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View: West and the Islam

By: Kazi Anwarul Masud
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(The author is former Secretary and ambassador of Bangladesh)

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The Western judicial system had devastatingly missed the "Grotian Moment" that could have been achieved by a fairer and internationally acceptable trial of Saddam Hussein and his cohorts and had touched the parameters of the "Paradox of Inversion" by staging the prosecution in Shia dominated Iraqi court and later through sanctifying the trial and execution that followed. Monstrous as the crimes of Saddam Hussein were, the verdict, one can reasonably presume had already been decided upon long before its pronouncement by the court trying Saddam Hussein. The danger facing the world today, which should have been peaceful after the end of the cold war, is whether we have entered a phase of distrust among cultures, particularly those molded largely by religion. Though Edward Said trashed Samuel Huntington"s clash of civilizations as "vastly overrated article", yet Said admitted in his book Orientalism that European attempts to deal with Islam, "a rebellious and somewhat resistant culture", as a threat to Christian Europe and "had to be fixed ideologically, the way Dante fixes Mohammed (pbuh) in one of the lower circles of hell". Bernard Lewis, the bette noire of Edward Said, carried the candle of Islam"s so-called millennial war with Judeo-Christian civilization and has been potent in infusing in the common Western national genetics a deep mistrust leading to Islamophobia to the extent that Western, particularly US judicial system has been implanted with a sort of doctrine of preemption. Amy Waldman (The Atlantic Monthly-Oct/2006) detailed a few cases of terrorism tried in the US on the principle of preemptive prosecution because "the September 11 attacks prompted a fundamental shift in the American government"s approach to Islamic terrorism". As justifications have been given in the case of the doctrine of preemption by citing examples of overriding the Charter of the UN by the super powers during the cold war days and even before; indictment of Al Capone on tax fraud because the US government could not get him for more serious crimes and lengthy incarcerations of habitual offenders to prevent future crimes are being cited in defense of preemptive prosecution. "This preemptive strategy" writes Wadham "represents a moral and legal change in the American approach to justice. Its premise is that ¬Islamic terrorism¬ represents a singular and unprecedented threat to American safety and society". Unfortunately the Muslim community in the US has been targeted and hundreds of cases against the Muslims have been instituted in American courts.

In post-9/11 period Bush administration has expanded legislation allowing terrorism related charges even when no terrorism has taken place. Effectively Islam and the Holy Quran, on many cases, have been put on trial and Islamic scholars (mostly non-Muslims to gain greater credibility with the jurors) are invited to give their views on Islamic texts and speeches delivered by so-called Islamic radicals that are found in possession of the accused. Unbelievably such debasement of society, now engaged in disquisition of Islam, is taking place in a country which in the very first amendment of its constitution had guaranteed complete freedom of religion and whose Supreme Court had in 1969 unequivocally declared that a speech to be impermissible had to "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action". It is, therefore, not surprising that 60% of inhabitants in Muslim countries now believe that US" major aim is to weaken the Islamic world while most Americans now believe that Islam condones killing in the name of Allah. The alienation of the Muslim Diaspora in the West is progressing to an alarming level and now the second generation Muslims who had earlier shown little interest in religion is now finding more solace in mosques or Islamic centers because of discriminations meted out to them in every day life by the majority community regardless of the fact that the first generation Muslims were invited into the European countries to shore up the sagging economies following the Second World War. One must, however, admit that Salafi quietism and the political thoughts of Muslim Brotherhood have merged into the hybrid philosophy identified with Osama bin Laden. The adherents of this school of thought are extremist Muslims who have caused the 9/11, London and Madrid bombings costing loss of innocent lives and perhaps for generations condemned the Muslim communities in non-Muslim majority areas to navigating the parameters of minority citizenship in their countries of birth or adoption.

Despite former President Bush"s repeated assurances of assistance to be advanced to countries moving towards democracy, particularly in the broader Middle East, because, he said in his 2007 State of the Union address, "free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies", it is doubtful if the "surge" policy in Iraq translated through more troops sent there and dragging on of a solution of the Palestinian problem (American sincerity in finding a solution of this issue has always been in doubt) would have the desired result. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution thinks that Muslim societies have widely differing interest and demographic groups: - regime retainers, secular reformers, gradualist mainstream, Islamist social conservatives, radical Islamists, and militant activists and terrorist themselves. Singer feels that the US to succeed she must interact with all shades of public opinion including the radicals. If the Marshall Plan could sway the left leaning parties towards democracy in post-war Europe and Nixon"s visit to Beijing could result in widening the gulf between the USSR and China then use of Harvard Professor Joseph Nye Jr"s "soft power" could yield better result than the hard military power has produced until now. In the ultimate analysis one man-one vote-one time Islamists have to be engaged politically and defeated at the polls where they have their Achilles heel

President Obama"s order to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison camp for alleged terrorists, reported declassification of torture of terrorists both in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and in secret prisons in countries outside the US territory, and more importantly his assurance to the Muslims that war against terrorists is not war against Islam given in his much heralded speech at Cairo appear to move the Western and particularly the US judicial philosophy more in line with international law and ethics. Obama had admitted in his Cairo speech that "we meet at a time of great tension between the United States and the Muslims around the world" but assured the Muslims that he sought a new beginning "based on mutual interest and mutual interest and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition". Though his Cairo speech was not in line with the one he had delivered in June 2008 to American Israel Public Affairs Committee that was strikingly pro-Israel including a pledge of $30 billion ten year aid package to Israel one perhaps has to accept that political campaign speeches may conflict with the ground realities when one sits in position of power. As opposed to Bush administration Barak Obama has committed himself to base US conduct in global affairs on values which have been beacon light to be emulated by the world effectively demonstrated over the years and more recently by the change in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

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