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Shahnaz Taplin-Chinoy Headshot

Beyond the Brutal Weather: A Muslim Spring?

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9/11 killed 3,497 people, unalterably impacting their families. It created a paradigm shift in the world. It put terrorism on the world map -- whether one lives in Karachi, Mumbai, London or New York.

Since 9/11, Afghanistan and Pakistan have become dominated by war, with precarious futures at best. Ahmed Rashid, a well-respected Pakistani author of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" among others, describes Bin Laden's death as "a watershed moment" but not necessarily the death knell of al-Qaeda which continues to propagate intolerance against Christians, Jews and even Muslims -- Sufis and Ahmadis -- in Pakistan.

Terrorism, Al Qaeda, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the challenges with Pakistan have fueled the fervor of anti-Muslim right wing zealots in the US. They unabashedly spew vitriolic Islamophobic rhetoric -- dangerously widening the socio-political chasm in America. Against this back drop of darkness, the Muslim Spring provides a ray of hope in the Middle East as do Muslim youth who revolted against the long standing dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya while continuing the good fight in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

As the Internet unleashed a surge of idealism in the large youth cohorts of the Middle East, a new hope emerged in the Muslim world: a civil war for the future of the faith is underway; data shows that Jihadi recruitment is waning; the blame game is no longer being played by Hindus and Muslims in India after the continued bomb blasts but rests squarely with the suicide bombers; and a survey shows that American Muslims are loyal to America beyond doubt.

Civil War in Islam: Muslim Progressives vs. Traditionalists
I am often asked by my friends in the US: "Where are the moderate, mainstreams Muslims in the world and why don't they stand up and fight terrorism from within the faith?" It is a valid question and here's my response: First, Islam is a decentralized religion. There is no Pope, as in Catholicism, who can pronounce mandates for all Muslims. Second, we may not see it, but here is a civil war of ideas and interpretations going on in the Muslim world today. Progressives and traditionalists are in quest for the soul of Islam. Scholars and imams, feminists and modernists are engaged in the debate, interpreting the scriptures. They seek the true meaning of the Quran and other religious texts like the hadith (customs and traditions) and sunna (sayings based on the life of the Prophet PBUH). The first women centric translation of the Quran by Laleh Bakhtiar adds a new flavor to the dialogue.

Jihadi Recruitment is Waning
Charles Kurzman in his article Why Is It So Hard to Find a Suicide Bomber These Days,writes: Islamist terrorists ... recruited 1 in 15,000 Muslims over the last quarter century and fewer than 1 in 100,000 Muslims since 9/11. So, what these statistics indicate is that ordinary Muslims are voting for moderation with their hearts, minds and bodies as the religion prescribes, even if they are invisible to the media. The decline in Jihadi recruitment is particularly impressive. Though Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghanis are acutely aware of how their brothers and sisters are the target of drone attacks, facing death and dislocation -- they are not signing up to be global jihadis.,2

Mumbai's Hindus and Muslims "get it"
A couple of weeks ago, I was in India on the heels of Hillary Clinton's visit, when Bombay was, yet again, subjected to bomb blasts. I expected the blast would fray Hindu-Muslim relations but when I tentatively raised the issue with Arif Sheikh, a 35-year-old Muslim driver fasting in Ramadan, he explained simply: "You can't be a Muslim if you are not a good person." He said in the recent blasts, Hindus and Muslims did not incriminate each other. Rather, they blamed only the suicide bombers. Taj Mohammad, my friend's driver with eight children, who sent his children to a Wahabi supported mosque school, echoed Arif: "This is not Islam. The terrorists are wrong. And in our basti (slum) Hindus and Muslims did not blame each other. We have all figured out who the real culprits are."

Is Today's World More Violent or Less Violent?
Among many of my friends in America, there is a pervasive sense that the world is considerably more dangerous than it used to be -- and this is blamed primarily on Muslims. Joshua Goldstein in his article, "Think Again: War-World peace could be closer than you think" debunks these assumptions of greater danger. "There's more information about wars-not more wars themselves." Deaths due to wars are declining. In fact, since 9/11,"there have been 55,000 war deaths per year, just over half of the 100,000 annually in the 90's and a third of what they were in the cold war"

In the US, Disconcerting Islamophobia
Right-wing Islamophobia being disseminated by hate-mongers like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer from Jihad Watch, fueled the Ground Zero community center/mosque fires in New York last summer, generated the Tea Party's anti-Muslim rhetoric, and politicized last fall's elections. The latest target is the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who is being attacked along with anti-tax leader, Grover Norquist for being in bed with the Muslims (Norquist's wife is a Muslim) and supporting an educational curriculum on Islam directed at training teachers and students in Texas schools. Sadly, the Islamophobic gurus reinforced Anders Brevik, the Norwegian terrorist who attacked a summer camp, killing young leaders this summer in Norway.

In the US, I am almost giddily optimistic about the values and perspectives that American Muslims embody. A Gallup poll shows that 93% of American Muslims believe that their cohort is loyal to America. Interestingly, American Jews more than any other group reject unwarranted Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims in America and are least likely to believe that American Muslims might be Al Qaeda sympathizers.

Since 9/11, Muslims have evolved in the US
On a more personal note, Samina Ali, a dear friend in San Francisco and prize winning author of "Madras on Rainy Days" observes that "the backlash against Muslims, the taunting of children in school yards and hate crimes against South Asians and Arabs are at an all time high." But she takes succor from the Dalai Lama's comments that the Chinese Occupation of Tibet was a blessing. It bestowed international attention on Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism well beyond the borders of Tibet. Similarly, Samina observes how: "Muslims in America since 9/11 have grown more tolerant and accepting of other Muslims, become more unified as a community and have found our voice." May we all see the silver linings that Samina sees even in the adversity that sometimes surrounds us.

Finally and importantly, let us remember the innocent who lost their lives on 9/11, and in the struggles around the world which followed that date, and the sorrows of all their families.

The opinions mentioned in this blog reflect the personal perspective of Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy who works on educating and economically empowering Muslim women globally and locally.