Sahar Ghumkhor sees the world through the distorted post-colonial lense of a Glass Darkly.

 “I am talking of millions of men (women and children) who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair and abasement(Cesaire, 1986)

Sahar Ghumkhor (Ghumkhor, 2019) claims that New Zealanders (the whole 4.5 million or so of us) hold a “narcissistic self-view” of the world, that we are inherently a racist country due to our colonial past, we reject shame and responsibility, are a dishonest people, we consider ‘the other” {whatever she means in invoking the late Edward’s Said’s argument on Western Conceptions of the Orient) as barbarians. In other words, we view all other races as savage, uncivilized, barbaric, primitive, heathen, wild, brutish, Neanderthal, and uncivilized.

Moreover, she attacks the country as a place “which has systematically portrayed Muslims as inherently violent and “backward”, and Islam as an ideology justifying violence and the subjugation of women” (Ghumkhor, 2019). She claims that Muslims in New Zealand have been depoliticized and that through this wilful political act the “younger generations have internalized Islamophobia stereotypes and engaged in self-surveillance…” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

Ghumkhor further claims that the killer responsible for the 15th March attacks is “not an aberration, he’s not an exception’ he is an integral part of the collective “we” in New Zealand, Australia and the West-just like the followers of Trumpism are part and parcel of modern-day America” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Not to see the world through her eyes, Ghumkhor argues is to live a life of denial and “a cowardly flight into white liberal sanctuary of the “third way” from the discomfort of reality” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Islamophobia, Ghumkhor claims is “an everyday practice and the political reality of New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

It is important to deconstruct the opinions and analysis of Ghumkhor, through the dark lenses of post-colonial and psychoanalytical literary theory, which she uses to launch her unprecedented attack on our country, and people who are reeling in shock and mourning, following the horrific events of March 15th, 2019.

Ghumkhor opinion and analysis are framed within several broad and generalised questions:

  1. How did the event of March 15th 2019 symbolize either explicitly or allegorically New Zealand’s history as a former colonial power and a post-colonial power of oppression?
  2. What did the event and its aftermath (including the way the New Zealand Prime Minister, her government and the men, women and children of New Zealand, who represent 160 different cultures and have over 200 different languages, reveal about its post-colonial identities, its personal and cultural identities, and its double consciousness in terms of individual vs. collective and country?
  3. To what extent have New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Prime Minster expressed their secret unconscious desires and anxieties on culture and religious racism, and is their mourning a manifestation of their own guilt and neuroses?

New Zealand has acknowledged and continues to acknowledge its colonial past, and how this affected both the original indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and the immigrants and refugees who’ve arrived in the country since the late 18th century. However, this acknowledgment isn’t framed within the revisionist histories of Ghumkhor as the post-colonial critic. They go much deeper, and are as Homi Bhabha describes when writing about Frantz Fanon:

Fanon is the purveyor of the transgressive and transitional truth. He may yearn for the total transformation of Man* and Society, but he speaks most effectively from the uncertain interstices of historical change: from the area of imbalance between race and sexuality; out of an unresolved contradiction between culture and class; from deep within struggle of psychic representation and social reality” (Bhabha, 1986)

Jacinda Ardern, along with all of her compatriots are struggling with the deep psychic reality of what occurred on March 15th, 2019, and how this social reality has been reflected in our society in the present and the past. Unfortunately, Ghumkhor has been too quick to jump to judgment here, and portray herself as the victim of a racist and Islamophobic society, because she grew up in New Zealand, and perceived people as patronizing because she “must be glad to be living in New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019). In understanding the deep struggle within the psychic reality of our country, she has failed to articulate in her opinion piece, the authentic and genuine grief felt across New Zealand by children in particular, and women and men from across the class, religious and cultural divide. She has indulged in what many post-colonial critics do; impose a flawed and dark theory onto events in the present in an attempt to offer an alternative historical narrative and rewrite history. It is a shameful and selfish attempt at academic self-aggrandizement.

Her claim that New Zealand as a Nation holds a “narcissistic-self view of the world” (Ghumkhor, 2019) has no substance. It is at the very worst psycho-babble. She demonstrates no understanding of the term if she is referring to our national grief and mourning in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Friday 15th March, 2019. Far from being a nation that indulged in self-centeredness arising from a failure to distinguish ourselves from others; New Zealand society was genuinely thrown into a national psychic trauma. It brought strangers together, hugging, sharing tears of grief, sharing stories, paying tribute to the families, and lost loved ones, and symbolized their unity of purpose in demonstrating to the country, and the world, such a violent act wouldn’t divide us or define our national and individual identities.

In attacking our national and individual psychological health (with no evidence), and naming the attacker, against the wishes of our Prime Minister and general population, Ghumkhor has shown contempt and disrespect to the children, women, men and the Government of New Zealand. She is guilty of fueling the same kinds of divisive rhetoric she accuses New Zealand and the West of using against Muslims and other peoples of different races and religions.

Her allegation that we are a Nation of hypocrites is a perfidious claim to make against over 4.5 million people. There have only ever been a few despots in the political annals of human history to target a whole Nation and population with such a claim. It is an untruthful and fictitious accusation to make.

Yet, it is her allegation that the Rt. Honorable, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand is basically a dishonest person which requires closer scrutiny and analysis. Ghumkhor pads this allegation around the argument that the global and local perception of New Zealand and New Zealanders is wrong. She argues that the perception of us having a welcoming nature, open to diversity and are a “provincial shire with a small tight knit community” (Ghumkhor, 2019) is false. She claims that it is only in the aftermath of the massacre that New Zealand has become inclusive of its Muslim population as “we” and that such a facile claim made only last week “only emphasized them as the “other” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

Edward Said argued that through the process of Othering, the colonizing powers treated the colonized as ‘not fully human’, and as a result, dehumanized the indigenous peoples of colonized countries (Said, 1978). Ghumkhor imposes this questionable theory onto Ardern, and argues that the Prime Minster codified herself as the true compassionate, humane person, and the New Zealand Muslim community as other than human. The assertion in itself is paradoxical, because in making the claim, Ghumkhor privileges herself above her erroneous understanding of Said’s definition of the “other”. She portrays herself both as a victim of New Zealand racism, and an academic saviour, whose mission is to ‘set the record straight and tell the truth”. The problem is her version of the truth is sullied with untruths, and she articulates the same kind of misinformation, convoluted arguments, and lies with which she accuses those who remain politically loyal to the master of misinformation and lies, The President of the United States, Donald. J. Trump.

