Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kouachis of Paris and Continental Sagacity

By Syed Zafar Mahmood,
There is general consensus in the world, and rightly so, that every terrorist must be given exemplary punishment. Kouachis too have met with their deserved fate. However, the well considered purposes of any punishment include retribution, incapacitation and deterrence. In the case of Kouachis, the first two have been more than fulfilled but what about deterring their kind of persons from committing similar crimes in future. Keeping that in mind if we simply feel content to have quickly caught and brought Kouachis to 'justice' we would be lamented by the posterity as short sighted and selfish - not adequately concerned with the welfare of the upcoming generations. What happened in Paris was not an isolated act of terrorism; it manifested a mindset we need to go deep into.

When they were born in early 1980s Kouachis were not terrorists. Till they remained minor also they wouldn't have taken up arms. So, during 15-20 years between late 1990s and 2014 what all went in their mind that should not have transpired? It would be prudent to coolly research as to why did they decide even to die. The easier and apparently attractive option is to blame their religious dogmas and be done with it. We've taken that softer course earlier but failed to curb the recurrence of the fits of madness.

In the world of late twentieth and early twenty first centuries there is a general impression that quite a bit of the terrorism is committed by those who seem to profess Islam. This period of about four decades is surely substantial portion of the normal age of a generation. Therefore, depending mostly on the common reporting style of the media (quickly repeated mention of a news item and moving on fast to concentrate on the next item) and not indulging in self-study from original sources, a generation remains unknowingly confined to incomplete picture based on half-baked facts. Thus, the process of addressing long term cross-generational human interest suffers.

While penning this piece I got a phone call from Mumbai inviting me to a protest meet against the new Maharashtra government moving towards earmarking for Marathas a percentage of seats in educational institutions and public services and leaving aside similar action for Muslims while both had been jointly initiated by the preceding state government. Though I apologized for my inability to attend as I am preoccupied, I am still wondering as to what would be currently going on, by way of general perception, in the minds of Maharashtra Muslim teenagers.

Most of the Muslims in France and elsewhere in the world have been aggrieved for many years that a group of journalists had been deliberately making fun of the Muslim prophet who, as per Quranic mandate (9.24), is supposed to be treated by the believer to be nearer and dearer than everything else that belongs to him or her in the world. Letting anybody disrespect the prophet is also not a part of Islamic civilization (in fact the names of even Abraham, Moses, Christ and other Messengers are habitually prefixed by Muslim masses as Hazrat - most venerated - and suffixed as Alaihissalaam - may peace be upon him). So, the French Muslims approached the local judiciary which decided against them and let some journalists draw and publish cartoons of the Muslim prophet. The world community needs to mull over this paradox between such instances of scripturally mandated spirituality and lack of mundane accommodative spirit in a nation state. Nonetheless, to its believers in this situation too, Islam counsels only patience and prayer.

There are more questions. Was nothing good done during eight centuries of Muslim rule in Europe? If the answer is negative, then that period shouldn't be glossed over in history books taught in the Continent. These days reports are not uncommon that Al-Aqsa Mosque - Muslims' third most sacred place of worship in the world - is under active threat of desecration. Ratco Mladic who, much before 9/11, got seven thousand Muslims killed is usually described in the media only as 'former Bosnian Serb army chief'; there are other similar instances - big and small - in different countries. But if a person with Muslim name violates the laws he is soon dubbed as an 'Islamic' terrorist.

Stanford political scientist David Laitin surveyed, researched and reported in 2010 that in France a Christian citizen with an African heritage is two-and-a-half times more likely to get called for a job interview than an equally qualified Muslim citizen with the same ethnic background. Along with political scientist Claire Adida from the University of California-San Diego and economist Marie-Anne Valfort from Sorbonne University, he also found that Muslim households made about 400 euros less a month than ethnically and socio-economically similar Christian families. This is in direct conflict with European Union (EU) anti-discrimination legislation which allows variations of treatment in employment only if specifically required by the nature of the occupation.

Amnesty International reported in 2012 that the “EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims and especially Muslim women”. The report 'Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe' detailed the impact of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief of Muslims in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education.

Let us ask ourselves these questions: Do we see a common thread running through here? Is this not a situation where, from God's bounties, X is trying to grab more than its share of goods and goodwill while Y wishes to ensure its justifiable portion? Our suave generation should confabulate as to how the innocently growing millions of Muslim boys and girls are supposed to feel about these teasers and whether now a pre-emptive course correction is called for. Media too can positively contribute by being more sensitive to the issue and enhancing its proactive role towards consolidating human harmony.

Yet, in the totality, hats off to European sagacity. The Continent didn't adopt George W. Bush's punchline of 'with us or against us' and, instead, largely decided to take the Kouachis' episode in its stride. European leaders would surely not opt to boost up personal political fortune out of the Paris episode. One can appreciate the immediate anger of the French premier; yet, statesmanship demands that he should not get swayed off-course from the street cobbled with vital factors of larger world peace. When valor gives way to discretion he can read and ascertain that there is nothing like 'radical Islam'. Some alleged followers of Islam have strayed from the path just like Ratco Mladic did from his faith and many others from their respective faiths. The mood in other continents too is pensive and promising. Hopefully the West and other regions are thinking of 100 years hence. Mahatma Gandhi had said: hate the sin, not the sinner. God will deal with the Kouachis' souls for having transgressed His path. Let us resort to justice and compassion and systematically plan to dilute and wear out the disgruntlement of gen-next and work for making the world a better place to live - today and tomorrow.

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