If the Pastor of a small Church in the US has his way, September 11, nine years after the terrorist attacks on US soil, might see the public burning of copies of the Qur’an. Pastor Terry Jones likes to call it ‘The International Burn a Koran Day’. And he avers the idea is to send a message to radical elements within Muslims.
Not that he discerns much diversity anyway, given that he holds that Islam is, well, plain evil (the subtle title of a book the man authored: Islam is of the Devil). But around this idea, if one can distinguish it as such, and the outpouring of anti-Muslim/Islamic feelings from the right-wing in the US, are key issues of liberal democracy, freedom of speech and minority rights.
Much has been written about the creation, or manufacturing, of suspicion about Muslims in the Western world post 9/11. But it has taken the proposal of building a Muslim community centre/mosque on or near the ’ground zero’ site to bring out and sharpen those feelings of antipathy against Muslims and their faith.
And it is likely to culminate in an act — even if just a few people actually go ahead and burn copies of the Qur’an — which will indubitably create some more militants, some more terrorists, a few more suicide bombers, around the world.
It is a neat little unholy inversion, if one can call it that – for one is writing about an event, a few days before it might happen, which will almost certainly lead to strife, violence and deaths in other parts of the world. An idea that was supposedly about ‘building bridges’ between Muslims and the West, a Muslim centre near ‘ground zero’, has led to an idea which will create yet more divisiveness.
But the real issue isn’t some fringe elements burning copies of the Muslim holy book. The issue is also about whether, given the claims and narrative of liberal democracy, Muslims have the ‘right’ to build a mosque or something that symbolises their faith near that site.
So, was it a good idea? Tricky question, but perhaps, the answer would be ‘no’. For, the entire premise of having such a structure is that in a situation of real or perceived conflict between two sections of people or communities, forms of faith, of a certain religiosity can be used better than actual political dialogue, or even purely cultural forms.
Of course, the motive of the Muslims behind the project would have been to demonstrate that neither is Islam antithetical to Western spaces, nor Muslims, per se, antagonistic. But the idea, as has been made manifest, was, in a ‘strategic’ sense, idiotic.
Seeking some form or religious mediation in a context of a hopelessly mismatched narratives, given the wholly disproportionate matrices of power both narratives are located in, is plainly no replacement for unravelling the political situation that has put those narratives in contestation in the first place.
The other facet of the fracas, given that it isn’t just right-wingers or nutcases arguing against the construction of the structure, but also many ‘plain’ Americans, is that it shows the limits of a Western form of liberal democracy. The slightly unpalatable fact is that for all their enshrined liberal thought and laws, most Western societies just haven’t had a historical, organic sharing of space and life with very different cultures and communities.
It was, after all, just a few decades ago that racism was an legally sanctioned practice in many parts. Such societies, often, while having a discourse of rights for minorities, often stop just right there. ‘Rights’ extend only up to a point. Qur’an burning, opposition to a ‘mosque’ at the site, then, is at one with the bans on minarets or even veils, as manifestations of an anti-Muslim sentiment, elsewhere in the world.
Positing a religious symbol as an attempt at ‘integration’, bereft of any real political impetus, arouses, curiously, queasiness about that religion on either side.
The Muslims behind the project, for instance, seem to take pains to not call the proposed structure a mosque. It’s called ‘prayer hall’ or ‘community centre’ et al. And, in turn, even the supposed non-bigots on the opposing side cite a ‘lack of sensitivity’ about the prospect of a Muslim structure on ‘ground zero’.
The Muslim ‘reclamation project’, as it were, must first work within, just as the strands of power, bigotry and xenophobia woven into much of the West’s narratives must be unravelled before religious symbolism can stand a chance.
Posted by George Varuggheese,President at Godimages Good Governance Society|09 Sep, 2010
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