Between "Islam"ists and "Secular Human"ists - Caught in Between (and Needing Badly to Get Out): the World's Muslims! - Part 1
Part 1 - Mr. X and the Islamists
Let me guide you through my evening today.
I come home, coughing once every three seconds, pissed at my lungs, pissed at the world. I go online and see that Zafar Sobhan's newest piece posted on UV is causing quite a storm (admittedly in a tea-cup). At the very top is a commenter - lets call him/her/it Mr. X - who has a habit of giving us rare gems and does not disappoint in this case either.
Unfortunately Zafar Sobhan has started off this piece with a quote that he attributed to the Talmud, which Wikipedia informs us is "a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history".
Mr. X says:
Zafar Sobhan citation from the Talmud in the very first line of the thread, “He who saves one life, saves the world entire. –Talmud” is the manifestation of his inferiority complex [Hinaumonnatar shamil]. Because the very same quotation is present in Al-Quran saying more eloquently as,” Je Keho Ekjon Niraporad Manushke Hautta Korlo She Je Shamogra Manab Jaalti ke Hautta Korlo. Aar Je Keho Ekjon Mansusher Jibon Bachalo, She jen Shamogra Manab Jaatike Bachalo.”
I wonder why Mr. Zafar cited from the Holy Book of the Jews overlooking his own Holy Book. Doesn’t it point to bankruptcy of wisdom of the author?
Many people respond to Mr. X including yours truly. I will, with full admission of my own vanity and pride, reproduce my response because it has a bearing on what we are discussing. I responded to him thus:
"______ is right as far as the quotation from the Quran is concerned. And Farhad bhai, thank you for saying what I was about to say.
Now with full apologies to the moderators, I would like to take this occasion to rant a little bit about those who quote the Quran to suit their own ideological ends. ESPECIALLY when the full quote is absent. If you feel this comment too detracts from the point of the post, feel free to moderate it out.
The quote comes from the 32nd ayat of the 5th Surah in the Quran “Al Mai’da” or “The Table/The Table Spread” (Yusuf Ali). The full ayat is this courtesy of Yusuf Ali:
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
Now the questions posed by me for _______ and the theologians are three-fold:
(1) when the man is trying to do a good thing through his writing, does it matter what book he quotes and does the Holy Quran itself prescribe bringing up UNNECESSARY arguments instead of pursuing the right course of action during catastrophes like this?
(2) When the Holy Quran itself says that such a message came to the “Children of Israel”, is Zafar Sobhan’s quoting of it from that source a sin/crime? (Think very carefully before you answer)
(3)Why wasn’t the ayat from the Holy Quran quoted in full in #1? Feel free not to answer this."
Now here's where it gets really interesting. Mr. X comes back with this gem of a response, which I cannot reproduce in its entirety thanks to its length. But I will quote the parts I found most relevant:
Thank you folks for your comments on my comment about the quote from Talmud. I believe in religion, ain’t an atheist. I have respect for Thalmud and other heavenly books. I believe, the three religions, their books and their followers are just like sibling to each other. I have profound respect to all of them. But I want to emphysize here the teaching ” Know thyselves.” Many a times we try to show up our over-smartness and expanse of knowledge by following, citing and using non-indeginous exotic stuff.
...... But contention is that we have some elites who being muslim doesn’t have good study on Islam and quite uncomfortable with own religion but feel comfortable to affiliate with others and start reading, Geeta, bible, talmud etc and start criticizing his own one.
Once again I emphasize that this has little to do with this particular commenter. I do not like to pick on denizens of the Bangladeshi blogs, even ones for whom I have very little sympathy.
No rather, I'd like to present this commenter as the model poster child of a particular Deshi mindset and dissect his comments to see what insights we can glean into this mindset.
Firstly, let me zero-in on the most problematic part of this little blog-drama I witnessed this evening. Zafar Sobhan quoting the Talmud is an example of "show up our over-smartness and expanse of knowledge by following, citing and using non-indeginous (sic) exotic stuff". The commenter in the immediately preceding sentence also says: "But I want to emphysize (sic) here the teaching ” Know thyselves (sic).”"
Does anyone know where the aphorism "Know thyself" comes from? Yes, the "classical" Greeks themselves. Now unless the Greeks were indigenous to Bangladesh and/or secretly Muslim since
610 -12 a.h., I am afraid that this is more "citing and using non indeginous (sic) exotic stuff". It really doesn't get more exotic than Greek philosophers....
Now here is the really interesting part: while the "secular celebrity intellectual" quoting the Talmud allegedly betrays a discomfort with his own religion, it is absolutely fine for this commenter to "emphysize here the teaching "Know Thyselves"". Even though, may I point out, that if you were to approach this from a strictly Islamic perspective: either both are guilty or both are innocent. From a deshi SECULAR legal perspective: either both are guilty or both are innocent. The same law applies to both.
Why is this important? Let me spell it out for those who don't know my little obsession nowadays: while a "secular" cartoonist like Arifur drawing that cartoon is an insult against religion and the Prophet (SAW), and betrays some sort of "conspiracy against Islam"; the Shibir-backed newspapers' publishing of the same cartoon is an example of .... nothing! It goes unremarked. It goes scot-free. No HuT members protesting there. No idiot commenters busy questioning their "motives" there (the worst I heard was that this was Arif's ticket out of Bangladesh - which revealed more of the commenter than the cartoonist).