She writes:

Although Islam has a century-long presence in the country, Muslims continue to be portrayed and treated as immigrant and refugees – ie inherently “foreign”. They are either “welcomed” or told to “go back” to where they came from – with both sentiments demonstrating that they are not really seen by the majority as an integral part of New Zealand’s society” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

This claim seems to have been rejected fully by the first-hand verbal accounts of members of the New Zealand Muslim community, and their experience as citizens of the country. Certainly, the Muslims I know and have met in New Zealand, have not conveyed a feeling of being foreign or of feeling caught up in a state of either “being welcomed or told to go back where they came from”. Moreover, no Muslims community leaders have supported her claim prior to and subsequent to the Friday March15th massacre.

What is considerably conceited in the Ghumkhor opinion piece is her cut and paste of various global events, and the selective inclusion of comments made by Foreign Minister Winston Peters pursuant to the London Bridge attacks in 2017. The perpetrator of the Friday March 15th attacks in Christchurch is an aberration and not the norm. It is not an act by which anyone in New Zealand should be defined. Similarly, the terrorist’s attacks across Europe, United States, Canada and Australia are aberrations and do not define the Muslin populations of these countries. And while condemnation of the perpetrators has been swift, at the same time leaders have assured their populations that those who carry out such attacks do not represent the Islamic faith or the values and ideals of the world’s Muslim population. This is an important fact left out of the article. In citing various right-wing politicians and conservative politicians for the vitriol and distorted world view on Islam as a faith and cultural practice, Ghumkhor chooses to accuse the whole western population of being guilty of the same sin, and in doing so commits her own sin of presumption.

Ghumkhor said she grew up in New Zealand. To attack the country and its executive branch of government, and the Prime Minster at this time suggests an over identification with the global narrative on right wing ideologies, and religious and cultural racism. Perhaps it also suggests there are unresolved issues surrounding her personal life, and her own understanding of Afghanistan. While it may be the case that media reports out of Afghanistan offer a grim portrayal of life in the country-it isn’t the case that 4.5 million plus New Zealanders see “Afghanistan…as the land of “burqas, intolerance and fundamentalist violence” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Most people would have an informed understanding of the geo-politics of the region, and of the cultural nuances in Afghanistan at the very least as their starting point.

The overall tone and themes in her opinion piece are of anger, and passive hostility towards New Zealand, and its people, who’ve suffered one of the greatest national and individual personal traumas in their history. A more conciliatory tone and a deeper understanding of the human psyche would have taken the scathing edge off her views and offered a more objective argument.

Grief, and the process of grieving is complex. The emotional logic of grief is only partly understood, and across cultures death is associated with customs and rituals created to help the trauma of loss. In the West guilt is often an emotional derivative of loss; whether with a close loved one or the loss of large numbers of people in a community, such as the trauma and loss experienced by a whole community and country in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019.

As a New Zealand national living and working in Pakistan, I am fully aware and cognizant of the reaction and response here to the massacre of the Muslim faithful at their mosques during Friday prayers. The whole country of Pakistan is in mourning. Yet; I have only received and heard messages of condolences and words of love and support around New Zealand’s response to this horror. Yet it concerns me that Ghumkhor has negated this response, and found a following among those who find it difficult to understand the nature of reality from the distortion of their own inherent bias across the religious and cultural divide.

In New Zealand  this tragedy will raise questions and elicit a Nation’s soul searching around cultural and social integration, and identity, and ask if more could have been done to ensure the safety of our Islamic communities.  However, our Nation as a whole, the Prime Minster, and the Islamic community cannot be blamed for the actions of a killer who took advantage of the safety and sanctuary of our overall peaceful and diverse multi-cultural Nation, even though we co-exist with him.

Fanon argues that:

Man is not a merely a possibility of recapture or negation. It is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies uprooted, pursued, baffled and doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself, one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him” (Fanon, 1986)

Ideologies, whether religious, secular, political or cultural, pit the collective against the individual. A timely awareness for publication by Al Jazeera, along with a deeper more insightful analysis and understanding of the human psyche from Ghumkhor, would have enabled everyone to better understand this point within the context of the tragic events of March 15th, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Moreover, it would have certainly helped each New Zealander, regardless of their cultural or religious identity to work through their grief process before being told they are hypocrites.

The kinds of deep divisions around culture, religion, ethnicities, migration and intellectual discourse which we haven’t seen since the 1930s leading up to World War Two, have only been further highlighted and exacerbated through Ghumkhor’s largely misinformed and inflammatory article, published through the Al Jazeera media network.

Bibliography:

Bhabha, H. [. (1986). Black Skin White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Cesaire, A. (1986). Discours sur lke Colonialsime cited in Fanon, F. Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Ghumkhor, S. (2019, March 20). Opinion: New Zealand Attack: The hypocrisy of New Zealand’s ‘this is not us’ claim. Retrieved from Al Jazeera .com:

https://web.archive.org/web/20190320081033/https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/hypocrisy-zealand-claim-190319104526942.html?fbclid=IwAR0Jb-tsZncKNLit3WDLw-hpxgw2OU-3mWm1PImMPvAODRd3M1B-oa14KR0

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Haryana: Penguin Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Political & Community Leadership for World Leaders

New Zealand PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack (Ardern, 2019)

RT Hon Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister of New Zealand

Mr. Speaker,

Al Salam Alaikum

Peace be upon you. And peace be upon all of us.

Mr. Speaker the 15th of March will now forever be a day etched in our collective memories. On a quiet Friday afternoon a man stormed into a place of peaceful worship and took away the lives of 50 people.

That quiet Friday afternoon has become our darkest of days.

But for the families, it was more than that. It was the day that the simple act of prayer – of practicing their Muslim faith and religion – led to the loss of their loved ones lives.

