By Jyoti Punwani, Mumbai Mirror | Jul 5, 2015, 01.30 AM IST
By failing to recognise madarsas as legitimate centres for education, the govt is stifling the community's growth.
How the state is undermining an institution vital to the city's Muslims
Danish Reyaz runs Maeeshat, a website devoted to the "Muslim economy", which holds regular business summits to ``integrate Muslim business with the mainstream'', and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Make in India campaign.
Danish is a faazil - equivalent to a Master of Arts - from Jamiatul Falah, a madarsa in eastern Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh district, where he studied Shakespeare, comparative religion (learning shlokas from the Rig Veda) and evolution, in addition to Islamic studies. Danish saw to it that his sister became a faazil too, much against the wishes of his mother, who did not want her to study.
As a child, Danish, now 37, spent his afternoons playing with Hindu kids in a temple.
They would be taken there by the neighbourhood "Dadi" when she went for her daily kirtan. Back home in Bihar on vacation from his madarsa, his Sunday mornings were spent eating breakfast at a Hindu neighbour's home, watching Ramayan and Mahabharat on TV. "It's a myth that we can't adjust with Hindus. Our education makes us so flexible."
Faizan Ahmed Nadwi wanted to be a maulvi, but he abandoned that notion because he needed to be self-sufficient. He found a job as an Arabic translator in a software company owned by Hindus.
Addressed as "Faizan Bhai" by everyone at work, the 30-year-old does his daily namaz (he works longer hours to make up for it) in the company's premises; wears kurta-pyjama-topi on the two "casual wear" days when his colleagues wear jeans, and for the rest of the week is seen in trousers which end short of his ankles. He is content, he says, at being able to be as true to his Islamic identity as he is to his work.
"The learning process that a madarsa puts you through equips you to grasp anything," says Faizan. "The only obstacle is English. But the standard of English taught in my madarsa, the Dar ul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow, was good enough for me to be able to master the software needed in my company."
These madarsa graduates deviate almost entirely from the state government's view of the institution. The irony is hard to ignore: it appears to have slipped past the state that the country's first Union Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, studied at a madarsa.
By declaring that it would categorise the one lakh odd students from such establishments as "out-of-school" because they aren't tutored in subjects like mathematics, science and social studies, the government has stymied the prospects of needy Muslim children who have no other recourse but to enrol at such institutions. The Sachar Committee, appointed by the UPA government in 2005 to study the social, economic and educational state of Muslims in India, reported in 2006 that 4 per cent of children from the community study in madarsas.
"Why this 4 per cent?" is a question being asked throughout the community. "We have millions of destitute children and child labourers. Why doesn't the government educate them?" asks advocate Yusuf Muchhala. "Why is it hell bent upon going after this 4 per cent who study in institutions protected by the Constitution, a protection recognised by the Supreme Court?"
And if it really wants to help madarsa students, says Reyaz, why doesn't it employ them? It might be surprised by their skills.
Their knowledge of Arabic, for instance, has created a demand for them not just in Gulf state embassies, but also in Google India. Their familiarity with English, either taught in their madarsa, or learnt outside, helps them land jobs in English journalism - before he launched his company, Reyaz worked at the newspaper Sunday Indian.
"The English we learnt at Jamiatul Falah was better than that taught in government schools," says Mumbra businessman Adham Ali. "And our students have always fared well in board exams. Apart from Muslim universities, they've been admitted into Jawaharlal Nehru University and Mumbai University, and some even teach there."
It is perhaps incumbent on the Maharashtra government to determine what is taught at a madarsa. While historical institutions such as Dar ul uloom Deoband and Nadwa teach all that a school does (and more) in addition to religious studies, the smallest one in a village or slum teaches the Quran. "This ensures literacy among the poor while also safeguarding the survival of Urdu," says Feroze Ashraf, who runs free coaching classes for underprivileged children in Jogeshwari.
Bigger madarsas teach not just the Quran and the Hadees, but also Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Islamic law, inheritance, philosophy and eloquence. "Our curriculum is already so vast, it's difficult to include other subjects," says Maulana Syed Ather Ali, who runs the Daru ul uloom Mohammediya in Mumbai. "Despite that, I've introduced computers, English, Hindi and Marathi."
