Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thoughts on an alternative history...

Over at the Donklephant, the suggestion has been made that Islam would have been better served had they had “a Ghandi or a Martin Luther King”. Monica continues –
Those two men and their movements advanced their cause peacefully and with huge successes. Those are my expectations. Those are the people that I and other civilized people of the world would bargain with and listen to. I don’t excuse terrorism because people have grievances.

I am taking up the line here because my rather brusque rejoinder of “Where was Ghandi or MLK on 9/12/01?” does not really do the thought behind Monica’s comment the justice it deserves.

So to try and make amends for the reaction, I want to think on about it just a little. The idea has merit, and I want to see where it might lead.

OK, so let’s take a look at Ghandi. He is probably the modern epitome of the pacifist. His principles of civil disobedience were in large part ineffective against the British. His responses to injustices such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre did much to weld Indian and specifically Hindi nationalist sentiment behind him. Yes, truly a great man, who achieved great things and who deserves his honour. We must remember him for creating the foundations of a new India, from which grew the successful independence of that nation from its colonial power. But the question must be asked – Did Ghandi succeed, or did he plant the seeds of Hindi nationalism that grew through the INA in WW2, and that also grew through the nation from 1942 onward. For Ghandi himself took little part in the post-WW2 revolts against the Raj, his health was too poor and he spent too much of the time in British prisons.

Ghandi was the inspiration for Martin Luther King, and it is little wonder that he too was able to achieve great strides in advancing the rights of African Americans during the 1960’s. He too was a charismatic leader. We must remember him for not yielding any of the fundamentals of human rights in return for the recognition of the principles of equality at law. Looking at the history of the law behind racial equality in the US, it had always been there; the problem lay with individual states (eventually five I believe) who were determined to prevent the application of those laws by any means possible.

Monica could also have mentioned Steve Biko. He did not succeed. He died in police custody in circumstances that are inexplicable to say the least.

She might also have mentioned Aun Sang Su Kee. She has been in state custody now (from prison to house arrest to extreme restriction on her rights ) for some thirty years or more. Thus far, she has not been able to succeed.

I could add to that list Te Whiti, who predated Ghandi's birth by about 60 years or more. He led his people in peaceful disobedience to protect their land from confiscation by the state, and then by armed militia acting illegally but with tacit state consent. He and all of his male followers were taken into custody and sent to Dunedin literally as slaves working on road construction.

OK, so Monica rightly holds up King as a successful campaigners of peaceful protest and pacifism. Ghandi, was the seed for Indian nationalism using pacifism, but the eventual goal of independence was attained by non-peaceful means. Biko, Aun Sang, and Te Whiti followed the pacifist road and were not at all directly successful. Biko became a beacon for the international isolation of South Africa. Aun Sang and Te Whiti achieved little to nothing.

So the best we can conclude is that pacifism (as much as it hurts me to admit it) has at best a 50/50 measure of success, and 25/75 might be a better reflection. That conclusion is further supported by the continual contention from the American Right that the alternative to war is appeasement, with their echo of Chamberlain reverberating down the hallway of history.

So, let us return to the successful stories of pacifism – Ghandi and King.

There is a second level at which both of these succeeded. It was not the clarity of their cause – that helped, but was not the next most important factor after the charismatic leader.

Both Ghandi and King succeeded because those who needed to be persuaded were willing to listen. In the case of Ghandi, his message was to his own people. The British dealt with him as America has with many of the jihadis. It took a massacre to awaken the Indians, and the resulting violence to sway the British. Perhaps, Monica, there is a lesson in that which is too late to learn.

In King’s case he had an equally charismatic leader in Kennedy who was prepared to further the cause against discrimination because he personally believed in it. King did a magnificent job, he succeeded, but he was the final aria rather than the whole opera.

That leads to the third – the clarity of the message. Both Ghandi and King succeeded because they carried a clear message, a simple message, in fact a common message –

“This is not right”.

So, how might this apply to the “war” between the US and Islam? Who and where might be the Muslim Ghandi or King?

To be positive about this, there could be several contenders for the post. One could choose from senior clerics in Indonesia, in Egypt, even perhaps from Philipines. There is no doubt in my mind that from each of those comparatively moderate nations, each with their own comparatively moderate versions of Islam, there would be leaders who could act a intermediaries between Islam and the west.

Let us assume that such an Imam exists, and that he is prepared to act. How might he persuade all of Islam, from US to Saharan Africa and beyond, that he has the right, the power and the charisma to lead all of Islam to peace? There is nothing surer than he would have to be a very great man. There is nothing surer than he does not live at the moment. And there is nothing more sure than if he did live there would be several factions in action to prevent him from being effective. That man would be the Ghandi of Islam.

Even if we had such an Islamic saint (and that is not intended one iota as sarcastic at all, because saintly he would have to be), who might there be to listen to him? As you process that thought, cast your mind back to the reaction of America’s political leaders on 9/11/01, and 9/12/01, and in the weeks that followed, and then into 2002, and into 2003… Is it likely that the US Administration would have listened to our saint in the same way that Kennedy listened to King? Is it likely that those of Islam who committed the crimes of 9/11 would have listened to their saint?