Those loved ones, were brothers, daughters, fathers and children.

They were New Zealanders. They are us.

And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.

We feel a huge duty of care to them. And Mr. Speaker, we have so much we feel the need to say and to do.

One of the roles I never anticipated having, and hoped never to have, is to voice the grief of a nation.

At this time, it has been second only to securing the care of those affected, and the safety of everyone.

And in this role, I wanted to speak directly to the families. We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage. We can. And we will, surround you with aroha, manaakitanga and all that makes us, us. Our hearts are heavy but our spirit is strong.

Mr. Speaker, 6 minutes after a 111 call was placed alerting the police to the shootings at Al-Noor mosque, police were on the scene.

The arrest itself was nothing short of an act of bravery. Two country police officers rammed the vehicle from which the offender was still shooting. They pulled open his car door, when there were explosives inside, and pulled him out.

I know we all wish to acknowledge that their acts put the safety of New Zealanders above their own, and we thank them.

But they were not the only ones who showed extraordinary courage.

Naeem Rashid, originally from Pakistan, died after rushing at the terrorist and trying to wrestle the gun from him. He lost his life trying to save those who were worshipping alongside him.

Abdul Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, confronted and faced down the armed terrorist after grabbing the nearest thing to hand – a simple eftpos machine. He risked his life and no doubt saved many with his selfless bravery.

There will be countless stories, some of which we may never know, but to each, we acknowledge you in this place, in this House.

For many of us the first sign of the scale of this terrorist attack was the images of ambulance staff transporting victims to Christchurch hospital.

To the first responders, the ambulance staff and the health professionals who have assisted – and who continue to assist those who have been injured.

Please accept the heartfelt thanks of us all. I saw first-hand your care and your professionalism in the face of extraordinary challenges. We are proud of your work, and incredibly grateful for it.

Mr. Speaker, if you’ll allow, I’d like to talk about some of the immediate measures currently in place especially to ensure the safety of our Muslim community, and more broadly the safety of everyone.

As a nation, we do remain on high alert. While there isn’t a specific threat at present, we are maintaining vigilance.

Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow that means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.

There is an additional and ongoing security presence in Christchurch, and as the police have indicated, there will continue to be a police presence at mosques around the country while their doors are open. When they are closed, police will be in the vicinity.

There is a huge focus on ensuring the needs of families are met. That has to be our priority. A community welfare center has been set up near the hospital in Christchurch to make sure people know how to access support.

Visas for family members overseas are being prioritized so that they can attend funerals. Funeral costs are covered, and we have moved quickly to ensure that this includes repatriation costs for any family members who would like to move their loved ones away from New Zealand.

We are working to provide mental health and social support. The 1737 number yesterday received roughly 600 texts or phone calls. They are on average lasting around 40 minutes, and I encourage anyone in need to reach out and use these services. They are there for you.

Our language service has also provided support from more than 5000 contacts, ensuring whether you are ACC or MSD, you are able to pass on the support that is needed, in the language that is needed.  To all those working within this service, we say thank you.

Our security and intelligence services are receiving a range of additional information. As has been the case in the past, these are being taken extremely seriously, and they are being followed up.

I know though Mr. Speaker, that there have rightly been questions around how this could have happened here. In a place that prides itself on being open, peaceful, diverse.

And there is anger that it has happened here.

There are many questions that need to be answered, and the assurance that I give you is that they will be.

Yesterday Cabinet agreed that an inquiry, one that looks into the events that led up to the attack on 15 March, will occur. We will examine what we did know, could have known, or should have known. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws.

As I have already said Mr. Speaker, our gun laws will change. Cabinet met yesterday and made in-principle decisions, 72 hours after the attack.

Before we meet again next Monday, these decisions will be announced.

Mr. Speaker, there is one person at the center of this act of terror against our Muslim community in New Zealand.

A 28-year-old man – an Australian citizen – has been charged with one count of murder. Other charges will follow. He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand. The families of the fallen will have justice.

He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety.

And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.

He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist.

But he will, when I speak, be nameless.

And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them.

He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.

Mr. Speaker, we will also look at the role social media played and what steps we can take, including on the international stage, and in unison with our partners.

There is no question that ideas and language of division and hate have existed for decades, but their form of distribution, the tools of organization, they are new.

We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This of course doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism. I don’t have all of the answers now, but we must collectively find them.  And we must act.

Mr. Speaker, we are deeply grateful for all messages of sympathy, support and solidarity that we are receiving from our friends all around the world.  And we are grateful to the global Muslim community who have stood with us, and we stand with them.

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that we too also stand with Christchurch, in a devastating blow that this has been to their recovery. I acknowledge every member of this House that has stood alongside their Muslim community but especially those in Canterbury as we acknowledge this double grief

As I conclude I acknowledge there are many stories that will have struck all of us since the 15th of March.

One I wish to mention, is that of Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi.

He was the 71-year-old man who opened the door at the Al-Noor mosque and uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words.

Of course he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much – that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care.

I have said many times Mr. Speaker, we are a nation of 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. We open our doors to others and say welcome. And the only thing that must change after the events of Friday, is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear.

Yes the person who committed these acts was not from here. He was not raised here. He did not find his ideology here, but that is not to say that those very same views do not live here.

I know that as a nation, we wish to provide every comfort we can to our Muslim community in this darkest of times. And we are. The mountain of flowers around the country that lie at the doors of mosques, the spontaneous song outside the gates. These are ways of expressing an outpouring of love and empathy. But we wish to do more.

We wish for every member of our communities to also feel safe.

Safety means being free from the fear of violence.

But it also means being free from the fear of those sentiments of racism and hate, that create a place where violence can flourish.

And every single one of us has the power to change that.

Mr. Speaker on Friday it will be a week since the attack.

Members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day.

Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.

Let’s support them as they gather again for worship.

We are one, they are us.