In Maharashtra, Akkalkuwa and Malegaon have large madarsas, while in nearby Mumbra, the Jamiyah Islamiyyah, started 25 years ago by Dr Abdul Hakim Madani, teaches mathematics, science, English, Hindi and Marathi. It has 1,100 boys and girls on its rolls. "I wanted to equip my students with all that was necessary for them to study further or do well anywhere, so I included the national language as well as the state language," says Dr Madani, a PhD from Madina University and a Nadwa alumnus. "My madarsa's magazine has sections in all these languages, as well as in Arabic and Urdu. Yet the government does not recognise the degrees given by madarsas. Now they don't even recognise them as schools. Did they conduct a survey of madarsas before coming to this conclusion?''
State Minority Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse is strenuous in his denial that the government intends to downgrade the status of the madarsa. "There is no question of derecognition. We only said that the students [taught only religious subjects] are not recognised and that they must be brought into the mainstream," he explains.
Khadse is also categorical that the exercise of cataloguing all out-of-school children in the state is unalloyed in its secular intent. "The government is not aware of what is taught in a madarsa and we do not want to know as we don't want to interfere in their religious matters. We will not inquire into that," he says.
When we ask whether surveyors who were sent out on Saturday to catalogue students who were deemed out-of-school were instructed to mark kids from madarsas as students who belonged to that category even if their madarsas taught subjects such as English, mathematics and science, Principal Secretary, Education, Nand Kumar replies: "There were no instructions given. They will not be marked as out-of-school students." But our reporters found this to be not entirely true. For instance, Mohammed Asif Khan, 10 and Abdullah Ibn Zubair, 11, both of whom live in Chembur, were marked out-ofschool even though they were taught science and mathematics in their madarsa during the state-wide survey (see Page 6 for accompanying story on the survey).
Other than serving an instructional purpose, the madarsa plays the role of an adhesive, binding the community to the religion and its teachings. "Madarsas fulfil a need of the community," says Ashraf. "The Quran is part of our lives from birth to death; we need maulvis and qazis to conduct our religious affairs. At the same time, basic madarsa education enables the poor to get jobs as imams, muezzins and ustads in masjids."
It is the community that contributes to the running of madarsas, through donations that can be as little as Rs 50 a month. "This is the community's way of looking after its poorest children, who are not just educated, but also housed, fed and clothed free of charge in madarsas,'' says Ashraf.
In contrast, asks Ashraf, what the government's has done to educate Muslim children? "We didn't get anything from the government," says Maulana Mohammad Shoaib Koti, a scholar from Dar ul uloom Deoband, "so we aren't likely to be harmed by it de-recognising us - unless the government wants to force us to withdraw our kids from madarsas. Where will these children go? This is the BJP's way of pleasing its Hindutva supporters and pushing us into a corner."
In Mumbai's 92-93 riots, the Dar ul Uloom Imdadiya on Mohammed Ali Road was the scene of a police raid headed by former Police Commissioner RD Tyagi, documented in the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry Report into the riots. The one question posed by Tyagi's commandos at the students and teachers was: "Where have you hidden your arms? You people live off India and sing of Pakistan." Teachers at the madarsa were assaulted; among the eight shot dead in that raid, was a teacher who died pleading for water.
The Congress was in power. Today, it is the BJP, whose spokesmen, Mukthar Abbas Naqvi and Sakshi Maharaj, have linked madarsas to extremism and terrorism.
"For us, religious teaching is very important. Without madarsas, this tradition will die, as it has among Hindus, who seem not to care that their children learning about their religion,'' says Maulana Arif Masood Qasmi, who studied at Deoband. "And with them, will also die the inculcation of moral values which regular schools ignore."
Adds fellow alumnus, Maulana Samiullah Qasmi, who lives in a rented flat in Malwani: "Every time I talk about moving, my Hindu landlord forbids me from doing so. He says he won't get a tenant like me. In Deoband, and indeed in all madarsas, we learn to be of service to our country and our community. We learn about the sacrifices of ulemas in the Independence movement and are taught to see ourselves as part of that tradition.''
If you have not read John Perkins’ book, Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man, you should. The book is easy to read and explains clearly from the inside how US corporations deceive foreign governments into debts that they cannot service or repay and then use the IMF and World Bank as looting mechanisms and reduce the indebted countries to penury.
Capitalism has become a socially dysfunctional system focused on pillage and not on the growth of consumer income that sustains and grows markets for goods and services. Once the last prospect is looted, there is nothing left to sustain capitalism.
