The rage, directed so far, at the West is now right here in our own backyard. In Ramu, thousands of zealots, inflamed by what they said was a defamatory comment made on Islam in Facebook allegedly by a Buddhist, went on the rampage. They vandalized Buddhist homes and desecrated temples. In certain cases, Hindu places of worship were also targeted in Patiya, Chittagong. The images of total destruction plastered on all national and international papers spoke of one thing only – mad rage. In one photo, a Buddha statue was seen without a head. Someone had decapitated it in devilish fury. So, this is what happens when someone makes a derogative comment about Islam.
Does the violent mob feel better now that so many people’s lives have been abruptly turned upside down? Well, the issue is, if they feel themselves to be better Muslims by reacting like such fanatics. An anecdote from the Prophet’s life, taught to most of us during our school days, comes back.
An old woman who did not have high regard for the Prophet or Islam laid thorns on his path everyday and each day The Prophet carefully removed the obstacles and went on his way. One day, there were no thorns and the same happened the next day. Anxious, The Prophet sensed that some harm had come to the woman and after asking others went to her home. The old woman was sick but she was speechless at the kindness of the man whom she tried to harm for so long and became ashamed. The morale here is that: Islam never speaks of violence and never condones undermining other faiths. The Prophet also went to war but when there was no other way. So, the religion of compassion and empathy is translated into an ideology of hatred and intolerance when the so-called Muslims’ fail to grasp what religion actually stands for. That is not to say that when Islam is insulted or, made to become a victim of slander, Muslims should remain passive but their action needs to be sensible and supported by logic and not by uncontrollable wrath. The sad part is when the images of broken idols and ransacked temples are portrayed across the world Islam-phobia will only become more entrenched.
Already, the general people of the West have a weary attitude towards Muslims and while extreme acts are committed by a handful of radicals, the brunt of the suspicion falls on all Muslims. A bearded man can possess moderate values and may shun all extremisms but, at first glance, he may be regarded with skepticism. This is the hard truth and acts like temple attacking will only reinforce these fears.
The problem is that the when people erupt in anger and attack worship areas of other faiths they fail to look at the far-reaching repercussions. Today, many of those who broke into temples in anger may be feeling a sense of satisfaction but their action, in the long run, will only fuel anti-Muslim sentiment. In Western societies, Muslims will slowly begin to be avoided and an irreversible gap of understanding may develop. As for countries like Bangladesh, minority communities will be jolted into realising that any time their existence can face threat. The Buddhist community as a whole was not to be held responsible for the errant act of one man (assuming he made pejorative remarks about Islam).
Let’s change the context and the point here will become clear. Just because one Bangladeshi man breaks the law in a foreign land does not mean that all Bangladeshis are criminals. The same rule applies here. The bottom line is that religion’s main tenet is tolerance but while there is no dearth of diehard adherents of a faith, using religion to promote harmony and understanding is missing. The incident in Ramu comes amidst the global furore over an anti-Islamic film and the West’s stubbornness to permit anything in the name of freedom of speech and therefore, is loosely connected to the convulsions the world has seen in the last few weeks.
Unfortunately, by protesting with violence and vandalism, Muslims have only shown an ugly side. Had they united and forwarded a demand saying that there must be certain demarcations in freedom of speech, the picture would have been a sober one. Instead of putting a united front, the countries were busy quelling angry mob riots. But after everything said and done – this also has to be remembered that Islam is not a fragile religion and so, any kind of vilification will eventually have no impact on it. Muslims need to remember that by resorting to uncivil acts they are only branding themselves as fanatics. The truth to come out of years of Islam-bashing followed by outburst is that, insult on religion will never stop. Some evil brain will always try to become instantly in(famous) by attacking Muslims and their faith and the best course for Muslims would be to either form a platform consisting of all Muslim nations and protest or, simply ignore.
Meanwhile, Muslims who attack holy places of other faiths and defile religious images and idols need better understanding of the ideals of Islam. Often general people’s emotions are stirred by inflammatory speech made by Moulanas and off they go, screaming for blood, weapons in hand.
The scars of the Gujarat riot in India remain fuelling an invisible, uneasy division between Muslims and Hindus and the latest clashes between Muslims and Bodo people which trickled down to others parts of India have only shown that religious divides persist and can flare up at the slightest provocation.
Not surprisingly, immediately after the Ramu incident, main political parties began finger pointing, blaming each other for inciting sectarian animosity. For God’s sake, when a community is faced with the predicament of existence, let’s refrain from using it as a political weapon. The government needs to find the perpetrators and take stern action and as soon as possible. Inter-faith discussions and meetings must be held so that the minority people do not feel like outsiders.
Bangladesh always prides herself to be a country where people of all faiths live peacefully and this achievement sets us apart – let’s not allow a group of extremists to spoil that!
Towheed Feroze writes on social, political, development and cultural issues.