ALL MUSLIMS AROUND THE WORLD LOOK UP TO ARAB GOVERNMENTS.
Ordinary Muslims often wonder: Do the dictators and kings in power in the Middle East who shamelessly kowtow to successive American administrations not understand they are being widely mocked all over the world for standing by helplessly, as Muslims are repeatedly humiliated in Gaza when Israel launches airstrikes on civilian infrastructure or when Saudi has all the weaponry and coalition expertise to bomb enemy targets in Yemen, Iraq and Syria yet its armored personnel carriers, ground forces, snipers, police and army personnel are too paralysed to flex its military muscle when it comes to Israeli attacks on poorly armed Palestinians in Gaza or Buddhists persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
As one of many examples in October 26, 2015, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit an MSF hospital in Haydan, in the north of Yemen, leaving at least 200,000 people without lifesaving care. (Source: Yemen: MSF hospital destroyed by airstrikes, Press Release by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on 28 October 2015)
As the self-appointed custodian of the two Holy Mosques in Islam, where is the conscience of a Muslim-majority government that does not see how morally reprehensible one must be to bomb a hospital, a safe refuge for the needy and injured, regardless of whether those in power see them as Muslims or non-Muslims?
The Saudi-led bombing campaign, which has been devastating the country since March 2015 but has so far failed to win the war for the Saudis’ local allies. It has brought terrible suffering to the Yemeni population of 27 million, of whom the UN estimates that 17 million are “food insecure” including 3.3 million pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children, some 462,000 under the age of five, who are “acutely malnourished” or, in other words, starving. Saudi-backed forces are poised to attack the Red Sea port of Hodeida, through which come 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports which make up most of its food supplies. If the port is closed then Yemenis will face the worst man- made famine since Mao Tse-Tung’s Great Leap Forward. (Source: Trump and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman are the most dangerous men in the world – and they’re meeting next week, Patrick Cockburn, 12 May 2017, The Independent)
How then, can we only criticise Israel for habitually bombings hospitals, shelters and schools and turn a blind eye in embarrassment when the Saudis bomb a hospital?
WESTERN GOVERNMENTS DON’T SUPPORT ARAB DICTATORSHIPS.
Simply consider the mountain of evidence in the form of trade flows, weapon sales and diplomatic relationships, which indisputably illustrate how successive American and European governments have little interest in the human rights of oppressed Arabs across the region. Both the Americans and the Europeans have been and remain unabashedly comfortable standing not with the people, but with their Arab leaders, regardless of how corrupt, repressive or autocratic they have been across the Middle East for the last hundred years for barrels of oil in exchange for airplane load of suppressive weapons.
As we all predicted – and it performed on cue – Isis reacted by condemning Trump. So did al-Qaeda, whose reference to the “fool” in the White House might be the first time in modern history when the reaction of those who committed the 9/11 crimes against humanity was precisely the same as about half the people of the United States of America . . . But the response of the Arab regimes to the new American regime – yes, let’s refer to it as that – is also indicative of how close they all are. Most Arab potentates have been feeding their populations for years on “fake news” and “alternative facts” . . . Indeed, the cowardly, pro-government press of much of the Middle East looks very much like the kind of compliant journalism Trump believes in. For Egyptian State television or Syrian TV, watch Fox News . . . In the Middle East, minorities are repressed, judges are brow-beaten, politicians threatened – and its rulers believe in torture . . . If Trump toured those Arab dictatorships not currently at war, he’d feel very much at home. Great security, fantastic police, lots of torture, extremely dodgy elections and massive economic projects which damage the environment but prove absolutely useless. (Source: There’s a reason why not a single Arab dictator has called out Donald Trump so far, Robert Fisk, 17 February 2017, The Independent) shedding some light as to why groups like (the almost defeated) ISIS and debilitated Al Qaeda have managed to attract recruits from some of these countries.
Providing yet another introspective reason why some Muslims have chosen to join ISIS, Rami G Khouri from the American University of Beirut writes:
One possibility is that frustrated Arab citizens who express sympathy for ISIL would not actively assist it, but rather they see it as a proxy means of expressing their anger with their own governments and societies, since ISIL directly challenges all ruling Arab power elites. (Source: Time to tackle ISIL’s millions of sympathisers?, 22 February 2017, Rami Khouri, Aljazeera.com)
And yet, our Western governments have repeatedly chosen to cosy up to the notorious Arab autocrats while turning a blind eye to their well-documented abuses, speak volumes.