In this interview John Perkins describes the looting process in Greece. Tomorrow the Greek people face the same decision that the people in Iceland and Ireland faced. In Iceland the people rejected the debts and refused to pay them. Now Iceland is recovering. Somehow the feisty Irish were brainwashed into accepting austerity programs so that the looting of Ireland could continue, and Ireland continues to suffer. Sunday will tell us if Greeks have learned from the examples.
“Greece is being ‘hit’, there’s no doubt about it,” exclaims John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, noting that “[Indebted countries] become servants to what I call the corporatocracy … today we have a global empire, and it’s not an American empire. It’s not a national empire… It’s a corporate empire, and the big corporations rule.”
John Perkins is no stranger to making confessions. His well-known book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, revealed how international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, while publicly professing to “save” suffering countries and economies, instead pull a bait-and-switch on their governments: promising startling growth, gleaming new infrastructure projects and a future of economic prosperity – all of which would occur if those countries borrow huge loans from those organizations. Far from achieving runaway economic growth and success, however, these countries instead fall victim to a crippling and unsustainable debt burden.
That’s where the “economic hit men” come in: seemingly ordinary men, with ordinary backgrounds, who travel to these countries and impose the harsh austerity policies prescribed by the IMF and World Bank as “solutions” to the economic hardship they are now experiencing. Men like Perkins were trained to squeeze every last drop of wealth and resources from these sputtering economies, and continue to do so to this day. In this interview, which aired on Dialogos Radio, Perkins talks about how Greece and the eurozone have become the new victims of such “economic hit men.”
Michael Nevradakis: In your book, you write about how you were, for many years, a so-called “economic hit man.” Who are these economic hit men, and what do they do?
John Perkins: Essentially, my job was to identify countries that had resources that our corporations want, and that could be things like oil – or it could be markets – it could be transportation systems. There’re so many different things. Once we identified these countries, we arranged huge loans to them, but the money would never actually go to the countries; instead it would go to our own corporations to build infrastructure projects in those countries, things like power plants and highways that benefitted a few wealthy people as well as our own corporations, but not the majority of people who couldn’t afford to buy into these things, and yet they were left holding a huge debt, very much like what Greece has today, a phenomenal debt.
And once [they were] bound by that debt, we would go back, usually in the form of the IMF – and in the case of Greece today, it’s the IMF and the EU [European Union] – and make tremendous demands on the country: increase taxes, cut back on spending, sell public sector utilities to private companies, things like power companies and water systems, transportation systems, privatize those, and basically become a slave to us, to the corporations, to the IMF, in your case to the EU, and basically, organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, are tools of the big corporations, what I call the “corporatocracy.”
And before turning specifically to the case of Greece, let’s talk a little bit more about the manner in which these economic hit men and these organizations like the IMF operate. You mentioned, of course, how they go in and they work to get these countries into massive debt, that money goes in and then goes straight back out. You also mentioned in your book these overly optimistic growth forecasts that are sold to the politicians of these countries but which really have no resemblance to reality.
Exactly, we’d show that if these investments were made in things like electric energy systems that the economy would grow at phenomenally high rates. The fact of the matter is, when you invest in these big infrastructure projects, you do see economic growth, however, most of that growth reflects the wealthy getting wealthier and wealthier; it doesn’t reflect the majority of the people, and we’re seeing that in the United States today.
For example, where we can show economic growth, growth in the GDP, but at the same time unemployment may be going up or staying level, and foreclosures on houses may be going up or staying stable. These numbers tend to reflect the very wealthy, since they have a huge percentage of the economy, statistically speaking. Nevertheless, we would show that when you invest in these infrastructure projects, your economy does grow, and yet, we would even show it growing much faster than it ever conceivably would, and that was only used to justify these horrendous, incredibly debilitating loans.
Is there a common theme with respect to the countries typically targeted? Are they, for instance, rich in resources or do they typically possess some other strategic importance to the powers that be?
Yes, all of those. Resources can take many different forms: One is the material resources like minerals or oil; another resource is strategic location; another resource is a big marketplace or cheap labor. So, different countries make different requirements. I think what we’re seeing in Europe today isn’t any different, and that includes Greece.
What happens once these countries that are targeted are indebted? How do these major powers, these economic hit men, these international organizations come back and get their “pound of flesh,” if you will, from the countries that are heavily in debt?