Tatau Tatau

Al Salam Alaikum

Weh Rahmat Allah

Weh Barakaatuh

References:

Ardern, J. (2019, March 19). PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack. Retrieved from Beehive.gov.nz: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/pm-house-statement-christchurch-mosques-terror-attack

The Continued Western Global Intolerance towards the Islamic Faith

It is 13 years since I first wrote this article in response to the xenophobic attack on the Islamic faith by two contributors to the conservative Australian publication Quadrant. I am publishing it again after the horrific attack on Muslim, men, women and children while they prayed during Friday prayers in the two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15th, 2019. There’s been little progress globally for tolerance and acceptance of difference whether it is to do with religious world views, immigration, race, and culture.  Hatred and fear of difference seem to have become a feature of the not so ‘enlightened’ technological age of the 21st century. The savage murder of so many people since the start of 2015 because of their religious belief is a blight on all of humanity. It’s an assault on the dignity of everyone on the planet, and sadly there seems no end in sight to this madness
I have spent the last 16 years of my career as teacher and educational administrator living and working in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and South Asia, as a Catholic Christian. I count among my friends many ordinary people who are Muslim, and share an abhorrence at the distorted perversion of their faith by the far right, white extremists from the Western nations of Europe, The United States of America,and Australia to name a few.  The attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on two mosques highlight once again, the misrepresentation of Islam through the distorted lenses of ignorant politicians, the far right and their obsession with ‘free speech’ (whatever that means anyway because in reality no speech is free, and it comes along with accountability and responsibility: two key virtues lacking in the extremist  lexicon). The terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand have shocked and numbed myself and my New Zealand compatriots of all faiths. Our small country at the bottom of the world has lost its innocence, through a deliberate terrorist attack, formulated and planned to create chaos, and sow discord in our country; but it failed. The tragedy is that it took the loss of 50 innocent lives (men, women and children; and perhaps more as there are many on the critically ill list) to show that love in the world triumphs over pure evil. To all my Muslim friends here in Pakistan, and New Zealand, I offer my sincere condolences at this time. Be assured of my support for your faith, and your right to live in peace, and harmony in any country of your choosing.

I was greatly relieved when my September 2006 issue of Quadrant arrived in Jeddah, in its clear plastic envelope. Moreover I was delighted that it had made its way passed the censors, particularly with its bold subheading The Growing Problem with Islam in at least a size 18 black type font, just below the magazine title. One could assume one of two reasons for this. Firstly, since the accession of King Abdullah (now deceased) there’s been an opening up of the Kingdom to some aspects of western media and its myriad forms of communication. It is not uncommon to finds books on Eastern meditation, westernized Yoga practices alongside American style self-help texts and periodicals like the Economist, Time and Newsweek, (but alas not Quadrant-at least not yet). Texts on Islam other than wahabbism are also available. I recently purchased the works of Rumi, the 13th Century Islamist Persian poet; renowned for his devout faith and mystical prayers to God; in a bookshop in Jeddah-one of chain of bookshops not dissimilar to Borders or Barns & Noble- in the Kingdom. It has a wide range of reading material from around the world. So the censors may often allow in magazines which provide some critic of the country; but they will censor anything which holds the Royal Family, and/or the Islamic faith up to too much criticism and/or ridicule (similar to Thailand and its laws governing the Royal family and Buddhism) The second reason could be that it slipped through without being noticed. This is highly unlikely given the strict scrutiny of anything coming into the Kingdom.
I read with keen interest both John Stone’s and Paul Stenhouse’s views on Islam and offer the following critical response. While a clearly well written piece it is my view that the writers do not distinguish clearly enough between the Islamic faith as practiced by over 1 billion people in the world, and malevolent, destructive anti-social behavior, along with a fundamentally conservative political ideology which has hijacked the Islamic faith for its own purposes. An ideology which I might add, is to be found in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and a number of other faith based belief systems.
The title of John Stone’s article is disturbing, “The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It’, given that 80 years ago we might have read in magazines of a European cultural persuasion “The Jewish Problem and What to Do About It”. It seems to me, from my perspective as a westerner living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, some 30 minutes from Mecca and Medina; the two holiest places in the Islamic world, that “the clear and present danger confronting us”[1] all is a lack of choosing to distinguish between Islam as a genuine faith emanating from Abraham, and acts of terrorism in their most malevolent form as practiced by criminals who happen (by chance?) to have been born into the Islamic faith.
Stone cites a number of incidents, which have received coverage in the international media, as well as in the Kingdom through the English language newspapers, as evidence of an ‘Islamic cancer’ [2] in the body politic of Australian culture. From the tenor and tone of his writing I assume he would apply this analogy outside of Australian society too-say to New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States of America. For he writes “It is a problem that is similar to the Muslim problem in all Western Countries where a significant immigrant Muslim minority has been allowed to become established”[3]. The use of the medical metaphor to demonize a whole group of people has been practiced before, and once successful enabled whole sub-groups within a society to be considered less than human and eventually exterminated. Besides Nazi Germany other more recent examples exist for us to choose from; Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Darfur in the Sudan and the Palestinians imprisoned in their small pieces of land designated by some as the Palestinian Territories.

