Mistaken fear of change in Egypt
- and non-violence works!
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
February 15, 2011
Non-violence works! This is one of the important messages of the revolution in Egypt - just as it was when the Soviet bloc collapsed, just as it was when Indonesia threw off its dictatorship and just as it was when Gandhi drove the British out of India. Yet for thousands of years violence has too often been the tool of politics and political change.
All the major religions of the world have accepted war and violence but it is Christianity, whose founder besought us “to turn the other cheek”, that has the worst record of going to war.
Moslem countries haven’t gone to war as half as much. Islamic countries have never been tolerant of Nazism, fascism and communism. The Christian countries spawned all three. Today countries with a Christian heritage have the most violent crime, the Muslim the least.
Of course it is true that that the Arab world has been prone to dictatorship and in the long history of Islam there have been many large-scale losses of life. The massacre and starvation of the Armenians in 1915 still lingers in contemporary memories. But Islam has never allowed anything like Hitler’s systematic genocide of the Jews. Throughout its history, until the Jews settled Palestine en masse in the twentieth century, Islam has been protective of the Jews, regarding them as “People of the Book”. Nor has Islam systematically obliterated other civilizations as did Christian Spain with the Aztecs and Incas. Nor have Islamic societies created anything equivalent to South Africa’s apartheid or the racist culture of the old American South. Unlike many Christian churches the mosque has never separated worshipers by race.
Western memories are highly selective. When at Easter time the Greek peasants of the Peloponnese began to kill all the Muslims in the land there was silence. But 50 years later when there was a mass killing of Christians in Bulgaria there was a great outpouring of moral outrage. Delacroix immortalised the massacre in his painting, “Massacre of Chaos”, with Christian women pursued by Turkish lancers and the 19th century British prime minister, William Gladstone, wrote a best selling pamphlet in which he described the Ottomans leaving “a broad line of blood marking the track behind them”.
It is true that Mohammed, unlike the other founders of the great religions, was the only one who established his creed on earth by vigorous use of the sword. But later the Christians imitated him and launched the Crusades to drive the Muslims out of Jerusalem. However, when the Muslims ruled Jerusalem as they did most of the time they were far more tolerant of the peoples of other religions than were the Christians when they had the upper hand.
Yet as we watch with a glad heart the events in Egypt we cannot but help hear the voices of those in the West who fear that Islam at the least will play a much larger role in governance in Egypt once there are elections and, at worst, the country will be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
These days the Muslim Brotherhood, which long ago shed its militant members, convincingly acts as a conservative non-violent movement which does not seek dominant political power. Still, there are doubters a plenty especially in the US where fans of the late Samuel Huntington, author of the best selling “The Clash of Civilizations” continue to wield their influence. Huntington wrote, “In the 1990s Muslims have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization.”
Since 9/11 this school of thought has had a field day. Apologists for this argument are even found inside Islam. Husain Haqqani, the influential Pakistani thinker, has argued that Islamic peoples are beholden to “a cult of the warrior” and the Muslim world has an “obsession with military power”.
But what about Indonesia, the largest Muslim state of all and sizeable Turkey? After Indonesia’s years of harsh repression under secular dictators it is now practising a democracy that works, whilst at the same time bringing its Muslim heritage more to the fore. Violent fundamentalists are a marginal phenomenon. In Turkey democracy works well and the military once so dominant lose more of their power and influence by the year. Islamic fundamentalism is practically non-existent. Despite the fact that Turks are by far the largest Islamic grouping already living and working inside the European Union there hasn’t been a single arrest of Turks suspected of links with Islamic terrorism.
Other Muslim states with large populations are also bereft of fundamentalist terrorists- Bangladesh and Nigeria. (The latter has produced one- the would-be “underpants bomber”.)
Egypt will be fine. Look at the crowds. Where is the intolerance? We shouldn’t give time of day to those who are so beholden to old prejudices.
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan
Jonathan Power can be
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