By Abubakar N. Kasim, a freelance writer who lives in Toronto, Canada
I believed – when I was growing up – that bullies had the right to inflict pain upon their victims. It was the cycle of life everyone must accept, I thought. To go against them was unnatural and futile. To deal with them I was going to have to come up with creative ways to avoid their wrath and earn their blessings and approval.
It took me a while to come to terms with and wake up to the reality of bullies and how to deal with them. Giving in to their demands does not make them go away. Instead, they only demand and expect more. The only way out, I learnt, was not to give in to their lust and desires, nor to run away from them but rather to confront them. Even though, this requires a great amount of courage and sacrifice, it is the only way out of the cycle of abuse that otherwise will never end.
The believing community has endured a lot of harassment whether it is about the issue of niqab in France and elsewhere, the minaret controversy in Switzerland, racism and profiling at airports and many other forms of abuse.
Giving up the right of women to wear the religious attire they deem fit will not make the bully happy, instead, he will demand more.
Muslims in Switzerland have been recently tested with the issue of building the symbolic structures on their houses of worship. Even though the structure does not pose any harm or benefit, bullies made it appear otherwise. Things were blown out of proportion as if Muslims were on the verge of taking over the land.
Muslims in Canada have also gone through the wrath of bullies when a national magazine published an article in 2006 entitled The Future Belongs to Islam. Ryerson University Professor David Miller, in his article entitled The Case against MacLean’s, explained that Mark Steyn had claimed that Muslims in the West are poised to take over entire societies and “the only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be.” “Without documenting his claims,” Dr. Miller, explained, “Steyn says enough Muslims are terrorists to make the religion a global threat, and they will subject us all to rigid Muslim laws when the takeover is achieved.”
The world stood still when four law students under the guidance of the Canadian Islamic Congress took their case to the Human Rights Commissions after the magazine refused to publish a more balanced response to the article. Had Mr. Steyn said the same thing about other ethnic communities such as the Jews and homosexuals, he would have been reminded that freedom of expression has limits and one ought to act responsibly. Internet blogs, airwaves and news print media were filled with hate against Islam and Muslims in support of the author. Claims were made that freedom of expression was under attack.
A furor has been created surrounding the few Muslim women that wear niqab in Europe and elsewhere including Canada. It is ironic to hear these societies claim to value democracy and freedom of religion while at the same time violating the same principles when it comes to Muslim minorities.
Muslims like Dr. Tariq Ramadan were banned from entering the U.S. under the former Bush administration. Renown Muslim scholar Dr. Zakir Naik was also banned from entering the UK and Canada over comments he was alleged to have made in which he was accused of supporting terrorism. The British government first banned him and the bullies in Canada appealed to their government to do the same.
On the hand, these same bullies act as cheerleaders for anyone who crosses all the boundaries in attacking the Muslim community. When the University of Ottawa reminded the right wing conservative commentator Ann Coulter to refrain from insulting others when she was scheduled to speak in March, bullies banded together in denouncing the university’s move to limit freedom of expression. The university did not ban her from speaking but rather had only sent her a letter saying that, “Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.” In the view of the bullies, when insulting Muslims, the sky is the limit. But otherwise, freedom of expression is limited.
When an author insults Islam, he gets approval from all sides and is appointed to the rank of Knight by the Queen for “services to literature” as happened to Salman Rushdie in June 2007. But when a scholar makes some unpopular comments such as Dr. Naik, the same government bans him from entering the country.
In light of the unprecedented waves of bullies, the reaction of Muslims can be summarized into two extreme forms. Some members of the community have resorted to violence not knowing that their actions are not only counterproductive but it goes against the teachings of the Prophet who did not respond with violence when confronted by bigots. Iran’s fatwa over the publication of the Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the brutal murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, burning flags, trying to blow up buildings and airplanes – all are examples of the extreme measures which are counterproductive and breed more hate and animosity. Instead of helping the Muslim’s cause, these measures help in the advancement of the cause of bullies that portray the Muslim community as violent thugs that cannot tolerate criticism.
Another form of extreme reaction that some Muslims have resorted to is a complete isolation hoping that the bully will one day go away.
The more balanced approach to deal with bullies is to take a middle approach between the two mentioned extremes. It is the approach cultivated in the work of the contemporary thinker and philosopher Dr. Tariq Ramadan named one of Time magazine’s most important innovators of the twenty-first century.
As illustrated by a review by Amazon.com in describing Dr. Ramadan’s latest book What I Believe, he calls on Western Muslims to escape the mental, social, cultural, and religious ghettos they have created for themselves and become full partners in the democratic societies in which they live. At the same time, he calls for the rest of us to recognize our Muslim neighbors as citizens with rights and responsibilities the same as our own. His vision is of a future in which a shared and confident pluralism becomes a reality at last.
Bullies need to be confronted – not with violence – but with wisdom and knowledge. They will only go away when challenged through rigorous debate, which will reveal their own hypocrisy and double standards.