What is the exact problem Stone cites? Is it really a problem of the “failure of multi-culturalism” as he suggest? Is it the angst he cites from one European Commissioner who spoke to an Australian journalist? Is it the failure of Australian society’s infrastructure in supporting unity through diversity? It is none of these. Rather, Stone’s address is a veiled attack on the Islamic faith itself. The core of the Muslim problem-for the world, not merely for Australia he writes, “lies in the essence of Islam itself”.[4]
Writing like a Crusader of old John Stone uses growing social unrest in Australian society to mask a full frontal attack on one of the world’s great monotheistic religions. Moreover, the ideals and principles of both Christianity and Islam are ignored to support an argument which asserts that Islam as a religion, and those States that are a single Islamic polity are incompatible with Western culture. Stone avoids defining what Western Culture is, although the irony is that within the subtext of his writing he appears to assert that it is a culture which is just as intolerant as the Islam he thinks he knows. John Stone’s vehemence towards Islam is not unlike that of Peter the Venerable, who proclaimed the “bestial cruelty of Islam”[5] at a time when Jews and Muslims were fair game for Christians, who in turn had laid claim to their own form of Gnosis through advocating the idea that killing large numbers of Jewish and Muslim men, women and children was simply exterminating a heresy. The sad irony here is that Jesus had urged his followers to love their enemies not annihilate them. It is my understanding that the Gospel message has not changed today; despite claims that render its interpretation as too literal and threatening the political and social stability of the Western polity.
Contrary to the assertion he makes “that Islamic and Western Cultures are today, within a single polity, incompatible” [6] there are a significant number of examples where people who practice their faith through the religion of Islam are happily integrated into their new cultures and countries. These can be found in all Western countries including the United States of American Canada, Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, the European Union and New Zealand. Singapore in particular is a model of religious tolerance and an example of Islamic compatibility in a single polity. Furthermore, although continually asserting the right to do so, the state of Turkey is a model of a secular Muslim state in which a single polity is able to affect good governance.
I would further assert through experience and example that Islam is tolerant towards other faiths. While not considered democratic within a western definition Syrian Christians and Jews (before the civil war) were able to live and practice their faiths without discrimination; as are Christian and Jews to a large extent, in Iran and Egypt. Christians in Saudi Arabia are allowed to practice their faiths (On occasions I would attend Mass in a private house on my compound) although overt displays or actively promoting conversions from Islam to Christianity are prohibited.
The simple truth for the West is that since the turn of the 21st century it has had to learn about Islam, given the scant acknowledgment of Islam in both private and public education throughout the 20th century. Moreover, the West has had to come to terms with another simple truth too, that Islam is one of the fastest growing faiths in the world, while Christianity, as practiced in the West is in decline. These are specific Western problems which Western Nations must address through education; rather than using another faith virtually unknown to average Westerners, as the scapegoat.
Although Paul Stenhouse chooses a more moderate position, he also attacks the Islamic faith, and coming from a member of the Catholic Clergy who should be better versed in theologies other than his own; if not for conversion purposes rather than anything else; his condemnation is perhaps more perfidious. He cannot take the moral high ground given his own faiths transgressions of Christ’s message of peace on earth and good will to all of mankind. Moreover to argue that the perceived trade off as interpreted by western historians, between the founders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the religious leaders of Islam on the Arabian peninsula; the Hanabali Wahhabis, “wreaks more havoc than malaria or dengue fever” [7] throughout Islam per se; is a dangerous and outrageous claim to make. Like Stones medical metaphor, Stenhouse uses the same approach to demonize Islamic orthodoxy. His Islamophobia is simply crusadic in essence and is very revealing from a Catholic doctrinal view point. Father Stenhouse’s claim could equally be made against those who converted Constantine to Christianity, and there’s much evidence to argue that Christianity as practiced through Catholicism and Anglicanism is simply an aristocratic religion, divested of its intrinsic message from Christ’s ‘ Blessed are the poor and the peace makers’.

Stenhouse also confuses those who use, to quote the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a ‘heresy’ to promote a political cause. Yes, there are radical groups in the Middle East, Northern and Western Africa and throughout the world who advocate the violent overthrow of Governments and the persecution of non-Muslims. At the same time all governments are working together to defeat these usurpers and nowhere is this more evident than in Saudi Arabia, where the efforts of the Government has seen a period of stability and calm return to the Kingdom.
There are also simply historical errors and theological problems with Father Stenhouse’s argument. His claims that the alleged tolerance enjoyed by non-Muslim minorities in Spain from AD711 until 1492 is “propagandist urban myth along the lines of alligators in the New York sewers” [8] is simply clever sophism and not true. Jews who had suffered persecution under Roman and Christian occupation on the Iberian Peninsula were the first to experience religious freedom after the Arab-Muslim conquest of Spain. Jews were given their freedom while Christians were allowed to maintain their customs in an effort to maintain local order. It is well known that educated Christians and Jews learned Arabic and contributed significantly to the multi-cultural Arab-Muslim society. The same cannot be said of the Catholic reconquest of Spain from about 1085 where options given by Ferdinand and Isabella were “exile, conversion to Catholicism or death” [9]. All religions have a history of proselytization too-not always by peaceful means either.
Islam does encourage theological debate and argument within its religious world view. And like the office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, central to protect Catholic dogma and Doctrine, Islam looks critically at any academic enquiry which focuses on its central tenet of faith-that Mohammed was the last prophet sent by God. There’s nothing to stop Muslims or non-Muslims to debate or discuss this point.
As an educator I am deeply concerned about the growing intolerance developing in the world towards people of different religions. While I found the articles by John Stone and Paul Stenhouse disturbing because of the overt anti-Islamic tone, and the writer’s confusion between a religious faith on the one hand and a destructive ant-life ideology spawned through political and social discontent on the other; the more worrying aspect for me is the inability of a Stone and Stenhouse to distinguish between these two points for their audience, along with the composite view that all the problems evident in North Africa, the Far, Near and Middle east are sourced in Islam as a religion, rather than the more apparent social, economic and environmental problems facing these people, regardless of their faith.
I have worked and traveled in the Middle East for six years (now 16years) I am taken with the integration of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. I respect and understand from my own deep spiritual experiences the way the peoples of the Muslim communities live their spiritual lives through being called to prayer 5 times a day, yet being able to live a social and commercially based life which successfully cooperates and competes with the West and its neighbors.
I teach students who several generations on are part of the Palestinian Diaspora, along with those who recently fled Lebanon during the summer war of 2006. They are children of the Islamic faith and like their western counterparts, regardless of their religious beliefs, wish for a world of peace and tolerance. They struggle to understand the attacks on their faith; yet are politically aware and understand the problems they face in a world which has apparently grown indifferent to their histories and points of view. When well-educated individuals, including writers, Popes, political and religious leaders invoke images and arguments that have laid dormant in the annals of history we may well ask wherein lies the future for our children? The answer is that we must stand strong together –Kia Kaha-and demonstrate love and unity together and that in difference we celebrate our humanity.