“This cozy arrangement between civilized Europe and barbarian Arab was disturbed, temporarily as it turned out, by the Arab Spring, and France knew that, which was why the gut reaction of its foreign minister at the time was to offer Ben Ali [of Tunisia] the equipment of the French riot police . . . He [Francoise Hollande also] had lunch with him [Abdel Fattah al-Sisi]. He called the man who planned and executed the worst massacre of civilians in modern history a partner. He said that an Egypt which is still detaining tens of thousands of political prisoners, among them dozens of journalists, is in transition”. (Source: History did not start in Paris on Sunday by David Hearst, 13 January 2015, Huffington Post)
Explaining the convoluted relationship between the vested parties in the Middle East, Noah Feldman in 2003 wrote:
“Because these governments repress dissent, their best strategy is to persuade potential Western allies that they are better than the alternatives. In this sense, Islamists are a gift from heaven for the autocrats. The West is suspicious of Islamists, whose political ideals are often expressed in anti-Western terms”. (Source: Noah Feldman, Author, After Jihad, Page 23)
“Simply put, the Gulf monarchies sell oil to foreign countries who need it, and use the revenues to buy the silence of their critics and to buy protection against those they cannot silence. The oil-thirsty Western states have no reason to upset this cozy arrangement, so long as the oil flows at a good price”. (Source: Noah Feldman, Author, After Jihad, Page 138)
BUT ARAB GOVERNMENTS ARE CAREFUL ABOUT NOT TORTURING THEIR OWN PEOPLE.
In the heartfelt words of a Shia activist in Bahrain, jailed when she was pregnant and moved to Isa Town Women’s Prison:
“Instead of hearing the peoples’ grievances, lets silence them. Instead of fixing the problems, lets contain them so they’re less visible. Instead of releasing prisoners of conscience, let’s build bigger, better-looking prisons. Contain the protests to the villages and let the world only see the cities and the malls. Contain the activists in jails and let the world hear government mouthpieces, who speak of reform. Basically contain, bury, the truth and spread a lie”. (Source: I hope this letter finds its way out of this prison in Bahrain by Zainab Alkhawaja, 26 March 2016, The Independent)
THE SAUDIS AND ISIS ARE POLES APART.
To many ordinary Muslims around the world, what is taught from the pulpit sometimes has little to do with what Muslims actually see their leaders doing. In fact, this is precisely something morally deranged groups like ISIS have exploited in the past.
By repeating the state’s talking point, Islamic scholars today are being seen as part of the establishment having been bought off by the government they serve while groups like ISIS presented itself as “counter-establishment”, partially explaining why groups like ISIS managed to attract fighters among its ranks. While Islamic scholars accuse groups like ISIS of misinterpreting scriptural and historical sources to justify their actions, ISIS waste no time making finely crafted arguments countering how these scholars continue to turn a blind eye to injustices being vetted out by the same autocrats and dictatorships they serve throughout the Middle East adding explosively, how something needs to change. (Source: How ISIS uses and abuses Islam, Jennifer Williams, Vox. com, 18 November 2015)
WHY THEN DID THE NOW-DEFUNCT ARAB UPRISING IN THE MIDDLE EAST FAIL?
Over the last hundred years, the despots and dictators in the Middle East have continuously suppressed the local populace via generous handouts and regressive education models that has regrettably put much of the Arab Middle East on a back foot, and yet the public uproar remains eerily silent – the short-lived and disorganised Arab spring notwithstanding.
IS THERE A KEY DRIVER FOR CHANGE, REFORM AND REVOLUTION IN THE MIDDLE EAST?
