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30 Sep, 2007

Does the Islamic World have a “Tolerance Threshold”?

Originally Published: 30 Sept 2007

How much further must the Islamic world be pushed, insulted, humiliated, lied to, criticised and manipulated before the silent majority of Muslim intellectuals, businessmen, diplomats and other well-educated and well-read personalities decide that enough is enough.

More importantly, how much longer before they begin to exercise their democratic right to bring to bear the sheer force of strong arguments and convincing communications in pursuit of the justice the Islamic world so badly seeks at the global level.

Last week, Iranian president Mahmood Ahmedinejad spoke at Columbia University in New York. But even before he took the podium, he was subjected to a brazen attack by the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, a deeply offensive and insulting introduction unprecedented in the annals of collegiate discourse.

Any academic who reads it at the Columbia University website will be shocked at the undiplomatic, shameless and patronising way the president of a sovereign country was referred to in language that seemed to have come straight from one of the position papers of the notorious lobbying organisation, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Although the Iranian President was invited there to present his side of the story, Prof Bollinger’s own private views subsequently appeared to gain virtually equal, and in some cases, more coverage in the global media.

If the Iranians had been told in advance, in accordance with diplomatic and protocol niceties, that Mr Ahmedinejad would be introduced thus, they probably would have opted out, thus saving those who didn’t want him there in the first place a lot of grief.

Mr. Ahmedinejad appeared to have been clearly caught off guard. His inexperience in foreign affairs and public speaking to an international audience did not help and some of his comments made for even more bizarre reading.

Without realising it, the Iranian leader walked into a pre-planned and cunningly laid trap. Had it been Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad in the Iranian leader’s place, the outcome would have been vastly different.

This is the problem with Islam today. Most of its leaders do not come across well on the world stage, and those who know the drill, are either trying too hard to be nice or too well entrenched in the pockets of the West to give vent to the views of their constituents at the grassroots level.

Regrettably, the same also holds true for the vast majority of middle-class intellectuals who open the newspapers and watch newscasts every day to see another barrage of references to “Islamic terrorism” — even though there is nothing Islamic about terrorism nor is terrorism a uniquely Islamic trait — and indifferently shrug their shoulders before moving on to the next item.

Mr Ahmedinejad has his faults but they all pale in comparison against the blatant and vicious lies uttered by Western leaders in the United Nations in 2002-03 to mislead the world into an attack on Iraq — for which they have never been held accountable, in complete violation of their own love for “accountability and transparency.”

Today, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, made homeless or living in utter insecurity. As a country and a people, Iraq is being slowly wiped off the map.

Yet, the Islamic world remains dumb, deaf and blind. Every day, Muslims are badgered to speak out against their terrorists but do not seem to be able to muster the strength to demand a reciprocal response from the West to weed out its own liars and killers.

The ineffectuality and impotence of the Muslim world at the global level eventually trickles down and influences the thinking and actions of the frustrated younger generation. Muslims are told that it is poverty, joblessness and despair among the younger generation which leads to violence but that is only half the story.

If the Muslim middle-class waits around for leadership, it will never get anywhere. There are many democratically available means for them to use to influence policies and thinking. Organisations like AIPAC do this for a living.

An impotent Muslim middle-class is not only a sorry reflection of intellectual weakness and moral cowardice, but a defeat is a foregone conclusion. No one ever wins by adopting a defensive position.

Islam faces a long and arduous battle. Many believe that the “war on terror” is actually a euphemism for a “war on Islam,” and the time-span allocated for this war by the Western leaders is about 15 years. President Bush himself refers to these as “early days”.

This means that Islamic institutions, countries and leaders can expect to face many more attacks – such as those launched by Prof Bollinger on the Iranian leader.

Each day these attacks go unchallenged and unresponded means yet another nail in the coffin. Many millions of people agree with the Islamic view but why should they stick their necks out when the Muslim intellectuals themselves do nothing?

The Qur’an is probably unique among world religions in directly referring to the power of the pen as a source of knowledge, education and wisdom. Unfortunately, those who can wield a pen forcefully appear to have numerous reasons to explain why they won’t.

Neither is there any shortage of opportunities to publicly debate such pressing counter-views as: Why did former US President Jimmy Carter call Israel an “apartheid state”? What is the role of the Jewish neocons in influencing US Middle East policy, as avidly documented by the US professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book: “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

These views can no longer be silenced. In fact, the more the efforts made to do so, the more it becomes clear who are the real anti-freedom of speech fascists.

The Islamic world cannot and will not lose this verbal jihad – provided its silent middle-class majority vigorously joins it and generates the necessary strength in numbers.

It’s time for them to shed their self-imposed silence and step up to the plate, before it really is too late.