Let me start by saying that the remarks by Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, about the Prophet of Islam was in bad taste to say the least. It was uncouth and definitely amounted to deliberate derogation of the Prophet apart from being factually incorrect. But then, when the right wingers of any variety take centre stage, facts are the first casualty.
After all, what can be expected from the Hindu Mahasabha which pathologically hates anything and everything to do with Muslims and Islam. Let me also say that there is nothing wrong in protesting against such derogatory remarks by Muslims. After all, protesting and the right to be heard are fundamental spaces within which democracy works. Those who are criticising Muslims for protesting against these insults to their Prophet are therefore fundamentally wrong: there is nothing wrong with protests in a democracy. In fact the problem is just the opposite: there is too little protest within the Muslims.
What was fundamentally wrong though about the protests was what happened or what was allowed to happen in Malda. Any peaceful protest should be welcome by one and all and it goes a long way in strengthening the democratic fabric of the country. But what happened in Malda was not peaceful protest, but open hooliganism and violence which should not be condoned. Whether it was the handiwork of the narcotics mafia or the pseudo secular practice of the TMC government in action, the burning and torching of public property cannot and should not be overlooked and those responsible for such violence should be brought to task. But those taking umbrage at such a wanton destruction of property should also realise that Muslims are not the only ones to do it. Whether it was the Gujjar agitation for reservation or the Hindu Sena ransacking the Pakistan Airlines Office, Muslims do not have monopoly of violence and should not be singled out for this kind of violence and hooliganism. If at all, their violence is similar in nature to many other outbursts of the youth or of different religious groups.
What worries me more is why Muslims protest over issues which are trivial and do not protest over issues which should matter the most. When did we hear Muslims protesting against the appalling levels of poverty and illiteracy within their community? When did we hear anything from them demanding good quality schools in their neighbourhood? Why is there no protest over the filth and squalor which surrounds most habitats where Muslims live? And why is it that they do not protest even against the mismanagement within their religious shrines? Why pour out onto the streets in thousands taking umbrage at what some nut said about the Prophet while remaining silent on the daily indignities which the community faces in terms of materiality of social conditions? Such silence over issues and concerns which should ideally become a matter of rage goes a long way to suggest that something is fundamentally wrong with Muslims themselves in the sense that their priorities are lopsided.
Such a politics can only mean that the state will only offer symbolic dollops to Muslims for they know what is going to win them votes and keep Muslims happy and contended. The state will be mightily pleased that Muslims never demand anything substantive from the state but their only concern seems to be religious and symbolic issues which is hardly difficult for the state to fulfil for it does not involve a politics of redistribution of resources.
It is time for Muslims to rise above such parochial concerns and start fighting for real issues: issues of education, employment and a dignified and equal life. It is time for them to stop wasting their energies on the streets of Malda and elsewhere. It is better if such an energy is used in a more constructive way which will bring long term benefits to the Muslim community. The leaders of this community, sold out as they are to different political dispensation, will not pay heed to such an advice for their politics is not about brining substantial changes within the Muslim community. Rather their politics is about maintain the status quo within the community. It is up to the community members themselves to throw out this brand of politics along with leaders which perpetuate them.
This jihad of sorts cannot start without acknowledging that something is rotting with the Muslim self as it is being practiced. A couple of days ago there was a news item about a teen who cut of his hands thinking that he had blasphemed against the Prophet. To top it all, the father of this teen publicly proclaimed that he was proud of what his son had accomplished and that he would not file a complaint against the ignorant Mullah on whose behest his son had lost his hands.
If we care about the community, this news should have filled Muslims with umbrage and they should have taken to the streets, not just against the Mullah but also against this particular father. And yet there was not even a murmur of protest. What is wrong with us? Why was there no anger against this particular case? Is it because we have internalised a particular version of Islam or it is because these things have become so common in the community that we do not find it worthy of any kind of protest? Either way, it only suggests that something is deeply warped about the social psychology of us Muslims.
Muslims must understand that the prophet cannot be insulted by some loony member of some loony fringe. But if they remain silent on atrocities and injustices committed within their community, then definitely they are in grave danger of insulting their prophet every day.
A New Age Islam columnist, Ali Raihan is a Delhi based writer.
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