References:
1. Stone, J The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It, Quadrant, September 2006, p. 11
2. Op.Cit
3. Ibid, p.12
4. Ibid, p.14
5. Armstrong, K, We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam The Guardian, September 18th, 2006.
6. Stone, J, The Muslim Problem and What To Do About It Quadrant, September 2006, p 15.
7. Stenhouse, P, Standing Up To The Islamists Quadrant, September 2006, p 23
8. Stenhouse, P. Ibid, p.22
9. Renard, J, Responses to 101 Questions on Islam, p. 28

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, 私たちの罪を赦し, Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti, আমাদেরকে ক্ষমা করে দাও আমাদের পাপ, हमें माफ कर दो हमारे अपराधों

peace 2peace

Please forgive me for lumping together the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme with this year’s (2016) terrorist attacks in Europe, North Africa, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But the news is all gloom and history has a way of catching up with us. I use the term terrorist and war loosely, and may be criticized-but death is death and the slaughter of innocent people is just that: slaughter of the innocence. The battles fields of Europe, Asia, the Middle East are often lumped together as historical manifestations of past wrongs (with blame shifting according to different interpretations) and we feel somewhat removed from these tragedies; but  cafes, schools, movie theatre , airports, beaches, night clubs – the places where we go to celebrate the joy and happiness of life have become the battlegrounds of the 21st century.

The sullied; those driven by an evil nihilist ideology and a hate for life and an extreme odious revulsion for the simple delight and exhilaration of others  kill for pleasure.

May be all war is like this? Historians will disagree-explaining in minutia the causes and effects, actors etc…and rightly so; but for me it is the consequences of this madness which affects me.

I’ve traveled to 40 countries of the work, lived and worked in 9 countries, including 14 years within Islamic humanity, and in a variety of different cultural contexts. I’ve always met engaging, hospitable, kind and welcoming people who have grown  numb with the incredulity of the madness of the death cults enveloping the planet and claiming allegiance to Islam.

People sitting in a café enjoying camaraderie and banter are slaughtered in the most perfidious and unimaginable way including a 33 year old woman, 7 months pregnant, working in a country where aid is desperately needed and providing that aid. In Baghdad ordinary people enjoying their recreation during the Holy month of Ramadan, chatting imbibing refreshment before beginning their fast are blown up by madmen. In Lahore families enjoying a Sunday out together a blown up. Men and women in a night club are gunned down, and people celebrating Christmas are shot and killed. Young police cadets deciding to serve their county are slaughtered by those old enough to be their fathers. What is this insanity? What hope for humanity?

The Unreturning by Wilfred Owen

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled,
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

May-You-Rest-In-Peace-quotes-images-pictures-download-1

 For those slain though this lunacy may you rest in peace- because the living are not.

 

There are many paths to God as there are Stars in the Universe: In Memory of the Sufi Mystical Qawwal Musician Amjad Sabri

multifaithThe ineffability of the mystical state isn’t known to many. Across all the major and minor religions we can find reference to a ‘consciousness of the Oneness of everything’; it’s an innate knowing that one is an integral part of existence, beyond just knowing through the external self-it’s an extraordinary experience but they seldom last for long unless one chooses to practice along the path and follow a particular way of life to enter the state again, again and again. It requires self-discipline, dedication and commitment.

In the West we have the history of the Christian Mystics-long lost in the 21st century- today found mainly in the cloistered corners of the lives of contemplative monks and nuns-very few left now. Mysticism’s secular counterpart is sometimes found in the works of poets like Wordsworth:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking, all objects all thoughts,

And rolls through all things

Or in the lines of Shelley:

That light whose smile kindles the Universe

That Beauty in which all things work and move

In the East among other religions is the deep insight and beauty of the Islamic Sufi mystics, poets and musicians. Amjad Sabri’s soul based mystical renditions of Qawwal crossed sectarian religious lines in Pakistan-he was much loved by the population. His assassination in Karachi on Wednesday is another deep wound in the psyche of this culturally rich and diverse nation.

I must utter what comes to my lips by Bulleh Shah

Speaking the truth creates chaos.

Telling a lie saves one scarce.

I am afraid of both these.

Afraid I am both here and there.

I must utter what comes to my lips.

He who has this secret known.

He must peep into his own

Lives He in the shrine of peace

Where there are no ups and downs

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is indeed a slippery path.

I take precautions in the dark

Look inside and see for yourself

Why this wild search afar?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is a matter of good form

A norm to which we all conform

It’s God in every soul you see

If he is in me why not in you?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

The master is not far from me

Without him there none could be

That explains the suffering and pain

But mine is not the eye to see

I must say what comes to my lips.

Rest In Peace Amjad Sabri

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dppCsWFTsc

The Growing Intolerance towards the Islamic Faith

It is 9 years since I first wrote this article in response to the xenophobic attack on the Islamic faith by two contributors to the conservative Australian publication Quadrant. I am publishing it again because there’s been little progress globally for tolerance of difference whether it is to do with religious world views, sexual orientation, racism or the myriad other forms of hatred of difference which seem to have become a feature of the ‘enlightened technological age of the 21st century’. The savage murder of so many people since the start of 2015 because of their religious belief is a blight on all of humanity. It’s an assault on the dignity of everyone on the planet, and sadly there seems no end in sight to this madness
I have spent the last 14 years of my career as teacher and educational administrator living and working in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and South Asia, as a Catholic Christian. I count among my friends many ordinary people who are Muslim, and share an abhorrence at the distorted perversion of their faith by madmen, and the misrepresentation of Islam through the distorted lenses of western media and its obsession with ‘free speech’ (whatever that means anyway because in reality no speech is free and it comes along with accountability and responsibility: two key virtues lacking in the libertarian lexicon)

