hitler’s chief propagandist joseph goebbels was a firm believer in the “big lie”. he understood that if you repeat a lie often enough, people start to believe it. and so it goes with the relentless accusations levelled at moderate muslims. to tell you the truth, i’m sick of the label. by identifying ourselves as moderate muslims we fall into the trap of defining ourselves in language designed to reduce us to a stereotype. yet, here i am, a muslim in america, and therefore under constant pressure to explain myself. not only that but i am also accountable for the actions of more than a billion muslims in countries as diverse as saudi arabia, bangladesh and sudan.
a friend of mine sent me an article by ayan hirsi ali, imaginatively titled “islam’s silent moderates” in which she holds the moderates responsible for human rights abuses committed by the saudi, bangladeshi and sudanese governments.
here is what i think of all three cases.
as far as the saudi government, human rights abuses there have very little to do with islam and everything to do with the fact that the country is controlled by a single family, the sauds, who keep a tight lid on dissent by using religion to repress and restrain. i have very little tolerance for the saudi government and am more than happy to condemn the many human rights abuses that occur in that country. it is one country in the world where i would flatly refuse to live. even though saudi arabia is the birth place of islam, it is anything but islamic. there is no concept of hereditary rule in islam and saudi arabia (the “arabia of the sauds”) fails that basic test. however, my condemnation, and that of other muslims, cannot be as effective in dissuading the saudis from committing crimes against their own citizens as a few harsh words from the american government (the self-proclaimed policeman of the world). interestingly enough, saudi arabia remains america’s biggest muslim ally in the world – the saudi dictators being best friends with their american counterparts, the bushes. being a pakistani-american muslim, i think that the part of my identity that is most sickened by saudi arabia’s human rights trespasses is the reality that my country openly supports such an illegitimate and brutal government.
as far as the gillian gibbons case, hirsi ali jumped the gun. her op-ed piece was published on december 7, 2007, when gillian gibbons had already been free for 4 days. i won’t get into the ny times sloppy fact checking – that’s a whole other story! what makes hirsi ali’s damning of the moderates even more ironic is that gibbons’s release was secured by moderate muslims. lord ahmed and baroness warsi of the house of lords, successfully lobbied the sudanese government and obtained her early release. check out the story.
apparently british foreign secretary david miliband tried to halt the mission but lord ahmed and baroness warsi defied the foreign office and flew to sudan at their own expense to win gibbons’ release. the foreign office warned them they were doing so at their own risk and that the british government would not bail them out if things went awry.
but can we expect to see an oped piece in the ny times based on this turn of events – a story that turns hirsi ali’s argument on its head? somehow i’m not holding my breath.
hirsi ali’s final accusation against muslims involves taslima nasreen, whom i frankly don’t know much about. it seems that she is being threatened and her freedom of speech is being curbed. i am against any kind of intimidation, from any quarter, which means to control free thought and free speech. what i don’t understand is why should these human rights abuses be more important to me than what is happening in my own country (like the orwellian home-grown terrorism prevention act which makes it convenient to define any form of dissent as a means to incite violence and therefore punishable by law – i posted the details of the act on 12/2/07).
as luck would have it i was browsing through the amnesty international web site a day before i was sent hirsi ali’s article. i am an amnesty international partner of conscience and support their efforts to protect human rights all over the world. the first case hirsi ali talks about was a major story on amnesty’s web site. but there are other stories hirsi ali’s skipped over. many of them involve the u.s. government (destruction of cia interrogation tapes, salim hamdan before a military commission for a second time, guantanamo, lethal injection, illegal detention). in fact, of all the countries cited for human rights infringements on AI’s news/reports page, the united states is mentioned with the most regularity.
definition of propaganda from wikipedia: propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.
i see myself as a human rights advocate and feel equally appalled by all human rights violations, everywhere in the world. for me personally, america and pakistan are the two countries i can most relate to and am most concerned with. you have to only read a few posts on my blog to realize that i am not shy about criticizing human rights abuses by either country. through amnesty international i try to be a force for good in the rest of the world. yet why do i have to defend myself – my integrity, my humanity? why can we not ask the same question of other americans for example? do they constantly condemn and apologize for the unprovoked barbarity in iraq? do they perpetually agitate to end guantanamo? do they raise their voices against torture and illegal detentions? do they regularly campaign for and support equal rights for alaskan and native american women? the list goes on. why do we hold the american people innocent of crimes committed by their government when they, unlike most other people in the world, have the privilege of electing their representatives? let’s remember that george w bush was re-elected after iraq! should we not be asking the question: where are the american moderates? six years after 9/11, why haven’t these well-known, well-documented injustices been stopped?
who decides what crimes, against what victims, perpetrated by which governments are more egregious than others?