Yet, it is the same whether we like it or not. But not condemned in the same way by those who always seem to speak for "Islamic" interests.
And here's the really interesting part. The "average" deshi middle-class dude(ette?) who's not really into religion or politics will - given the evidence of both - probably agree that Zafar Sobhan/Arifur's "digressions" are somehow greater than that of a Mr. X/Shibir-backed publication. Note, not Islamists who are exploiting the situation, but the average Mintoo who smokes his cigarette at the corner tea-shop while ogling the women and then goes to pray Jummah. He doesn't really like these mullahs (they'll get rid of the women from the streets), but he's not really a fan of these high-flying "intellectual" types either.
And here's why: because he has been convinced that there is this secret "cabal" composed solely of liberals who are out to "get Islam". AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, he has been convinced that "Islam" is only those set of practices and only those opinions that belong to a specific set of people, namely those who have beards and are quoting the Quran in parts to justify illiberal policies or whatever those in power want them to justify or - as was the case here - to villify someone they don't like. Helping the poor, the weak and the defenseless - those are not Islamic until and unless blessed by an appropriate man (always a man) with a beard wearing an alkhalla.
And if the bearded man tomorrow pronounces Zafar Sobhan to be a "heretic" while simultaneously preaching friendship with the "people of the Book"... well that isn't something for Mintoo to think about is it? If the bearded man says that Prothom Alo is a secular paper and so its printing of the cartoon is "haraam" and Kishore Kontho is a religious paper and its printing of the same cartoon is "halal", then that becomes "Islam" for Mintoo. After all, bearded men know "Islam". "Intellectuals" know only what the West has taught them.
Mr. X also very revealingly calls Mr. Sobhan "some elites who being muslim doesn’t have good study on Islam and quite uncomfortable with own religion but feel comfortable to affiliate with others and start reading, Geeta, bible, talmud etc and start criticizing his own one". The key-word here is "elite". I have also seen similar comments on tacit's blog (let's call this one Mr. Y). So perhaps it is an elite-resentment thing? Zafar Sobhan is seen to be part of some sort of elite and so his crimes mean so much more than others? Is that the logic at work? (Alas, if we only treated our power elites this way, we would have some accountability! But that is another matter.)
But then I had to ask, how does this apply to Arifur? Is he part of some secret elite that I am not aware of? As far as I knew, he was a simple Muslim boy from a simple pious family that named him after the Prophet (SAW). His only "sin" is to work for a newspaper that the Islamists deem to be "secular" and draw cartoons for them. Thus he is locked up. A Muslim man locked up. Without trial, without justice, without a fair hearing. For nothing but politics, but it is your vocal Muslims who are busy defending this in the name of Islam and it is your silent Muslims (the Mintoos) who are busy acquiescing to it.
At that point in the evening, I recalled a lot of people.
I recalled the Muslim Kurds - Sunni like 90%+ of this blog's Muslim readers - who were being oppressed by the Turks and the Iraqi and Syrian Arabs without many Islamists making noise about it (Amreeka and Nastik Communists were their preffered targets then). Indeed, one remembers how during the First Gulf War, Saddam was a hero to many, prayed for in the mosques.
I recalled Muslim Balochis killed by the Pakistani government without question while the Islamists made noise about other things (Yahya's drinking? Bhutto's womanising? The APWA? Who knows, who can tell? Why talk about human suffering when appealing to men threatened by women's emancipation from their homes is so much easier?).
I recalled black Muslim Sudanese being killed (and years before that, traded as slaves) by other Muslims and Islamists never holding a protest rally in Dhaka about that (cartoons, American invasion of Iraq and Aghanistan were more important then)
And of course I recalled how when this green land's Muslims were being killed along with their countrymen of other religions, what Islamists had done or not done.
And I came to one conclusion that was just beyond the tip of my nose: Islamists cannot take care of the world's Muslims, the majority of whom are coming to define the "third world" today (Asian Tigers and BRIC countries are ahead; oil-rich countries hold a tiny fraction of the world's Muslims). They cannot take care of those Muslims because THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE WORLD'S MUSLIMS. They simply care for what they call their "religious duty" but what the rest of us can easily see as nakedly self-serving politics that benefits only one group: them. And if you don't see this, that's probably because you are an Islamist yourself. The rest of us can pretty clearly see that the emperor has no clothes.
Lastly, to end on a less than serious note, let me pin down one word that occurs in both Mr. X and Mr. Y's comments: "smartness". Typically a word used in Bangla to denote those who know too much about other cultures or to chastise children/teenagers, typically those who do not set store by society's limits on their behaviour. In English, it is actually quite complimentary. It smacks of having once been what James C. Scott would have labelled "a weapon of the weak".
Apparently, quoting the Talmud is an indication of "smartness". So are Yiddish proverbs and Vedic scripture according to Mr. Y (good for Mr. Sobhan that the Talmud is originally in Hebrew). So be it. I suppose the average Deshi hates it the same way the average American hates those Hollywood liberals getting into kaballah or the average Victorian hated the Buddhism fad of the 1890s. Or the way I hate those big thick glasses on hipsters.
The difference is: I don't advocate jail for everything I dislike. If that were true, I'd be calling for banning Jamaat right now.
Part 2: Ms. Nasrin and the "Secular Human"ists