By insisting that the countries adopt policies that will sell their publicly owned utility companies, water and sewage systems, maybe schools, transportation systems, even jails, to the big corporations. Privatize, privatize. Allow us to build military bases on their soil. Many things can be done, but basically, they become servants to what I call the corporatocracy. You have to remember that today we have a global empire, and it’s not an American empire. It’s not a national empire. It doesn’t help the American people very much. It’s a corporate empire, and the big corporations rule. They control the politics of the United States, and to a large degree they control a great deal of the policies of countries like China, around the world.
John, looking specifically now at the case of Greece, of course you mentioned your belief that the country has become the victim of economic hit men and these international organizations . . . what was your reaction when you first heard about the crisis in Greece and the measures that were to be implemented in the country?
I’ve been following Greece for a long time. I was on Greek television. A Greek film company did a documentary called “Apology of an Economic Hit Man,” and I also spent a lot of time in Iceland and in Ireland. I was invited to Iceland to help encourage the people there to vote on a referendum not to repay their debts, and I did that and encouraged them not to, and they did vote no, and as a result, Iceland is doing quite well now economically compared to the rest of Europe. Ireland, on the other hand: I tried to do the same thing there, but the Irish people apparently voted against the referendum, though there’s been many reports that there was a lot of corruption.
In the case of Greece, my reaction was that “Greece is being hit.” There’s no question about it. Sure, Greece made mistakes, your leaders made some mistakes, but the people didn’t really make the mistakes, and now the people are being asked to pay for the mistakes made by their leaders, often in cahoots with the big banks. So, people make tremendous amounts of money off of these so-called “mistakes,” and now, the people who didn’t make the mistakes are being asked to pay the price. That’s consistent around the world: We’ve seen it in Latin America. We’ve seen it in Asia. We’ve seen it in so many places around the world.
This leads directly to the next question I had: From my observation, at least in Greece, the crisis has been accompanied by an increase in self-blame or self-loathing; there’s this sentiment in Greece that many people have that the country failed, that the people failed . . . there’s hardly even protest in Greece anymore, and of course there’s a huge “brain drain” – there’s a lot of people that are leaving the country. Does this all seem familiar to you when comparing to other countries in which you’ve had personal experience?
Sure, that’s part of the game: convince people that they’re wrong, that they’re inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that, whether it is back during the Vietnam War, convincing the world that the North Vietnamese were evil; today it’s the Muslims. It’s a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You’re wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say “you’re lazy; you didn’t do the right thing; you didn’t follow the right policies,” when in actuality, an awful lot of the blame needs to be laid on the financial community that encouraged Greece to go down this route. And I would say that we have something very similar going on in the United States, where people here are being led to believe that because their house is being foreclosed that they were stupid, that they bought the wrong houses; they overspent themselves.
The fact of the matter is their bankers told them to do this, and around the world, we’ve come to trust bankers – or we used to. In the United States, we never believed that a banker would tell us to buy a $500,000 house if in fact we could really only afford a $300,000 house. We thought it was in the bank’s interest not to foreclose. But that changed a few years ago, and bankers told people who they knew could only afford a $300,000 house to buy a $500,000 house.
“Tighten your belt, in a few years that house will be worth a million dollars; you’ll make a lot of money” . . . in fact, the value of the house went down; the market dropped out; the banks foreclosed on these houses, repackaged them, and sold them again. Double whammy. The people were told, “you were stupid; you were greedy; why did you buy such an expensive house?” But in actuality, the bankers told them to do this, and we’ve grown up to believe that we can trust our bankers. Something very similar on a larger scale happened in so many countries around the world, including Greece.
In Greece, the traditional major political parties are, of course, overwhelmingly in favor of the harsh austerity measures that have been imposed, but also we see that the major business and media interests are also overwhelmingly in support. Does this surprise you in the slightest?
No, it doesn’t surprise me and yet it’s ridiculous because austerity does not work. We’ve proven that time and time again, and perhaps the greatest proof was the opposite, in the United States during the Great Depression, when President Roosevelt initiated all these policies to put people back to work, to pump money into the economy. That’s what works. We know that austerity does not work in these situations.
We also have to understand that, in the United States for example, over the past 40 years, the middle class has been on the decline on a real dollar basis, while the economy has been increasing. In fact, that’s pretty much happened around the world. Globally, the middle class has been in decline. Big business needs to recognize – it hasn’t yet, but it needs to recognize – that that serves nobody’s long-term interest, that the middle class is the market. And if the middle class continues to be in decline, whether it’s in Greece or the United States or globally, ultimately businesses will pay the price; they won’t have customers. Henry Ford once said: “I want to pay all my workers enough money so they can go out and buy Ford cars.” That’s a very good policy. That’s wise. This austerity program moves in the opposite direction and it’s a foolish policy.
