Blaming the victim for Qur’an desecrations

Blaming the victim for Qur’an desecrations

By Haroon Siddiqui

Toronto Star, 26 May 2005

It is hard to believe but there are commentators who are berating those who protested the desecration of the Qur’an, not those who did the desecrating. This attitude of blaming the victims fits the tenor of the times. The colonial British and the French were also adept at holding the Indians and Algerians responsible for their own plight.

The pundits are being even more bizarre than the Bush administration, which skewered Newsweek for reporting the sacrilege, not those who committed it.

Even as the Bush administration continues its cover-up for presiding over one of the most shameful chapters in prisoner abuse, here is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, reprinted in the Toronto Star no less, hectoring the Afghans and others for being stupid enough to take to the streets in dismay.

He is not alone, and he and the other new Orientalists are entitled to their views, as also their logical contortions to continue rationalizing the war on Iraq. But their myopia does cause concern.

Here are their arguments, with one person’s response:Political opportunists in Pakistan and elsewhere hijacked the Qur’an incidents to whip up public fury.

Don’t our politicians exploit every chance to advance their agenda and themselves, often at the expense of the common good? Aren’t George W. Bush and other Republicans particularly adept at using religious and moral wedge issues?

Muslims should be up in arms about the killing of 17 fellow Muslims in the Qur’an protests.

Unlike the impression left of crowds lynching one another, most of those who died were killed in police shootings ordered by the pro-American governments of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai.

There has been plenty of criticism of that, which is not what Messrs. Friedman and others, shedding crocodile tears, are looking for. What they want is for Muslims to berate Muslims for being Muslim in a way not acceptable to America. Muslims must condemn “their culture of death,” as demonstrated in the Qur’an protests and in suicide bombings, lately in Iraq.

Sure. But as a recent study by Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago, has shown, suicide bombings are not the exclusive preserve of Muslims. The Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, have been the leading user of that dastardly weapon.

More importantly, the Arab and Muslim world has had much to say, and with good reason, about America’s “culture of death,” as seen in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis in the last three years, and in the earlier deaths of an estimated 500,000 children in the American-led economic sanctions, and in American complicity by silence in Russia’s butchering of more than 100,000 Chechens.

Why the soft-pedalling of such mass deaths but the frothy denunciations of the Muslim mayhem, which is minuscule by comparison?

All killings must be condemned. But honesty demands context and perspective.

Nobody mounts deadly demonstrations when the Bible or other sacred texts are violated.

This point has drawn two responses: the Qur’an plays a far more central role in the lives of Muslims than do the sacred texts for others, and, secondly, it’s not the fault of Muslims if other believers, especially in the West, have lost their sense of the sacred (something the new Pope also complains about).

But that misses the greater principle: Having guaranteed freedom of religion, it is not for us to dictate how strongly some people might feel about their faith, so long as they operate within the rule of law.

The protests over the Qur’an episodes have been presented as the utterly incomprehensible actions of illiterate and irrational mobs. They are at one level. But on another, they are understandable –” not justifiable but understandable – given the scandalous mistreatment of Muslims in America, Iraq and in Afghanistan, day after day, for more than three years.

Human Rights Watch, joining the international chorus of condemnation, confirmed this week that religious humiliation of Muslims has been widespread in American-run jails.

And Amnesty International, in one of its toughest reports yet, called Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our times.”

Yet the media mostly ignored those reports. They were busy baiting Muslims.

One longs for the day in the future when we will be ready to look back at this dark period and hang our heads in shame.