Apart from the obvious sheikhs of the eastern Nejd tribes that have always provided the bedrock support for the House of Saud’s rule, in exchange for continued payment of heavy financial subsidies, there is another group that presumably should not as easily be swayed by worldly pleasures:
“Support from the clerics would be vital for any change of monarch, since in the Saudi system only they have the power to confer religious and therefore political legitimacy on the leadership”. (Source: Saudi Arabia: Eight of the 12 surviving sons of country’s monarch support move to oust King Salman by Hugh Miles, October 24, 2015, The Independent)
HIGH PROFILE SCHOLARS ARE ABOVE IT ALL.
Muslims indeed have a serious moral quandary on their hands. There are many high profile scholars who readily condemn ISIS, the Pakistan Taliban and various terrorist groups and other injustices around the world at the drop of a hat but stay eerily silent about despots and dictatorships the Muslims they guide daily live under – when the best form of Jihad is “to speak a word of justice to an oppressive ruler”, according to the famous Hadith – Sunan Abi Dawud 4344 (narrated sayings and actions of Muhammad, PBUH). Inevitably, this is leading to a continuing loss of credibility of such scholars among today’s generation of millennial youth and teenagers – increasingly disconnected from today’s Islamic scholars.
In the precise and equally uncomfortable words of Usaama al-Azami: “The moral incoherence of some of the religion’s supposed leading lights places the reputation of the entire tradition in peril” (Source: How Not to Disown ‘Islamist’ Terrorism, By Usaama al-Azami, 16 Dec, 2016, Huffington Post)
WHY DON’T MUSLIM SCHOLARS AND ACTIVISTS CONDEMN THEIR OWN LEADERS THEN?
Granted, a number of activists, reformers, protestors, political dissenters, opposition voices and Islamic scholars have indeed spoken up in the past calling for change but are quickly thrown in jail on the flimsiest of charges by fast track courts that waste little time in reaching the guilty verdict well before the accused is able to even reach the stand in arbitrary trials, that is if they have not already been shot, tear-gassed and tortured prior to the trial – or labelled “terrorists” to simply silence them.
While these prisoners of conscience often times suffer from job losses, torture and unlawful killings in jail by the ruthless Mukhabarat (intelligence agency) but does this mean the status quo should forever remain unchallenged by the remaining Islamic scholars the Muslims world looks upon and allow those responsible all too frequently to escape accountability?
Leveraging on the myriad range of new anti-terror laws, many Arab governments and their security apparatuses are also known to have threatened “journalists, activists and reformers with eviction if they live in government housing or worse still, de-naturalisation, rendering them unemployable and un-identifiable on any official system”, forcing these brave souls into exercising self-censorship, all in the interest of “preventing the disruption of public peace”, a broad charge paralyzing any chance of public dissent. (Source: Saudi Arabia is setting a dangerous precedent to the Government of Bahrain, Sayed Alwadaei, 3 February 2016, The Independent)
Perhaps the two prominent exceptions in the region are the audacious and daring investigative journalism sites Inkyfada in Tunisia and Mada Masr in Egypt, that remain defiant in the face of persecution. Ordinary Arabs must find ways and replicate these successes in their home countries.
ISLAMIC SCHOLARS SPEAK UP TO THEIR KINGS BUT ARE IGNORED.
Ordinary Muslims around the world often wonder: Why do Islamic scholars not “speak a word against such tyranny”, familiarly known to all Muslims, in an often-quoted Hadith in futility, as the best form of Jihad? (Definition: Quest to improve one’s situation). Yet some scholars sheepishly respond claiming they speak up and often point out their mistakes but are often brushed aside and ignored by those in power but is this sufficient and acceptable to the vast majority of Muslims, whom they lead in their daily prayers when it may be more productive to bravely say a few heartfelt words to spark a true genuine grassroots revolution that would make the 2011 Arab spring look like a stroll in the park?
As a self-embarrassing example to all Muslims, the August 2013 Rab’a Massacre in Egypt during the Arab uprising has been cited as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”, according to the 188-page investigative report by Human Rights Watch. At least 1,000 Egyptians were likely killed with hundreds “killed by bullets to their heads, necks, and chests”.
In an interview a few days after the slaughter, Al-Azhar former Grand Mufti Shaykh Ali Gomaa described Rab’a as an armed rebellion and vigorously defended the mass killings, citing the presence of 15 armed individuals among thousands of protestors to justify the mass murder witnessed at Rab’a.