In your book, which was written in 2004, you expressed hope that the euro would serve as a counterweight to American global hegemony, to the hegemony of the US dollar. Did you ever expect that we would see in the European Union what we are seeing today, with austerity that is not just in Greece but also in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and also several other countries as well?
What I didn’t realize during any of this period was how much corporatocracy does not want a united Europe. We need to understand this. They may be happy enough with the euro, with one currency – they are happy to a certain degree by having it united enough that markets are open – but they do not want standardized rules and regulations. Let’s face it, big corporations, the corporatocracy, take advantage of the fact that some countries in Europe have much more lenient tax laws, some have much more lenient environmental and social laws, and they can pit them against each other.
What would it be like for big corporations if they didn’t have their tax havens in places like Malta or other places? I think we need to recognize that what the corporatocracy saw at first, the solid euro, a European union seemed like a very good thing, but as it moved forward, they could see that what was going to happen was that social and environmental laws and regulations were going to be standardized. They didn’t want that, so to a certain degree what’s been going on in Europe has been because the corporatocracy wants Europe to fail, at least on a certain level.
You wrote about the examples of Ecuador and other countries, which after the collapse of oil prices in the late ’80s found themselves with huge debts and this, of course, led to massive austerity measures . . . sounds all very similar to what we are now seeing in Greece. How did the people of Ecuador and other countries that found themselves in similar situations eventually resist?
Ecuador elected a pretty remarkable president, Rafael Correa, who has a PhD in economics from a United States university. He understands the system, and he understood that Ecuador took on these debts back when I was an economic hit man and the country was ruled by a military junta that was under the control of the CIA and the US. That junta took on these huge debts, put Ecuador in deep debt; the people didn’t agree to that. When Rafael Correa was democratically elected, he immediately said, “We’re not paying these debts; the people did not take on these debts; maybe the IMF should pay the debts and maybe the junta, which of course was long gone – moved to Miami or someplace – should pay the debts, maybe John Perkins and the other economic hit men should pay the debts, but the people shouldn’t.”
And since then, he’s been renegotiating and bringing the debts way down and saying, “We might be willing to pay some of them.” That was a very smart move; it reflected similar things that had been done at different times in places like Brazil and Argentina, and more recently, following that model, Iceland, with great success. I have to say that Correa has had some real setbacks since then . . . he, like so many presidents, has to be aware that if you stand up too strongly against the system, if the economic hit men are not happy, if they don’t get their way, then the jackals will come in and assassinate you or overthrow you in a coup. There was an attempted coup against him; there was a successful coup in a country not too far away from him, Honduras, because these presidents stood up.
We have to realize that these presidents are in very, very vulnerable positions, and ultimately we the people have to stand up, because leaders can only do a certain amount. Today, in many places, leaders are not just vulnerable; it doesn’t take a bullet to bring down a leader anymore. A scandal – a sex scandal, a drug scandal – can bring down a leader. We saw that happen to Bill Clinton, to Strauss-Kahn of the IMF; we’ve seen it happen a number of times. These leaders are very aware that they are in very vulnerable positions: If they stand up or go against the status quo too strongly, they’re going to be taken out, one way or another. They’re aware of that, and it behooves we the people to really stand up for our own rights.
You mentioned the recent example of Iceland . . . other than the referendum that was held, what other measures did the country adopt to get out of this spiral of austerity and to return to growth and to a much more positive outlook for the country?
It’s been investing money in programs that put people back to work and it’s also been putting on trial some of the bankers that caused the problems, which has been a big uplift in terms of morale for the people. So Iceland has launched some programs that say “No, we’re not going to go into austerity; we’re not going to pay back these loans; we’re going to put the money into putting people back to work,” and ultimately that’s what drives an economy, people working. If you’ve got high unemployment, like you do in Greece today, extremely high unemployment, the country’s always going to be in trouble. You’ve got to bring down that unemployment, you’ve got to hire people. It’s so important to put people back to work. Your unemployment is about 28 percent; it’s staggering, and disposable income has dropped 40 percent and it’s going to continue to drop if you have high unemployment. So, the important thing for an economy is to get the employment up and get disposable income back up, so that people will invest in their country and in goods and services.