What would have been the response from the US Administration, had a small slender robed gentleman wearing an Arab headscarf turned up on the doorstep, no make that the outer gates of the White House on 9/13/01? Even if he was not shot on sight at the outer gate but was admitted to the Oval Office for an audience with the great man himself, do you think that the American electorate at large would have been in the mood to accept the President himself appearing on tv with this Islamic saint alongside of him saying “We are brothers in God who understand each other. We will work together for peace.”

Do I imagine that is what Monica had in mind in her comment? Well only she can answer that directly. I leave it for her to reply. If there are others who want to add or subtract from the line of thought – be free.


Dave Justus said...

You are certainly right that pacifism only succeeds if your opponent is fairly nice to begin with. If they are willing to countence atrocity, oppressors can easily destroy pacificists, regardless of our wishes to the contrary.

See China, 1989.

I don't know where you get off saying that a Muslim Ghandi in the U.S. would have been shot on sight though. As a mater of historical fact, Bush met with many Muslim leaders immediately following 9/11.

I will also point out that while there were a few isloated cases of individuals expressing anti-muslim sentiment, following the 9-11 attacks there were no widespead Muslim beatings, killings, torching of Mosques or any of that. Indeed quite the opposite.

The probligo said...

Dave, you are quite right, in the physical sense.

How would you classify the use of terms such as "rag-heads", "towel-heads", "islamofascists", and the rest of the "dirty arab" propaganda terms?

As for who the President met with in 2001, none of the Whitehouse archives go back any further than 2003 so any factual, direct from the source, check is impossible.

There is a difference between Musharref turning up in a motorcade with a police escort and in three armoured cars, and a non-descript, poorly clothed, mystical aesthete who refuses to speak any language other than Ancient Arabic walking up to the guards at the outer gates and saying "Allahu Akhbar!". The intended inference (missed by you and probably many others) being that none of the kind of Muslims that Bush would meet would qualify as the Muslim version of Ghandi. However let's leave that there...

Dave Justus said...

Bush met with leaders of American Muslim organizations immediately after 9-11. Here is a trancript of what he said at a Mosque just six days after 9-11. Hardly the stuff of hatred against all Muslims.

Doubtless you are correct that someone who was dirty, uninvited, and could only speak archaic Arabic would not be let into the Whitehouse. Tell me the head of state that would let such a person in, and I will consider that criticism to possibly be legitimate. I would imagine that if such a person persisted in trying to gain entrance they would be arrested, they would only be shot if they were percieved as a danager, most likely they would be percieved as a mentally ill and taken away by the guys in white coats.

I would say that a Muslim version of Ghandi would, like Ghandi, have a signifigant following and be an acknowledged religious leader. Based upon that, I am absolutely positive that Bush would meet with such a man, as he has done so already, meeting with many Muslim leaders, both domestic and foreign.

To get to the terms you speak of. 'Raghead' and 'towel-head', 'camel jockey' and 'haji' are terms of derision and are wrong. They are similar in my opinion to 'whinger' and other terms you have used, in that they are an attempt to dimish, marginalize and mock without engagement. I would challenge you to find the 'propoganda' that employs those terms. I don't think you will be able to. (rantings of idividuals is not 'propaganda,' 'propaganda implies state sponsorship)

Islamo-Fascist is a different category of beast, as is Islamist, Jihadi, or several other similar terms I have seen batted around. It is an attempt to distingish those who adovate a violent, radical version of Islam that is deeply connected with international terror and the vast majority of Muslims who do not. I don't know that any of the terms that have been presented are perfect, but the desire to create a term that seperates those who are justly called an enemey from the majority of Muslims who are not enemies is the exact opposite of what you claim, that Americans/Bush/Whingers/whoever are calling for a general war against Muslims out of hatred and if a Muslim Ghandi appeared they would kill him rather than work with him for peace.

The probligo said...

Dave, I coined the "right-whinger" label as my personal response to the over-liberal use of the term "liberal" as a political perjorative.

The aspects of "state propaganda" versus personal is interesting and one which I have not specifically considered in the past.

Insofar as their source is concerned, I would suspect that mouths such as Limbaugh and Malkin would have been among the first dredging the bottom of their Thesaurus for any suitable derogatory labels that might be useable.

I have a post or two coming up on events in NZ which might (do in my mind) draw a parallel between those events and the kind of public rhetoric that we are discussing here.

Dave Justus said...

I am not aware of either Limbaugh or Malkin using this sort of racial epithat. Do you have any evidence for that accusation?

If you said Ann Coulter, you would be correct. But her entire shtick is to shock and offend, judging an entire side of the ideological spectrum by her probably isn't fair.

Certainly it is a far reach to originally say that the U.S. Government would kill any Muslim Ghandi who appeared and then only having the evidence of that being an extreme conservative pundit who uses racial epithets.

The probligo said...

"...judging an entire side of the ideological spectrum by her probably isn't fair."

I agree with that.

It is as much unfair as judging the whole of a religion by the action of a small number - all Catholics by priests with a sexual predilection for young boys for example, or Islam by the actions of a comparatively small number of extreme fundamentalists.

Before you point to the "riots in the streets" by Muslims, just think on this. It is only because our forefathers were successful in breaking the influence of religion over governance, and then subsequently control over every-day life, that we are not out demonstrating in the streets in support of the recent pronouncements of the Pope.

Given the paranoia that existed in the US immediately after 9/11 (and the shooting of the Brazilian electrician by London police was a direct parallel to the idea in my mind when I wrote the original post) I would still not want to have been that Muslim Ghandi.