Losing the high ground
24 July 2004
Karachi: Last week, I saw a paragraph in a British newspaper that almost made me scream with rage: according to a wire service, a 14-year old Kashmiri girl's ears, nose and tongue were sliced off by a militant separatist group because they suspected her of being a police informer. What kind of people would inflict this kind of torture on a child? Nobody I know is capable of hurting an animal in this manner, leave alone a human being. I wonder what kind of pervert can deliberately take a knife to a little girl, and cause her such unbearable pain. Those responsible must be sadistic to a degree the rest of us can only imagine. In the past, there have been incidents of girls being permanently disfigured by having acid thrown on their faces because they did not cover themselves in the manner jihadis demanded. Kashmiri separatists have also committed countless atrocities against Hindu women and children in random acts of terrorism. How these cold-blooded killers think they can gain support for their cause by committing these barbaric acts is beyond me. How can any decent person defend such viciousness? Or, for that matter, how can any government back groups capable of behaving in this manner? For years, successive Pakistani governments have consistently denied providing material support to militant Kashmiri outfits in their struggle. Even accepting this denial at face value, it is no secret that Islamic parties in Pakistan have been training, arming and funding various extremist groups operating in Kashmir. And indisputably, these militants have been allowed to come and go over the Line of Control. Given this covert support for militants, it is hard to see how we can distance ourselves from atrocities reported regularly from Indian-held Kashmir. Surely some of the stigma must stick to those who approved and carried out this policy. In this context, it is useful to examine the role of the Pakistani media. Where are the loud condemnations of these atrocities in editorials and op-ed articles? Over the years, we have all been unanimous in criticizing the excesses committed by Indian security forces against innocent Kashmiri civilians. And rightly so. But applying the same moral yardstick, we should condemn in unequivocal terms the indiscriminate mayhem and misery spread by separatists. Our silence only encourages them to commit even worse crimes in the name of independence. These moral double standards are in evidence in much of the Muslim world. When Muslims are subjected to atrocities - as they have been from Serbia to Chechnya - the entire world of Islam protests loudly and vociferously. However, when Muslims behave in vile and unacceptable ways, there is a wall of silence. To illustrate this point, let us take the on-going atrocities being committed by (Muslim) descendants of Arabs in the Darfur region of Sudan against black (non-Muslim) Africans. One does not recall reading many articles and editorials in newspapers in the Islamic world condemning these brutalities, despite the fact that a million people have been displaced, and ten thousand reported killed by the so-called janjaweed militias. According to Human Rights Watch, there is documentary evidence to prove that these thugs are supported by the Sudanese government. When human rights organizations like Amnesty International spotlight atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya and Serbia, we cite their findings as gospel. But when these same international groups report on atrocities committed by Muslims, we accuse them of anti-Islam bias. The media's indifference only reflects the conspiracy of silence among Islamic states. When was the last time an erring member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) put on the mat for lawless behaviour? Most members are guilty of routinely flouting the human rights of their citizens. But which leader or government has ever been called to account? The on-going crisis within the Palestinian Authority is another example of double standards. Muslims (and most freedom loving people) around the world have supported the Palestinian cause for years. But Yasser Arafat's free and easy ways with the PA's funds are an open secret, and are now a festering sore. But despite the on-going protests by Palestinian activists against the nepotism and cronyism rife around Arafat, there is little condemnation from much of the Islamic world. The international donor community has been vocal in publicising this corruption, but we have chosen to swallow Arafat's defence that these charges are part of Israeli propaganda. In Chechnya, we have been unanimous in condemning Russian action against civilians that has approached genocide proportions. However, we have chosen to close our eyes to the gangsterism rife in Chechnya that has nothing to do with politics. Foreign aid workers, businessmen and journalists have often been kidnapped for straight ransom, and not for any political concessions. These examples of selective morality can be multiplied. But the ones cited here should be sufficient to establish that we in the Muslim world behave like a gaggle of ostriches when it comes to each other's failings. Against the perceived hostility of the rest of the world, we feel we must close ranks and protect each other. The problem with this approach is that when we blame others, we have no credibility. How can we condemn Indian atrocities against civilians when separatists behave no better? How can the OIC attack Israel for atrocities against Palestinians when many of its member states treat their citizens far worse? All of us are often guilty of shielding our own against the criticism of outsiders. But if there comes a point when our own behave in ways unacceptable to society, than we must summon up the moral courage to condemn these acts. If we cannot do so, we renounce the right to criticize anybody else for these same acts. This is not to say that there are no areas of moral ambiguity, and everything is black or white. But some acts are so beyond the pale that there is no room for ifs and buts: if we cannot condemn them immediately and strongly, we lose the moral high ground forever. And for me, this line is crossed when a 14-year old girl's ears, nose and tongue are cut off.