In closing, what message would you like to share with the people of Greece, as they continue to experience and to live through the very harsh results of the austerity policies that have been implemented in the country for the past three years?
I want to draw upon Greece’s history. You’re a proud, strong country, a country of warriors. The mythology of the warrior to some degree comes out of Greece, and so does democracy! And to realize that the marketplace is a democracy today, and how we spend our money is casting our ballot. Most political democracies are corrupt, including that of the United States. Democracy is not really working on a governmental basis because the corporations are in charge. But it is working on a market basis. I would encourage the people of Greece to stand up: Don’t pay off those debts; have your own referendums; refuse to pay them off; go to the streets and strike.
And so, I would encourage the Greek people to continue to do this. Don’t accept this criticism that it’s your fault, you’re to blame, you’ve got to suffer austerity, austerity, austerity. That only works for the rich people; it does not work for the average person or the middle class. Build up that middle class; bring employment back; bring disposable income back to the average citizen of Greece. Fight for that; make it happen; stand up for your rights; respect your history as fighters and leaders in democracy, and show the world!
There has been going on for quite some time an effort by many people all over the world, including many in India, to demonize Muslims, and portray them as people who do nothing except acts of terrorism like throwing bombs and shooting people as happened in the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, attack on Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, attack on cartoonists in Charlie Hebro in Paris, and elsewhere. I am a humble disciple of the great French political philosopher Rousseau who believed that people are good by nature, unlike Hobbes who believed that they are evil. So I believe that 99% people of all communities, whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc are good by nature, but they get defamed by the 1% wicked and bigoted people.
So to bring all communities together I have appealed to non Muslims all over the world to keep one day roza on 4th July this year. This is only a symbolic gesture by non Muslims to show their respect to, and solidarity with, our Muslim brethren. I will also appeal to non Hindus to observe one day's fast on Navratri. In fact earlier Hindus used to participate in Eid and Muharram, and Muslims in Holi and Diwali. The Mughals, Muslim Nawabs etc were thoroughly secular, and used to organize Ramlilas and participate in Holi, dussehra etc. It was the British divide and rule policy which made us hostile to each other ( see online in this connectionHistory in the Service of Imperialism by B.N. Pande ).
My appeal, which is on my facebook page, is given below:
An Appeal to all non Muslims to observe roza on 4th July After discussing with many friends in the Bay Area in California, I hereby appeal to all non Muslims all over the world to observe one day roza on Saturday, 4th July as a token of respect for and solidarity with our Muslim brethren during the holy month of Ramzan. The exact time before which sehri (breakfast) must be taken, and of iftaar, (the time in the evening after which alone dinner can be taken) may be ascertained from some Muslim friend.
These timings change by one minute every day, and must be strictly observed. I may mention that in India for several years I have been keeping one day roza during Ramzan. The wife of my friend Asif Azmi, who is like a younger brother to me, and lives in Delhi, telephones me very early in the morning when it is still dark and informs me that the time by which I must do my sehri is approaching. So I quickly eat some bread and drink a lot of milk and water, because I can have none thereafter till the time of iftaar.
This year I will have iftaar at the residence of a Muslim lady in Fremont, California, USA with a group of about 25 others, Muslims and non Muslims. The lady has very kindly consented to have the iftaar at her residence, and provide food for all of us. The other non Muslims can form groups and have iftaar at a place of their choice on 4th July. Please note that you must not eat or drink after the time of sehri is over, and before the time for iftaar. This is absolutely crucial.
If this succeeds, it will be a historic step at removing misunderstanding between different communities. When Navratri begins, I will appeal to non Hindus to keep one day fast during that period. It is clarified that by keeping one day roza a non Muslim does not become a Muslim, just as by keeping one day fast during Navratri a non Hindu does not become a Hindu. It is just symbolic of showing respect to other communities.
Is Islam inherently opposed to Western liberalism?
That is the crux of a new book by modern Arab politics professor Joseph Massad, which reveals the unspoken cultural assumptions underlying human rights and other NGOs, and should be required reading for them.
“Islam in Liberalism,” by Joseph A. Massad, The University of Chicago Press, 384 pages, $40
At the time of his death in 2004, the French Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida had long occupied the pinnacle of academic superstardom. To the many students and scholars who eagerly snatched up every new book and article he authored and flocked to his lectures worldwide, Derrida was prophet, sage and arbiter.
