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It is time ordinary Muslims take control of their own destiny

The world has changed and is changing rapidly. With Brexit rattling the European Union leaders and now President Trump in the White House we live in uncharted territory. Many in Europe and around the world are nervous about how America under the Trump Presidency behaves. Muslim leaders in the Middle East, the most crisis-ridden region in the world, may have mixed feelings about the change of guard, but ordinary Muslims may see no difference; they have already witnessed American military interventions in the Muslim world and its unwillingness to solve the historic Palestine-Israel conflict.

Trump’s inaugural speech as President on 20th January was a mixture of inward-looking nationalism by talking down his own country and superpower chauvinism with a blunt message to the Muslim world. “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth”, he declared.

Muslims need no introduction to the carnage initiated by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS). The worst sufferers of their nihilistic violence everywhere are Muslims themselves.

Trump’s consistency in demonising Muslims is indeed worrying. His choice of the word ‘Islamic’ should be seen in the context of what he has been saying about them since his election campaign began and also by his selection of some members in his cabinet. He called for a “total and complete shutdown” of the country’s borders to Muslims and chose Michael Flynn who branded Islam as a “malignant cancer which pretends to be a religion” for National Security Advisor. Time will tell how the Trump administration treats Muslims, its own citizens and others in the world. But, many people believe his presidency will be bad for Muslims, but great for ISIS.

Muslims have been at the receiving end of super power rivalry since the Cold War period. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 unleashed a chain of events that gave rise to Al-Qaeda. In the aftermath of 9/11, the US invasion of, particularly, Iraq helped mushroom various terror groups, including ISIS. The failed Syrian uprising ended up in a vicious proxy war between global powers as well as between Shia Iran and some Sunni Gulf countries; an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe spilled over to Europe.

For so long the western powers kept on exploiting the Middle East in fear of popular and accountable governments that would insist on controlling their own destiny and natural resources. This has been the most damaging external obstacle to responsible and representative governments in the region. There seems to be a much bigger issue here and this is the serious attitudinal problems from western leaders towards Muslims. After WWII the US Marshall Plan rebuilt a war-ravaged Europe. But, while Afghanistan or Iraq cannot be compared with Germany, America’s lack of will and plans to rebuild the two Muslim countries that it invaded has contributed to the legacy of horror.

At the same time, it is a sad truth that Muslim political and, to some extent, religious leadership, has dismally failed; it is also a reality that some of their leaders monopolised all state powers and deprived their citizens from basic human rights and freedom of expression.

However, Muslims should never become mere victims of historical processes; they must shun pessimism and defeatism to become agents of history themselves.

In November last year, I urged western Muslims, particularly the youth, to join the struggle against authoritarian populism. I now say the same to ordinary Muslims everywhere to come forward and take destiny in their own hands. In particular, the younger generation of young Muslim men and women must have the courage to rebuild their identity by waging a broad-based civic movement against prevailing social ills such as illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, intolerance and violence. This should be done in a way unique to people of faith – the nonviolent way shown by Prophets over millennia, particularly modelled by the Prophet Muhammad.

As the world has become more violent in recent times, the antidote is a real peaceful civil struggle to bring a permanent change in a community or nation.

Non-violent civic movements through citizens organising is a way that can develop and strengthen society to gradually build its economic and educational infrastructure; with some success, this may one day create an atmosphere of political accountability and good governance.

At the end of the day, better education and economic sustenance are absolutely basic for the success of any people anywhere in the world; they give people needed aspiration, confidence and dignity. Where this may not be possible because of existing political despotism, this will definitely demand more tolerance, empathy, wisdom and a higher level of sacrifice. There is no gain without going through some pain.

Practicing Muslims often come across a powerful verse from their scripture, “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves”. It is high time they use this teaching by determinedly changing their situation for better.

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