Saturday, September 30, 2006

Demonstratons and Muslim Dialogue

Tom Friedman in today's NYTimes asks why there are no demonstrations among Muslims when Muslims blow up innocent people on holy days, "in mosques!," while there are all kinds of demonstrations against cartoons and papal remarks in the West. I think this gets at a fundamental nature of demonstrations. Demonstrations rarely are spontaneous: they are orchestrated. When we were in Pakistan there were occasional demonstrations, always about something offensive that could be tied to the West, led by local leaders of the madrassas. They were means by which a madrassa leader, a teacher, could mobilize his students around a matter of religious interest. And local authorities were used to managing them, controlling them so that they did minimal damage. I don't know all that goes into the recent demonstrations about cartoons or papal remarks in the Middle Eastern countries but I would surmise that many of those demonstrations are orchestrated by local mosque leaders or religious leaders as ways of solidifying their band of supporters, awakening their interest in wider social issues as Muslims. It is not really about "dialogue"; it is more about local influence. This is not to denigrate whatever offenses are being complained about but it is to point to the local dynamics that makes social demonstrations work. But that is also why there is little movement on the local level when Muslims abuse Muslims. Local leaders have nothing to benefit by taking their students on the street for such reasons. Friedman wonders when Muslims will enter into a dialogue on the problem of Muslim abuse of innocent Muslims. There is a context in which debates of this sort take place: that is, in convocations of eminent religious authorities. In such times and places they do debate: there was one such debate when Mullah Muhammad Omar invited all the Taliban religious authorities to convene to decide on whether to turn over Osama Bin Laden to the Americans (they advised him to invite Osama to leave on his own accord; Mullah Omar refused). I'm not sure when such a convocation took place to resolve differences between Muslims abusing Muslims. There are contexts in which authorities of the faith debate what to do about a contemporary problem but that debate is unlikely to turn into public demonstrations.

Islam and the Pope
Published: September 29, 2006 (New York Times)

What is needed now is an honest dialogue between Muslims and Muslims.

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