Post from Pakistan: Trouble with being a non-practising Muslim dissenter

By Haroon RiazFirst Published 18, Aug 2018, 3:38 PM IST

Now Islamophobia is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it

There is no denying that hate against Muslims is a reality. But if someone said that Muslims have earned a great deal of that hate, it would probably not be too much of a stretch. A recent article by Khalil Yousuf, an Ahmediya Muslim (whose community isn't even accepted by other Muslims in many prominent Muslim countries), makes the case for shutting down Geert Wilders' 'Draw the Prophet' contest because it is hate speech. No, it is not shouting "fire" in a theatre. It is simply playing the movie in it. 

The premise of the article is that the Europeans should stop organising such hateful contests because it hurts the sentiments of the Muslims and incites people to commit violent hate crimes against them. People would have greater sympathy for his case if the Muslim reaction to this alleged piece of bigotry was not violent and outrageous. To his credit, perhaps the very small and heavily persecuted Ahmediya community has never displayed such violent language but not so much the case with the much larger and dominant Sunni and Shia sections.

The Charlie Hebdo killings happened because a section of the Muslim population had presumed they had the right to 'punish' those who desecrated the Prophet. We never quite realised when this sort of a behaviour had become compatible with liberal ideals or democracy.

The reason why conservatives and right-wingers need to push the limits of free speech is that liberals have given up on that idea. What is even worse, secularism is now losing its ground thanks to liberal governments appeasing such religious extremists around the world. No wonder there is a resurgence of right-wing nationalism around the world. 

Decades long pandering to the extremism of Indian clerics, all in the name of the rights of Indian Muslims, has led to a resentment among the Hindus which has brought us to the civil rights disaster of mob lynching the name of cow vigilantism and the threat of a potential Hindu nationalist state under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The sad reality is that Modi's followers in India have started taking the secular nature of their democracy for granted. This is why I endorse provocative statements such as India becoming "Hindu Pakistan", made by Shashi Tharoor, because this is the perfect analogy to make people understand the risks. 

Not to say that the Congress is the only authority on secularism in India. Sometimes, the political difficulty of taking a stand against such behaviour can be immense, as in the case of the Salman Rushdie affair but probably the Congress is suffering the consequences of its past policies today, other than lacking leadership that could compete with Modi. There indeed was a time when the more secular Congress used to sweep the elections. The people are disillusioned for a reason. 

Now Islamophobia (or Muslimophobia as some would prefer to call it) is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it. The family and friends of any atheist or dissenting liberal Muslims will remain on the radar of bigots all around the world, whether India, America or Europe. Furthermore, no matter how disconnected they are to Muslim extremism or even the religion of Islam, they will never be fully seen removed from the identity of their religion of birth, unless they are someone very outspoken and famous like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But telling people to shut up because Muslim sentiments are being hurt and threatening to destroy them does not go a long way to win hearts and minds either. 

So, what does a liberal, non-practising dissenting Muslim do to survive as an individual? How can Muslims express dissent from the orthodox theocracy without further exposing the community to the risk of hate crimes? Should Muslim dissenters, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, continue to call for reform in Islam, as has happened in Judaism, or defend the existing absurdities like the majority of liberal Muslims? Or should the atheists among them simply condemn the idea of Islam altogether, as Armin Navabi has? I guess nobody knows the answer. 

Haroon Riaz is an independent blogger and a filmmaking and advertising professional living in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and can be followed on Twitter @HaroonRiaz

Last Updated 9, Sep 2018, 8:52 AM IST