Derrida fathered not only a profoundly influential philosophical and literary approach, popularly known as deconstruction, but also generations of intellectual children: graduate students who broke their teeth on "Writing and Difference" and "Of Grammatology," and grew up to be happy deconstructionists applying Derrida to Gothic novels, architecture or South Asian history.
Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics at Columbia University, is one of those children. As a graduate student in the 1990s at Columbia, he could hardly have avoided being so. Derrida’s influence is tangible in Massad’s latest work "Islam in Liberalism" – in a certain linguistic playfulness; in the constellation of theorists quoted, including Derrida himself; and in a penchant for reading against the grain and searching out the marginal, dangling threads that cause a whole structure, in this case of Western liberalism, to unravel.
It is all the more surprising, then, that in the final chapter of his book Massad calls Jacques Derrida an anti-Semite. This moment is worth dwelling on because Massad’s act of patricide is key to understanding "Islam in Liberalism" – which aims to show how Western liberalism is inherently opposed to Islam – and its flaws.
There is an ethical question that haunts this book, and not only in the context of the accusation against Derrida. It is a question that Massad posed himself, if rhetorically, in a 2001 debate with Israeli historian Benny Morris that was published in the former’s collection "The Persistence of the Palestinian Question." When moderator Andrew Whitehead observed that Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals seem unable to move past their contentious history and establish a dialogue, Massad responded: “How can you reconcile with an enemy who is still repressing you?”
Massad’s answer, in this debate and elsewhere, is that one can’t, and one shouldn’t. Reconciliation, he believes, is tantamount to capitulation; while Zionist colonialism continues, or, on a larger scale, while Western imperialism continues, it is wrong to accept these ideologies’ narratives as legitimate. To do so, or even to vacillate on this point, obscures the fact that justice and solidarity should lie entirely on the side of the oppressed.
Massad’s unwillingness to accept Western liberalism’s altruistic self-definition at face value, his refusal to reconcile, allows him to build a critique that is both insightful and timely. "Islam in Liberalism" argues that European liberalism arose from an imagined dichotomy between the tolerant West and the despotic East, and that the consistent reinforcement of this dichotomy — especially when it comes to gay rights, women’s rights, and democratic freedom — causes Western liberals to feel a burden of responsibility to rescue those suffering under Islam.
While this mission is expressed through the work of international nongovernmental organizations and liberal foundations like Human Rights Watch or the Ford Foundation, in essence it is no different than more traditional forms of imperialism, Massad asserts. Western influence is used to support certain ideologies and social groups in Muslim-majority countries, while maintaining the overall power and capital imbalance between the donor and receiving societies.
"Islam in Liberalism" raises important questions about the power and influence of Western NGOs and the humanitarian missions of Western governments. Massad is on unimpeachable ground in arguing that these institutions are not simply altruistic vehicles for do-goodism, and that those who claim that the West has a mission and a burden to save women, gays, or the oppressed in the Muslim world are necessarily rehashing old Orientalist tropes. In unearthing the unconscious motives and unspoken cultural assumptions underlying human rights and international organizations, "Islam in Liberalism" should be required reading for NGO workers the world over.
But Massad’s unquestioning certainty in his own arguments leads him to a reductive dogmatism. This is especially evident in his harsh criticism of Leila Abu-Lughod, a Columbia University anthropologist whose "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?" raises many of these same questions, while still allowing that a more self-reflective feminism can nevertheless advocate for women’s rights abroad.
Massad’s response is dismissive, staking out the extreme position that the whole project of advocacy is rotten and unsalvageable. Liberal transnational solidarity, he writes, “can only issue from imperialist countries toward the Third World as part of imperial networks... which are not reducible to the human subjects formed by them taking ‘responsibility.’” In other words, no matter how self-aware individual feminists or human rights advocates might be, the unjust international system dictates that their aid efforts only serve to further oppression. Not only does this position reject the notion of individual agency – human choices are not entirely subject to international relations – but, as elsewhere, Massad’s argument lacks nuance: As his many attacks on ideological rivals make clear, one either agrees with his position, or one is an imperialist. There is no middle ground.
What's in a 'dead name'?
Massad’s dogmatism is perhaps most clearly expressed in the book’s last chapter, entitled “Forget Semitism!” This section is devoted to the idea that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a shared heritage in the figure of Abraham – that they are related, Abrahamic religions. Massad, himself a Palestinian born in Jordan, argues that this idea is a liberal mask for colonialism and anti-Semitism. The normalizing, ecumenical ideal of the Abrahamic faiths, he says, is a cover for ongoing political violence.
