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The Voice of the Voiceless and Popular Action

Western Muslims, who are still for the most part of immigrant origin, must not forget where they come from and the road that has led them to Northern societies, in the name of their principles and their history. They must indeed be concerned with the affairs of their society, as we have said—with justice, law, unemployment, violence, and so on, but, at the heart of industrialized societies, they must also remain the conscience of the South. Dictatorships, the state of total decay of societies and economies, endemic poverty, illiteracy, and the daily death of millions of human beings as a result of a world order that sows terror are the realities that bear evidence against the way the planet is currently managed. We have to be the friends and partners of anyone in the West who denounces the horror, and we must call for the world to be changed.

It is said that it is necessary to develop a critical mind capable of taking account of things. The West is neither monolithic nor demonic, and its phenomenal achievements in terms of rights, knowledge, culture, and civilization are realities that it would be unreasonable to minimize or reject. At the same time, we must think clearly and know how to be critical of economic or strategic policies imposed by the North that are suffocating whole societies, compromising with heartless torturers, and promoting the veritable cultural colonization of underdeveloped countries with the help of the demeaning products of modern Western culture. To be a Western Muslim and speak these truths is to run the risk, almost systematically, of being considered not completely “integrated,” giving rise to suspicions about one’s true loyalty: it’s as if Muslims have to buy “integration” with their silence. This kind of intellectual cant must be rejected. To be a free citizen in Northern societies means having the means and the right to make critical choices, assessments, and evaluations from within the heart of the Western frame of reference. It means recognizing and fighting for the achievements of democracy and challenging one’s own government (be it American, French, British, or any other) by making it understood that it is not acceptable to betray our principles through complicity with dictatorships. It means congratulating ourselves on the level of development and material well-being that we enjoy here while fighting with all our might against the economic policies of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which, by means of international agreements and structural changes, support terrible and chronic suffering there. And how many other battles, too!

To be the voice of the voiceless today is a moral imperative. Defending all the forgotten people of the continent of Africa, the Palestinian resistance, the rights of the Chechens and the Tibetans and all the oppressed peoples of the world is the most explicit expression of our fidelity to our principles and our ethic. In our time we must also reject the establishment of a kind of frontier of law between the North and South that would operate unilaterally against the victims of economic injustice; policies proposed to combat immigration are dreadful and assume that the clandestine immigrant is a liar, a thief, even a bandit. With their inability to call their economic policies into question, Northern governments, our governments, apply repressive policies against the victims of their own regulations. All political thinking and planning that do not take migration into account impose a double sanction on the victims—by imposing on them a shameful way of life in their own countries and by imprisoning them there or expelling them “in the name of law” when they have the dignity and courage to refuse inhuman treatment.

New security policies are all moving in the same direction: in the name of the war against terrorism, anything, or almost anything, goes. Hundreds of Muslims are imprisoned without trial in the United States, antiglobalization activists are under surveillance, cross-border travel is restricted, civil liberties are curtailed, and, on the international level, the repressive policies of Sharon and Putin are met with silence and eyes are closed to the behavior of our Saudi and Pakistani allies. This is all said to be to protect us from “those who do not like our civilization and our freedom.” Muslims of conscience living within the West must have the courage to say that this is not true and that if terrorism really is unacceptable, war must be declared on all forms of terrorism, particularly state terrorism, and priority must be given to dealing with its causes. Condemning without a moment’s hesitation the atrocities of 11 September 2001, for example, cannot mean that we have to accept all and any reprisals and policies because we might be in danger. This kind of diversion has serious consequences: by putting citizens in a state of siege and feeding their fear, the government prevents them from thinking and critiquing the world order and its injustices. Citizens who are afraid do not go out to change the world; first of all they protect themselves and what belongs to them. They become dangerously distracted as a natural reflex.

Here again, it is not a question of being interested only in international situations in which Muslims are implicated, as it may appear today. We have seen that all situations are interconnected and that international politics have an immediate impact on domestic realities. So we now need to build a global vision of problems, and it is more important than ever to decide who our partners are in this struggle. The international popular movement that has recently developed across the world (which must not be confused with the tendency to violence of some groups and individuals) expresses critical theses and demands reforms that for the most part are completely in accord with the Muslim ethic. Organizations that call for the establishment of fairer trade (of the type proposed by Max Havelaar or development cooperatives); those that want to promote more responsible management of the economy and the financial markets (in the manner of the ATTAC movement or, more locally, of institutions committed to ethical investment); the Peasant Confederation and the supporters of a Christian theology of liberation and resistance (now found throughout the world) must become in time, with many other resisters on the local level, the objective allies of this plural front for which we long. It is the responsibility of Muslims to commit themselves to this way, to decide what kinds of alliances are possible, taking into account their limits as well as their demands. The globalization with which we are presented and that is imposed upon us today sanctions above all the absolute primacy of the logic of economics over every other consideration, and the efficiency of communication networks and highways seems to draw us more and more into becoming better consumers. The picture would be very dark were it not for a widespread movement of resistance: when faced with neoliberal economics, the message of Islam offers no way out but resistance. In the West, as in the East, we are summoned to use our minds, our imaginations, and our creative abilities to think of an alternative—using our sources in partnership with all those who resist and move for “something else.”

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