Counseling skills
7. Public speaking skills
Finally, we have to answer the question for the potential student – the Imam who we hope will come to this program – WiiFM? What’s in it for me? The reason I say this is because in India at least (my guess is this will be the same more or less, elsewhere), Imams are paid very poorly by the masjid where they serve. Most congregations have little money and so they pay the Imam what they can and he makes up the balance by giving private tuitions, teaching children to read the Qur’an.
So he goes from house to house and teaches for 45 – 60 minutes per class. All these have to be scheduled around the five daily prayers where the Imam is mandatorily required to be in the masjid as well as his student’s school hours. So he leads a very stressful life. For him to take time out to attend a course is very tough, maybe even impossible especially if he doesn’t see any financial benefit accruing from it. It will be necessary to give the candidates a stipend and to try to keep the course as near and accessible to them as possible and where they have to travel, give them a travel allowance. A certificate from the government, Department of Education or some such department will be an added attraction.
Discrimination against Muslims must end. Punish criminals, but first establish the crime. Unlawful arrest, torture and imprisonment without due process which have all become routine must end and those indulging in them must be punished. Crime must be dealt with according to the law. Police action has traditionally been so unjust and biased that the police have lost all credibility. Nobody believes what the police say and view every police initiative with suspicion. Well intentioned police officers with integrity who want to genuinely do good must be prepared to face suspicion and rejection because of the sins of their predecessors until they win the confidence of local people. The life and property of a Muslim is not less valuable than that of a non-Muslim. Muslims have lost hope in the justice system. They don’t believe they will ever get justice. They have plenty to evidence to support their belief. This must be refuted by acting against those who participated in killing Muslims or harming them in any way. Muslims are also human. Killing them is called murder. And murder is a crime, no matter who commits it. If a Muslim commits it, hang him. But if someone kills a Muslim, hang him also. Unless justice is seen to be done, trust can’t be built. Transparency is critical.
All criminals must be punished but only criminals must be punished.
It is as simple as that. Give people a door to legal redressal and they will not take the law into their own hands. Help criminals believe that they can’t get away with their crimes because of their caste, tribe or political affiliation. That is the meaning of justice. One law for everyone irrespective of who he or she is. This will restore confidence and go a very long way to wean people away from extremist ideology. Take away the reason for resentment. Take away his desperation. Take away his hopelessness and despair. Or be prepared for them to burst into flames, consuming all those around them.
It is essential that governments don’t officially support those (especially Muslims) who criticize Islam, mock the Prophetﷺ or mock religious scholars. If this is not done, then anything run by the government will be rejected. Suspicion is a hurdle that will have to be surmounted in any case for any government funded program and can only be done by winning the confidence of scholars that people trust. That can only be done if there is genuine respect. Acting cannot be sustained and trust lost can never be regained. People are entitled to their opinions and if someone wants to criticize Islam they are welcome to do so but governments must be neutral. That way people don’t feel persecuted. Equality means equal protection.
This is our choice. Our time is running out. We must act. We must act in concert because this concerns us all. We are all in it together.