I was greatly relieved when my September 2006 issue of Quadrant arrived in Jeddah, in its clear plastic envelope. Moreover I was delighted that it had made its way passed the censors, particularly with its bold subheading The Growing Problem with Islam in at least a size 18 black type font, just below the magazine title. One could assume one of two reasons for this. Firstly, since the accession of King Abdullah (now deceased) there’s been an opening up of the Kingdom to some aspects of western media and its myriad forms of communication. It is not uncommon to finds books on Eastern meditation, westernized Yoga practices alongside American style self-help texts and periodicals like the Economist, Time and Newsweek, (but alas not Quadrant-at least not yet). Texts on Islam other than wahabbism are also available. I recently purchased the works of Rumi, the 13th Century Islamist Persian poet; renowned for his devout faith and mystical prayers to God; in a bookshop in Jeddah-one of chain of bookshops not dissimilar to Borders or Barns & Noble- in the Kingdom. It has a wide range of reading material from around the world. So the censors may often allow in magazines which provide some critic of the country; but they will censor anything which holds the Royal Family, and/or the Islamic faith up to too much criticism and/or ridicule (similar to Thailand and its laws governing the Royal family and Buddhism) The second reason could be that it slipped through without being noticed. This is highly unlikely given the strict scrutiny of anything coming into the Kingdom.
I read with keen interest both John Stone’s and Paul Stenhouse’s views on Islam and offer the following critical response. While a clearly well written piece it is my view that the writers do not distinguish clearly enough between the Islamic faith as practiced by over 1 billion people in the world, and malevolent, destructive anti-social behavior, along with a fundamentally conservative political ideology which has hijacked the Islamic faith for its own purposes. An ideology which I might add, is to be found in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and a number of other faith based belief systems.
The title of John Stone’s article is disturbing, “The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It’, given that 80 years ago we might have read in magazines of a European cultural persuasion “The Jewish Problem and What to Do About It”. It seems to me, from my perspective as a westerner living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, some 30 minutes from Mecca and Medina; the two holiest places in the Islamic world, that “the clear and present danger confronting us”[1] all is a lack of choosing to distinguish between Islam as a genuine faith emanating from Abraham, and acts of terrorism in their most malevolent form as practiced by criminals who happen (by chance?) to have been born into the Islamic faith.
Stone cites a number of incidents, which have received coverage in the international media, as well as in the Kingdom through the English language newspapers, as evidence of an ‘Islamic cancer’ [2] in the body politic of Australian culture. From the tenor and tone of his writing I assume he would apply this analogy outside of Australian society too-say to New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States of America. For he writes “It is a problem that is similar to the Muslim problem in all Western Countries where a significant immigrant Muslim minority has been allowed to become established”[3]. The use of the medical metaphor to demonize a whole group of people has been practiced before, and once successful enabled whole sub-groups within a society to be considered less than human and eventually exterminated. Besides Nazi Germany other more recent examples exist for us to choose from; Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Darfur in the Sudan and the Palestinians imprisoned in their small pieces of land designated by some as the Palestinian Territories.

What is the exact problem Stone cites? Is it really a problem of the “failure of multi-culturalism” as he suggest? Is it the angst he cites from one European Commissioner who spoke to an Australian journalist? Is it the failure of Australian society’s infrastructure in supporting unity through diversity? It is none of these. Rather, Stone’s address is a veiled attack on the Islamic faith itself. The core of the Muslim problem-for the world, not merely for Australia he writes, “lies in the essence of Islam itself”.[4]
Writing like a Crusader of old John Stone uses growing social unrest in Australian society to mask a full frontal attack on one of the world’s great monotheistic religions. Moreover, the ideals and principles of both Christianity and Islam are ignored to support an argument which asserts that Islam as a religion, and those States that are a single Islamic polity are incompatible with Western culture. Stone avoids defining what Western Culture is, although the irony is that within the subtext of his writing he appears to assert that it is a culture which is just as intolerant as the Islam he thinks he knows. John Stone’s vehemence towards Islam is not unlike that of Peter the Venerable, who proclaimed the “bestial cruelty of Islam”[5] at a time when Jews and Muslims were fair game for Christians, who in turn had laid claim to their own form of Gnosis through advocating the idea that killing large numbers of Jewish and Muslim men, women and children was simply exterminating a heresy. The sad irony here is that Jesus had urged his followers to love their enemies not annihilate them. It is my understanding that the Gospel message has not changed today; despite claims that render its interpretation as too literal and threatening the political and social stability of the Western polity.
Contrary to the assertion he makes “that Islamic and Western Cultures are today, within a single polity, incompatible” [6] there are a significant number of examples where people who practice their faith through the religion of Islam are happily integrated into their new cultures and countries. These can be found in all Western countries including the United States of American Canada, Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, the European Union and New Zealand. Singapore in particular is a model of religious tolerance and an example of Islamic compatibility in a single polity. Furthermore, although continually asserting the right to do so, the state of Turkey is a model of a secular Muslim state in which a single polity is able to affect good governance (notwithstanding the internecine war between the Gulan movement and the current ruling party in Turkey)
I would further assert through experience and example that Islam is tolerant towards other faiths. While not considered democratic within a western definition Syrian Christians and Jews (before the civil war) were able to live and practice their faiths without discrimination; as are Christian and Jews in Iran and Egypt. Christians in Saudi Arabia are allowed to practice their faiths (On occasions I would attend Mass in a private house on my compound) although overt displays or actively promoting conversions from Islam to Christianity are prohibited.
The simple truth for the West is that since the turn of the 21st century it has had to learn about Islam, given the scant acknowledgment of Islam in both private and public education throughout the 20th century. Moreover, the West has had to come to terms with another simple truth too, that Islam is one of the fastest growing faiths in the world, while Christianity, as practiced in the West is in decline. These are specific Western problems which Western Nations must address through education; rather than using another faith virtually unknown to average Westerners, as the scapegoat.
Although Paul Stenhouse chooses a more moderate position, he also attacks the Islamic faith, and coming from a member of the Catholic Clergy who should be better versed in theologies other than his own; if not for conversion purposes rather than anything else; his condemnation is perhaps more perfidious. He cannot take the moral high ground given his own faiths transgressions of Christ’s message of peace on earth and good will to all of mankind. Moreover to argue that the perceived trade off as interpreted by western historians, between the founders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the religious leaders of Islam on the Arabian peninsula; the Hanabali Wahhabis, “wreaks more havoc than malaria or dengue fever” [7] throughout Islam per se; is a dangerous and outrageous claim to make. Like Stones medical metaphor, Stenhouse uses the same approach to demonize Islamic orthodoxy. His islamophobia is simply crusadic in essence and is very revealing from a Catholic doctrinal view point. Father Stenhouse’s claim could equally be made against those who converted Constantine to Christianity, and there’s much evidence to argue that Christianity as practiced through Catholicism and Anglicanism is simply an aristocratic religion, divested of its intrinsic message from Christ’s ‘ Blessed are the poor and the peace makers’.

