Saturday, June 06, 2009

Thank you for the Nildus Speech, Mr President

Byline by M J Akbar: Thank you for the Nildus Speech, Mr President

Dear Brother-Husain,

I am certain about two things. I am a Muslim, and I live in this world. Now the uncertainties begin. On 4 June you gave what was heavily advertised as a major speech to the “Muslim world”. Does that mean that while every Christian believes in the divinity of Jesus, he can be legitimately and widely varied in his political interests, but Muslims must have both Allah and politics in common?

As an Indian Muslim I belong to the second largest Muslim community in the world. I also live, proudly, as an equal, in India, a nation that contains the largest Hindu community in the world. Do you think I have the same political views as my fellow Muslims in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Nepal? You did mention that there are around six million Muslims in America. Were you speaking to them, or on their behalf, in Cairo? But for the accidents of life, you could have been an American Muslim, a Kenyan Muslim or an Indonesian Muslim. Would the same speech serve for all three?

Muslims live not only in different cultures and geo-political spaces, but also under different Constitutions. Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim nation, does not believe in a state religion. Pakistan, the second largest, became the world’s first Islamic republic. There are kings and autocrats and elected heads of government in the “Muslim world”, and one category that can only be described as “immoveable object” unopposed by any irresistible force. Many Muslims live on the margins. Not many seem aware of this fact, and it is possible that none of your speechwriters pointed it out, but 10% of the Russian population is Muslim. Islam came to that vast Eurasian region around the same time as the Christian church. Do Russian Muslims belong to the same “Muslim world” as Indonesians and Moroccans? The Chinese keep their Muslim-majority province, Xinjiang, a sort of closely guarded state secret, frightened that Islam might jump up and bite off Communism’s ear. Which world do these Muslims belong to? And what about the chaps in Britain, who probably went over on the assumption that Britain was still Great. Or the French Muslims, whose ears are still ringing with the famous Sarkozy diktat: “Off with their headscarves!” Where would you place them? In Above-Saharan Africa?

At one point you were kind enough to suggest that “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam”. But no sane person ever accused America of being at war with Islam. America would have to be a theocracy, with Inquisition as its preferred domestic policy, and conversion as the principal instrument of foreign affairs, to declare war on Islam. I hope you will not accuse me of being pedantic, in the sense of calling a toothache a gum-ache. The conflation of Islam and Muslims is precisely the kind of misconception that encourages pre-nation-state fantasies like the revival of a Caliphate. One might add that while every Muslim was deeply committed to his faith, political disputes among Muslims began with the election of the very first Caliph, Hadrat Abu Bakr. Muslims see themselves as a brotherhood, not a nation-hood. If Islam is sufficient glue for nationalism, why would Arabs be living in 22 countries? That should have been obvious while you were snacking on Arab cookies and Islamic lemonade in Cairo.

“Islam and the West” is another phrase wandering through a dialectic shaped within the Queen of Alice’s Wonderland. Islam is a faith; the West is geography. How do you construct a relationship between faith and geography? You can have a debate on Islam and Christianity, or indeed between the West and West Asia, or the West and South Asia, or South East Asia. There is a past and a future to discuss. “Islam and the West” is straight out of 19th century Orientalism, laden with a subtext that is best left to warmongers. Peace requires a different idiom.

We understood your problem as you weaved through political and rhetorical swamps, because your predecessor managed to achieve what the mightiest of Muslim rulers failed to do – unite Muslims, albeit against him, rather than for something. But every Muslim does not need a homily on democracy. Muslims of Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India, who add up to nearly half the Muslim population, are not democracy-deficit.

The appropriate venue for a speech on Islam would have been Mecca, Medina or Jerusalem. But the first two cities are barred to non-Muslims or apostates; and the third would have been too toxic for an American President.

Cairo was the perfect podium for the speech that we did hear, since your true theme was not the “Muslim world” but the region between the Nile and the Indus, which I have, elsewhere, called the “Arc of Turbulence”. Those searching for a convenient caption for the Cairo oration might want to call it the “Nildus Speech”.

For the citizens of this region between Egypt and Pakistan, and particularly for Muslims, this was a brilliant gleam in the gloom to which they have become accustomed. Its great merit was justice and fairness, virtues that are repeatedly exalted in the Holy Quran. You did not deny Palestine its rights because you wanted to preserve what Israel has acquired. Of course you will be criticised for being even-handed, but you have survived worse.

