The Shameful Silence of Muslims

While all Muslims have a moral duty to denounce acts of terror by Muslims wherever they occur, they also have a similar obligation to demand that their governments denounce the persecution of Muslims wherever it occurs. Sadly, some Muslim countries do the opposite: they embrace governments that oppress Muslims.

Muslims have been tortured, raped and driven out of Myanmar. As of September 2018, the United Nations estimated that over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled or were driven out of the country. While the military in Myanmar persecuted its Muslim minorities, and their leader Aung San Suu Kyi cooperated with the military, Muslims and Muslim countries did very little to make such genocide costly for those in power in Myanmar.

China has incarcerated and placed well over a million Muslims, the largest group being the Uighurs, in the Xinjiang autonomous region in detention camps. These camps are what China labels “vocational training centers,” which have been constructed to “re-educate” Muslims. Given China’s global economic and political power, most of the world has been conspicuously silent on what is tantamount to banishing a religion and engaging in ethnic cleansing. Muslim countries that are in China’s sphere of influence, noticeably Indonesia and Pakistan, have even accepted China’s need to “re-educate” its Muslims.

Recently, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Modi in India arrested many of the local leaders in the autonomous region of Jammu and Kashmir and turned the region into a federal territory. This will enable Hindus to migrate into the region, buy or take Muslim lands and eventually further subjugate Muslims in the quest to make India a Hindu nation and marginalize the rights of its over 200 million Muslims. Yes, here Pakistan has spoken but its defense of Muslim rights is clearly opportunistic given its acceptance of Muslim subjugation in China, a country that supports Pakistan. To be credible, Muslim countries cannot pick and choose when to stand up. They must stand up wherever they encounter discrimination. More recently, in the state of Assam, Modi has launched a campaign to declare roughly four million Muslims foreign migrants and to strip them of their rights. Many of these Muslims who were born in India and some who have lived in Assam for generations are being asked to provide written proof of their citizenship or face expulsion. Again, no concerted Muslim condemnation of these discriminatory acts, much less a concerted Muslim effort (boycotts, sanctions) to make such policies costly and painful for Hindu nationalists. India is an important country for a number of Muslim countries so it gets a pass.

Then there is the continuing subjugation of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, the expropriation of Palestinian lands to make way for more and more Israeli settlements and the march to making Israel a Jewish state and to stripping Palestinians (99% Muslim in Gaza and over 80% in the West Bank even if Israeli settlers are included) of most of their rights. While in the past there were more meaningful countermeasures by Muslims, especially by Arabs, they are much more muted today. This silence has become deafening in the face of the provocative actions of the Trump administration — moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and banning immigrants from a number of Muslim majority countries. But Muslim rulers fear for offending Trump and the United States.

So here is the question. While the U.S., China, the EU and others use sanctions, boycotts and yes even military threats to coerce and get countries to change their policies, why are Arabs and more generally Muslims so silent and noncaring when Muslims are being threatened?

Although the answer has many parts, the core reason is that the Islamic civilization has gone through a crisis. This crisis has left in its wake ineffective institutions, resulting in what are generally illegitimate governments with strongmen at the helm. These strongmen have no interest in reform or effective institutions, which could endanger their oppressive rule. They have one goal only — to stay in power. And to achieve that they have found a number of cooperative and powerful allies, including the United States, Russia, China and a few EU member countries. All they need to do is keep their foreign backers happy by buying arms, awarding lucrative contracts to their well-connected companies and individuals, affording them military bases and intelligence listening posts and towing their policies in regional and international fora and conflicts. Besides their subservience to their foreign backers, most of these leaders are corrupt beyond the pale; some plunder the depleting natural resources of the land, such as oil, to an extent that makes Russian oligarchs appear to be boy scouts; and some do all they can to undermine other Muslim governments that espouse reform and that may be moving to representative governance (such as was the case in Egypt and is possibly happening in Qatar), which they perceive as a mortal threat.

What is the answer to this state of affairs? Let me first say the obvious — while no single Muslim country on its own is as powerful as the United States, China, Russia, Germany, the UK or France, collectively Muslim countries could move mountains and bring even more pressure than can the U.S. to protect Muslims from discrimination, incarceration and denial of basic human rights. Muslims need to better understand their religion — a religion of peace and tolerance that espouses effective institutions and embraces answerable governance that works toward justice, the rule of law, poverty eradication and equitable opportunity for all to develop their talents. Muslims must begin to peacefully demand this of their rulers and join hands across borders to bring pressure for this change. If they do, they can become a force for good not only in their own lands but the whole world over.

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MIT engineer-economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Mediator Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Writing: Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, Mid-East, Islam.

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Hossein Askari

MIT engineer-economist. Prof: Tufts, UT-Austin, GW. IMF Board. Mediator Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. Writing: Econ-Finance, Oil, Sanctions, Mid-East, Islam.