Stenhouse also confuses those who use, to quote the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a ‘heresy’ to promote a political cause. Yes, there are radical groups in the Middle East, Northern and Western Africa and throughout the world who advocate the violent overthrow of Governments and the persecution of non-Muslims. At the same time all governments are working together to defeat these usurpers and nowhere is this more evident than in Saudi Arabia, where the efforts of the Government has seen a period of stability and calm return to the Kingdom.
There are also simply historical errors and theological problems with Father Stenhouse’s argument. His claims that the alleged tolerance enjoyed by non-Muslim minorities in Spain from AD711 until 1492 is “propagandistic urban myth along the lines of alligators in the New York sewers” [8] is simply clever sophism and not true. Jews who had suffered persecution under Roman and Christian occupation on the Iberian Peninsula were the first to experience religious freedom after the Arab-Muslim conquest of Spain. Jews were given their freedom while Christians were allowed to maintain their customs in an effort to maintain local order. It is well known that educated Christians and Jews learned Arabic and contributed significantly to the multi-cultural Arab-Muslim society. The same cannot be said of the Catholic reconquest of Spain from about 1085 where options given by Ferdinand and Isabella were “exile, conversion to Catholicism or death” [9]. All religions have a history of proselytization too-not always by peaceful means either.
Islam does encourage theological debate and argument within its religious world view. And like the office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, central to protect Catholic dogma and Doctrine, Islam looks critically at any academic enquiry which focuses on its central tenet of faith-that Mohammed was the last prophet sent by God. There’s nothing to stop Muslims or non-Muslims to debate or discuss this point.
As an educator I am deeply concerned about the growing intolerance developing in the world towards people of different religions. While I found the articles by John Stone and Paul Stenhouse disturbing because of the overt anti-Islamic tone, and the writer’s confusion between a religious faith on the one hand and a destructive ant-life ideology spawned through political and social discontent on the other; the more worrying aspect for me is the inability of a Stone and Stenhouse to distinguish between these two points for their audience, along with the composite view that all the problems evident in North Africa, the Far, Near and Middle east are sourced in Islam as a religion, rather than the more apparent social, economic and environmental problems facing these people, regardless of their faith.
I have worked and traveled in the Middle East for six years (now 14 years) I am taken with the integration of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. I respect and understand from my own deep spiritual experiences the way the peoples of the Muslim communities live their spiritual lives through being called to prayer 5 times a day, yet being able to live a social and commercially based life which successfully cooperates and competes with the West and its neighbors.
I teach students who several generations on are part of the Palestinian Diaspora, along with those who recently fled Lebanon during the summer war of 2006. They are children of the Islamic faith and like their western counterparts, regardless of their religious beliefs, wish for a world of peace and tolerance. They struggle to understand the attacks on their faith; yet are politically aware and understand the problems they face in a world which has apparently grown indifferent to their histories and points of view. When well-educated individuals, including writers, Popes, political and religious leaders invoke images and arguments that have laid dormant in the annals of history we may well ask wherein lies the future for our children?

References:

1 Stone, J The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It, Quadrant, September 2006, p. 11
2. Op.Cit
3. Ibid, p.12
4. Ibid, p.14
5. Armstrong, K, We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam The Guardian, September 18th, 2006.
6. Stone, J, The Muslim Problem and What To Do About It Quadrant, September 2006, p 15.
7. Stenhouse, P, Standing Up To The Islamists Quadrant, September 2006, p 23
8. Stenhouse, P. Ibid, p.22
9. Renard, J, Responses to 101 Questions on Islam, p. 28

ISIS, Boko Haram & the Banality of Evil

When the German philosopher Hannah Arendt covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem between 1961-1962, she drew the conclusion that far from being psychopaths-the majority of people (Nazis from all walks of life) who participated in the killing of 11 million people, (1.1 million children) including the mentally disabled, mentally ill, Jews, Gypsies, Christians, Muslims and other minorities, had made clear moral choices. She argued that:
“…under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation” (Arendt, 2006)
Her words are a chilling reminder of the precipice humanity finds itself on as we bear witness to the atrocities being carried out by the group called ISIS across parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and the Nigerian group, Boko Haram in West Africa.
Essentially Arendt argues that when any person subordinates their own ability to think for themselves, and embraces the ideological narrative of a group, they also give up significant aspect of their unique status as a human being. A person’s ability to think with integrity and to value the dignity of all human life separates those who choose through their own moral turpitude the banality of evil-that choice to go with the crowd, to get lost in the mass psychology of hysterical conformity.
Her argument is corroborated through a number of interviews conducted by Gilbert (Gilbert, 1947) during the Nuremberg trials. Among the men Gilbert interviewed over the months leading to the trials were, Hermann Goering, Alfred Rosenberg, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hans Frank, Julius Streicher and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Each told a different story, yet each claimed to have only done their duty within the ideological narrative of Nazism. They had as Arendt so succinctly put it, made deliberate personal moral choices while serving an evil cause.
And in recent times arguments of ‘simply carrying out orders’ or being ‘called to a higher cause’ have been heard during trials at the International Criminal Court. Such was the defense of Slobodan Milošević, the former President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Charles Taylor the former President of Liberia. Each of these men failed their own unique destiny to be fully human and fully alive and to know themselves as they are known, and to fully embrace their own dignity as a human being and the collective dignity of all humanity.
Yet we would be mistaken to think the banality of evil is only to be found in the grand narratives of religious extremism, or the secular political narratives of totalitarianism or the aggressive discourse of advanced capitalism. Failure to think for ourselves, to question everything, to critically appraise all arguments of certainty creates a fertile breeding ground for those without a mind of their own, to follow those who have lost their minds.
References:
Arendt, H. (2006). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. London: Penguin Classics.
Gilbert, G. (1947). Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar Straus.