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March 2007
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Opinion

Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King?
By Thomas L. Friedman


The Muslim village is mute. It has no moral voice when it comes to its own.


It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: The barbaric sectarian murders by Sunnis and Shias in Iraq or the deafening silence with which these mass murders are received in the Muslim world. How could it be that Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq everyday, evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report? Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King? Where is the “Million Muslim March” under the banner: “No Shias, No Sunnis: We are all children of Prophet Muhammad.”


I can logically understand the lack of protest when Muslims kill Americans in Iraq. We’re seen as occupiers by many. But I can’t understand how the mass slaughter of 70 Baghdad college students recently by Sunni suicide bombers or the blowing up of a Shia mosque on the first day of Ramadan in 2005 evokes so little response. Every day it’s 100 more.


I raise this question because the only hope left for Iraq - if there is any - is not in a US counter-insurgency strategy. That may be necessary, but without a Muslim counter-nihilism strategy that de-legitimises the mass murder of Muslims by Muslims, there is no hope for decent politics there. It takes a village, and right now the Muslim village is mute. It has no moral voice when it comes to its own.


“The Quran describes Prophet Muhammad as a Prophet of Mercy,” said Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani-born director of Boston University’s Centre for International Relations. “Muslims begin all their acts, including worship, with the words: ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’ The Quran also says, ‘To you, your faith, and to me, mine.’ But unfortunately, these mercy-focused, peacemaking ideas are lost today in the overall discourse in the Muslim world about reviving lost glory and setting right the injustice of Western domination. For a Muslim Martin Luther King to emerge, Muslim discourse would have to shift away from the focus on power and glory and include taking responsibility as a community for our own situation”.


In fairness, for a Martin Luther King to emerge, requires some free space, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the courageous Egyptian democracy campaigner, remarked to me. But right now, many liberals in the Arab world are in one way or another under house arrest by their regimes. “While Islamists in Egypt have access lo thousands of mosques and can meet with their followers five times a day,” Ibrahim said, liberal members of his own institute can barely move in Cairo, let alone organise a march.


The Arab regimes want America to believe that there are only two choices: Islamists and the regimes, so it will side with the regimes.


This is one reason Ibrahim hopes the Islamists will take up the democratic agenda. They could carry it to the masses.


There’s a lot at stake. If Iraq is ultimately unravelled by Muslim suicide-nihilism, it certainly will be a blot on our history - we opened this Pandora’s box. But it will be a plague on the future of the whole Arab world.


If Arab Muslims can summon the will to protest only against the insults of “the foreigner” but never the injuries inflicted by their own on their own, how can they ever generate a modern society or democracy - which is all about respecting and protecting minority voices and unorthodox views? And if Sunnis and Shias can never form a social contract to rule themselves - and will always require an iron-fisted dictator, decent government will forever elude them. The brutally honest Syrian- born poet, Ali Ahmad Said, known as Adonis, gave an interview from Paris on March 11,2006, with Dubai TV, and warned of what’s at stake: “The Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel - but only outside his society. If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world.


We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world.

(The Asian Age)