Recent inhuman terror attacks from fundamentalist Islamic organisations have sent tremors round the world. As a scared world dissects the causes and tries to find solutions, many stress the role of the ‘moderate Muslim’, or educated and modern Muslims who have kept quiet or not spoken up enough in all this.
However, it isn’t as simple. To find solutions, it is important not to assign blame to a whole group of people. The first step is to try and understand the moderate Muslim point of view.
Imagine this. You have grown up respecting a religion and its holy texts. Along with customs and rituals you have also affirmed a lot of positive values – compassion, honesty, humility, love, integrity, generosity. You are a rational, scientific human being but still give religion an important place in your life. After all it teaches you humanity, makes you a better person and keeps you positive.
Now imagine a small section of people, who claim to share your religion, spreading hate and violence. They claim to be defending the same religion you love and respect, but their actions do not agree with your conscience at all. This fringe group is a paradox. It upholds something you love, but acts in a manner you despise.
The actions of these people involve killing innocents including kids, brutalising women or bombing and gunning down people. Soon, this fringe group grabs headlines. Your religion gets associated with terror, hate, intolerance and violence. Even though people from other religions don’t say it, you can feel their prejudice towards you. With every incident, your religion gets more tainted.
You try to avoid the mess, going about your normal life, as a moderate. But soon, you are blamed too. You are blamed for keeping quiet. You are blamed for having a soft spot for terrorists. You are blamed for not screaming loud enough to shut the fringe down.
That, unfortunately, is the predicament of the vast majority of Muslims today. The ‘moderate Muslim’ or the ‘peace-loving Muslim’ watches haplessly as on one hand fundamentalists on the fringe damage the religion’s image and on the other hand non-Muslims accuse them of not doing enough.
What is a moderate Muslim to do?
The answer is not easy. It is simple to blame educated, modern Muslims, as if they could somehow end the mindlessness that is going on in the name of their religion. But if others were to put themselves in Muslim shoes, they would realise choices are limited.
If for instance – and God forbid – Hindu radical groups had millions of dollars in funding, there were a dozen-plus countries who were officially Hindu nations, rulers of these nations backed the radicals somewhat and the radicals were not afraid to use extreme violence, what could a modern, liberal educated or in other words ‘moderate Hindu’ do?
Well, chances are the moderate Hindu will stay away from all this, and go about his own life, trying to raise his or her family in peace. It doesn’t mean the moderate Hindu is supporting radical groups, is intrinsically backward or doesn’t care. However, the natural human instinct of self-preservation kicks in and not reacting seems the only way out.
The same happens with millions of moderate Muslims, who get disturbed by acts of terror as much as others do. They love their religion and so they cocoon themselves from such heinous acts by forming their own relationship with God.
The bigger question is, what can be done? What do we do to end acts that can only be described as medieval and barbaric, except that they are happening in 2014?
Well, first, we have to stop finding sections of people to dump blame on. It is not about a particular religion. It is also not about a particular religious text prescribing more violence, as some analysts have suggested. All religious texts can be selectively interpreted in different ways. The Bible teaches compassion but also has a lot of violence. The Gita’s famous saying ‘a virtuous war must be fought’ can be seen as justifying violence, as what a radical group finds ‘virtuous’ is slippery terrain. The reason why this interpretation isn’t made more often is that Hindu radical groups don’t have as much power as Muslim radical groups do around the world at present.
The issue is not a particular religion or a particular text; the issue is fringe, radical groups of a particular religion amassing great financial, military, political and media power. This power needs to be curbed, in whatever way possible, with a different strategy for each kind of power.
For this sane voices from all nations and all religions must come together. This is the kind of issue the UN and Nato should deal with together. It requires an organisation equivalent to the UN for all the world’s religions, backed by world leaders. In fact, it is amazing we have no high-profile body that unites religions worldwide and takes on common issues facing all faiths.
These are all big demands. However, it will take time to fix one of the biggest problems in the world: radical religious terror. We, as humans, have not done enough to unite the world’s religions. It is time we did.