Separately Gomaa’s successor, Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam, called for Western states not to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs. Most shockingly, neither of them lamented let alone condemned the reckless loss of lives perpetrated by the Egyptian government and police.
In fact in a speech to an audience of the Egyptian military and police leadership a few days before the massacre, Gomaa is on record saying: “Shoot them in the heart . . . Blessed are those who kill them, and those who are killed by them . . . We must cleanse our Egypt from these riffraff . . . They shame us”, laying the brickwork for the despicable slaughter ahead.
Of course, these aren’t two random ordinary Muslim individuals but highly respected Islamic scholars who have publicly condemned ISIS in an open letter www.lettertobaghdadi.com; a letter nostalgically praised by Foreign Affairs magazine as a powerful refutation of ISIS, myopically overlooking how Azhar’s authority has today evidently been severely compromised by association with the state, and at least on the issue of Rab’a, which was used to promote autocracy in the name of Islam.
These two individuals also have [or had] a large following and are “important scholar[s] of moderate Islam, calling for dialogue with other religions, and issuing fatwas that supported the rights of women and minorities. (Source: Ali Gomaa: Kill them, they stink, 27 January 2017, Dr Amr Osman, The Middle East Monitor) although this underhand collaboration with the state is likely to have cause a fall in their followings, at the very least within the Egyptian society.
Instead, in statements and interviews, so-called leaders in the Islamic world have spinelessly disagreed on how to proceed, with responses ranging from supporting prayer and education about Islam to patronisingly calling for all Muslims to come back to the fold of Islam (whatever this means?).
Then you have members of certain royal families adding fuel to fire saying: “Moderate Muslims are not doing enough to fight against ISIS jihadists and their diabolical ideology”, (Source: Muslims must do more to stop ISIL, 27 August 2015, The Arabian Business) as if moderate Muslims are not already the largest victims of ISIS which emerged as a reaction to the expanding Kurd-Sunni-Shi’ite civil war within Iraq, while the royals shuttle on their private jets between Europe and the Middle East when the money could be better spent on industry diversification, youth employment and education.
ISLAMIC SCHOLARS ARE OF NO USE THEN.
To be fair however, not all leaders can be entirely faulted since not all Islamic scholars today live in countries with dictatorships. There are a number of well-respected, highly qualified religious leaders and circuit speakers living in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries that are always trying to reach out to the world but no matter what they say or do or however loud they scream (except the stone-cold silence in the Middle East), pacifist and peace-seeking statements are very rarely covered by the media, rendering most of their community outreach efforts in the oblivion.
FATWAS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST ARE IMPORTANT.
Our respected Ulama (Islamic Scholars) should also consider issuing “practical” fatwas such as banning Muslims from staying at Trump hotels, dining at his restaurants or buying any of his products or boycotting countries that support the construction of illegal settlements in Israel or calling for an uprising against economically and socially regressive dictatorships – rather than issuing fatwas on mundane issues like playing chess, building snowmen or taking pictures with cats and dogs. (Source: Chess forbidden in Islam, rules Saudi mufti, but issue not black and white, 21 January 2016, The Guardian & Saudi cleric condemns snowmen as anti-Islamic, 12 January 2015, Reuters & Saudi cleric says posing for photos with cats is forbidden by Jack Moore on 25 May 2016, Newsweek)
WHAT CAN WEALTHY ARAB MUSLIMS DO TO CHANGE THE STATUS QUO?
The wealthy, ruling-class Arabs need to stop looking at the welfare of the minority rich and powerful, at the sole expense of the impoverished and powerless underclass and support such an uprising instead of only pouring millions into charities that superficially alleviates the underlying challenges facing ordinary Muslims worldwide, instead of actually curing them altogether.
“The intimate links, both explicit and implicit, between the business elites, the military, and repressive regimes across the region mean that, no matter how well-meaning, the individual efforts of (relatively) enlightened tycoons are no substitute for systematic and fundamental change and reform. More than greater philanthropy, the Arab world is crying out for greater social democracy, equity, solidarity, welfare systems, education and justice for all”. (Source: One billionaire’s dream to build a refugee utopia, Khaled Diab, 7 September 2015, Aljazeera.com)