It was extremely important that a President of the United States quoted the Quran’s unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, through a verse that is particularly beautiful. This will go a long way to correct the propaganda unleashed by those who controlled the White House and influenced media before you.

There was one element of your speech that did address almost the whole of the Muslim world: your stark, unambiguous condemnation of gender bias, one of the besetting sins of the “Muslim world”. If Muslims do not eliminate gender bias, they will not be permitted into the 20th century: who is going to send them an invitation to join the 21st? Barack Obama has offered the key, but it is up to Muslims to open the door.


Analyst said...

ood response "Brother" MJ ! Kudos for highlighting the "gender bias" amongst Muslims

Question on "gender bias":
Would Brother Husain also address THIS "gender bias"

Piyush said...

Great piece MJ. I applaud your far-sightedness. Having worked for years in many Muslim majority countries including Indonesia, I couldn't agree with you more. that Wahabi /Deobandi brands prevalent in Arab world do not define Islam at all. It is only in Indoinesia, the country with world's largest majority of Muslims country that the Presidential aspirants even bear names drawing on their Jawanese Hindu / Buddhist ancestry--like Meghavati Soekarnoputri and Sushilo.

Why don't you take leadership of Muslim Personal law Board and do what needs to be done to deliver Muslim women from the artificial bondage they are being subjected to ? If people like you don't who will ?

Priyaranjan Desai

jattpakistani786 said...

Obama addresses to the segment of Muslim world that matters in the war between Jehadis and civilized world. Frankly, muslims of India or Indonesia don't matter much in the geo-politics. It show's how brilliant Obama in his attempt to change the steriotye of America prevelant in those countries.

I do have one question for MJ Akbar..what makes you so sure that you are a Muslim as you mentioned your article? You hold Indian password hence you are an Indian that is an undisputable fact...just becuase your parents were muslims? Your forefathers were you even acknowledge that or think about that? And do you ever think why we don't have single personal law in India which is a pre-requite for a modern Democratic state?

Analyst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

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R.Alamsha Karnan said...

I can understand that MJ Akbar is still living in that "Brahminic Samsara" mindset, renounced by his grandfather 200 years back, and it's difficult for him to accept anything good for the Muslim world. I would like to remind the famous declaration in 1935 by Dr.BR Ambedkar, the champion of Shudras:

“I was born a Hindu; I had no choice. But I will not die a Hindu because I do have a choice.”

True to his words, he embraced Budhism later. I suggest MJ Akbar to take inspiration from Dr.BR Ambedkar and become a Brahmin, which sits on top of Varnashran Dharma and practice the law of Manu. I challenge, if he can do this, i will follow him.

India is surrounded by a hostile neighbourhood and is left with a sole friend called USA. Unfortunately, Obama's eagerness to establish good ties between Islam and America is NOT in the interest of India. MJ Akbar should understand that Obama got his mandate to first save USA and bound to bend the rules. Better accept the hard truth before 55 Islamic republics are forced to publicly declare these verses from Quran:

Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Raheem
In the name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful

1. Qul ya ayyuha alkafiroona
Say: O unbelievers!

2. La aAAbudu ma taAAbudoona
I do not serve that which you serve

3. Wala antum AAabidoona ma aAAbudu
Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve

4. Wala ana AAabidun ma AAabadtum
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship

5. Wala antum AAabidoona ma aAAbudu
Nor are you going to serve Him Whom I serve

6. Lakum deenukum waliya deeni
You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion

Don't you think it is the most non violent, Ahimsa way, as taught by Gandhiji to isolate ill wishers. In the true interest of my nation and 1.2 billion people, i have to speak out the bitter facts before it's too late. Truth, always hurts. We are 250 million Muslims and kindly don't hijack the national interest and Patriotism from us. We have seen your leadership since 1947 and you have built world's largest slums and could not even provide toilet and clean water for 70% of the population.

Time has come for Muslims+Shudras+Christians to join hands and lead our nation, bring peace and prosperity NOT only for 1.2 billion people but for the entire subcontinent. Inevitable and peace be upon you.