EDITORIAL: A pathetic way of making Europe regret its cartoons
Speaking on a PTV talk show, the moon-sighting chief of Pakistan Mufti Munibur Rehman warned “the NGOs and the Christians” as he took on the Musharraf government on the question of the Danish cartoons. The reference to the Christians was gratuitous and an indirect incentive to the anti-cartoon vandals to fall upon an already vulnerable community. What happened in Nigeria the same day should chasten him. Frenzied Nigerians killed at least 15 people and turned on the Christian minority in the northern city of Maiduguri, burning shops and churches. It has already been done in Pakistan and this kind of incitement can lead to another outrage.
Libya too killed 11 of its citizens as if in ritual suicide at the state level, then fired the interior minister as a fig-leaf gesture, even as the big leader Gaddafi was cheered by the fact that the Libyan killings had caused a right-wing Italian minister to resign for displaying a T-shirt he wore emblazoned with one of the offending Danish cartoons. A minister in India has offered millions of rupees as reward for anyone killing the Dane who drew the cartoons. The Congress government will soon correct his overkill. In all this, the good that the West was doing was ignored. The Norwegian Muslims kept saying in vain that they had resolved the issue amicably.
Like Pakistan, Nigeria simply needed a fuse. Both countries have other crises related to the nature of the state and its diminishing social contract. In addition, Nigeria is short on ethics and has set new records for corruption in public offices. Oil-rich but dysfunctional, Nigeria could hardly afford the Christian-killing riots. The Nigerian Islamists and Pakistan’s Mufti Munib should have taken into consideration the condemnation of the cartoons issued by the Church. Other considerations, of course, are not yet crucial to the states convulsed with holy wrath: that finally the loss is the Muslims’ and that in Europe expatriate Muslim communities will have to absorb most of the negative consequences of what they are allowing their citizens to do.
Nigeria has recent record of losing sanity. In November 2002, there was street violence for a week between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna that spread to the capital Abuja, killing 200. Following a fatwa of death, the country with a population of 120 million was brought to the brink of chaos. The parallel with Pakistan is stark, only Pakistan might have stolen the march on most unstable Islamic states by putting its head first on the chopping block in the current controversy. Constitutionally, Nigeria is a secular state with freedom of religion. For nearly 40 years, however, the northern ruling elite has given preferential treatment to Muslims and discriminated against Christians. Little has been done to stop persecution of Christians in the north with churches burnt and many Christians killed since 1999 when eight northern states imposed sharia and applied it to the Christians.
Over 70 percent of the population of the northwestern Nigerian provinces is Muslim, 13 percent Christian and 20 percent traditional. In the South there is a strong presence of the international Christian Church with funding from many European and American church authorities. In the North, a fresh impulse for Islamic transformation is coming from the Muslim countries in Africa and from extra-regional Saudi Arabia. Sudan has more influence than others because the Nigerian clergy is mostly trained in Sudan. Pakistani religious groups are also active. The breaking point was reached in 2001 resulting in bloodshed. After that Nigeria went back to business as usual, which is corruption. Nigeria is a member of the OIC and has already convictions under rijm (stoning to death) and blasphemy on its judicial record with people daily meting out rough justice to their non-Muslim victims.
Mufti Munib wants revenge against Europe but has no idea of what that would entail even if the OIC got together and decided on an oil embargo. Closing down embassies will hurt only Pakistani families travelling between Europe and homeland. The Muslim Diaspora in the West is already hurting. It is disappointed with what is happening in home countries and worried that such extremism can only strengthen extreme rightwing parties in their adopted countries. The racist fringe, they apprehend, is likely now to gain support for its demands for restrictions on immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.
Cutting off oil means deprivation of crucial revenues, about 80 percent of the total revenue in the OPEC states. If ever there was a lesson in 1973 it was that the oil-consuming West has the option of switching to non-oil sources of energy and that expensive oil will only hit the Islamic world where the economies are weak. Saying goodbye to common sense is not justified even under religious passions. Muslims have killed Muslims once again. And the West is not hurting much.
Pakistan is coming apart at the seams. There is violence on more than half its territory and cities are hanging on to law and order by the skin of their teeth. The religious parties see a chance. The clerics have been under pressure because their money-making madrassas could possibly be brought under state control leading directly to a diminution of their authority. They have now grasped the opportunity to pressure the government and make it back down. Others with jihadi militias and “student wings” under their command think that they can exploit the current bout of instability and take hold of the state after a coup that is bound to come if the tension doesn’t subside. People like our moon-sighting mufti should know that commanding a militia travels well in Pakistan.
There is a frightening logic behind the technique adopted by the Muslims to make Europe regret its cartoons. TV talk shows in Pakistan have their hosts proudly asking: are the Europeans scared yet or not? Scared of what? The fact is that Europe is cringing at the spectacle of Muslims killing themselves, and the TV hosts know it. To them it no longer matters that this “fear” in the West is produced by a very doubtful technique of destroying the Islamic state and spilling Muslim blood. This is the power of the weak. This is inverted jihad. Mix it with misgovernment and corruption and you have the endgame. It is no longer the art of getting nowhere. It is in fact the process of going down. *