The section in which Massad accuses Derrida of anti-Semitism is worth quoting in full. Massad first cites a passage from one of Derrida’s writings that mentions Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of Palestinian worshippers. In condemning the violent attack, Derrida refers to the location of the massacre as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Massad's response: “Derrida’s insistence on the use of the dead name of al-Khalil, on calling the Abrahamic Sanctuary by its Jewish colonial terminology (Tomb of the Patriarchs), on claiming the massacre as part of a religious and not a colonial war and contextualizing all this in the 'religions called "Abrahamic”' reveals the explanatory potential of the Abrahamic and what it can and cannot include. For a philosopher like Derrida, so invested in the proper name, to refuse to call Palestinian geography and holy places by their proper Abrahamic names opens him to the probability of a similar charge like the one he leveled against Massignon.”
Massignon is Louis Massignon, the French Catholic Orientalist who was one of the proponents of the Abrahamic faiths. This idea of a shared Abrahamic tradition was also taken up by Derrida, though he expressed his reservations that Massignon’s concept, insofar as it excluded Jews, “leaves us with the feeling of some probability of anti-Semitism.” Massad turns the charge, or the probability, back on Derrida.
This is not the only instance of name-calling in "Islam in Liberalism." It seems anyone who ever challenged the author’s previous scholarship gets their comeuppance in the book’s sarcastic footnotes. Considering how Massad has been the target of character assassination in the past — in particular, in the public scandal that erupted after the 2004 pro-Israel propaganda film "Columbia Unbecoming" accused him and other Arab professors of intimidating Jewish students who supported Israel — these comments in "Islam in Liberalism" might be forgiven, or at least understood.
But the accusation against Derrida is not like these other examples. It comes by way of Massad’s analysis of the history of European racial theory, the idea that there is a category of people called Semites, and this theory’s connections with Orientalism, through Zionism’s adoption of these racial categories as the basis for Jewish nationalism. The Zionist decision to turn the Jews into a nation, as Massad would have it, caused a split between the Jews and Arabs (and, by extension, Muslims in general) who had both been the objects of Semitism and anti-Semitism. It is a split, he writes, between “the Semite who went the way of the Orientalist and the Semite who was forced to go the way of the Oriental.”
Massad calls Derrida an anti-Semite not just for refusing to say “Al-Khalil,” but for denying that Zionism has turned Palestinians into the true Semites and the true victims of its anti-Semitism.
We must remember that the inequality of power between Jews and Palestinians is one of the basic, and often obfuscated, facts of this conflict. Perhaps, indeed, Derrida did not recognize it enough. And yet: “the dead name of Al-Khalil”? Why is the Hebrew name dead? “Hebron” was not a dead name to the Jews who lived there before Israel was founded, and it isn’t a dead name to the Jews who call the city that now. The Jewish settlement in Hebron, even the entire history of Zionism and the occupation, neither make the Hebrew name dead nor means that it deserves death.
Just as Massad reduces liberalism to imperialism, to dismiss the Jewish name as “colonial terminology” is to collapse all of Jewish history and experience into Zionism. There is no possibility, and this is true of "Islam in Liberalism"’s arguments as a whole, that there could be two names, or two kinds of suffering, without one erasing the other.
This is where the absence of Derrida — the real Derrida — is felt most acutely. Derrida was a master of undecidability and the suspension of choice, of deferring and hesitation. This can be seen in his comments on Israel and Palestine that Massad gathers, in which the philosopher both condemns the occupation and confirms Israel’s unimpeachable right to exist; he does come across in the quotes chosen as a waffling politician. But Derrida’s hesitation is not due to uncertainty or dissimulation, but rather to the conviction that true responsibility to others is a necessary but nearly impossible act, full of contradiction.
This is no doubt frustrating for Massad. It is frustrating for all of us who live now, in this time of war. Philosophical hesitation seems a luxury; there is an imperative to make firm commitments, speak them out, and see them through to the end. However, what Massad forgets is ethics, one of the main themes in Derrida’s work (though he did not like the word).
As Jack Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Australia’s Deakin University, has written, for Derrida ethical behavior “is a product of deferring, and of being forever open to possibilities rather than taking a definitive position.” This is precisely the space that "Islam in Liberalism" closes down.
Samuel Thrope’s essays and reviews have appeared in Tablet, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Beast, and elsewhere. His translation of Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s "The Israeli Republic" is available from Restless Books.
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