A Newspaper Published by World Institute for Asian Studies. Vol. 7 No. 001

An Historical Moment for Islam

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin

While there are several individual fights taking place across the world today, the battle between radical Islam and western-style democracy is the basis for almost all of them. I have been on the front lines of that war for several years and am more convinced than ever that it has no diplomatic or negotiated solution; that for the defenders of freedom, there is no compromise with radical Islam; period. Moreover, history is clear in predicting that ultimately, freedom will triumph.

Many argue, however, that our fight is not really against radical Islam but against Islam itself. Even our enemies tell us that again and again; that what they do is mandated by their faith. I respond that is only the radicals’ warped opinion. Not true, people say, and they quote Quranic passages that mandate a universal Caliphate and prohibit friendship with non-Muslims. I retort with passages from other holy books that also call from some pretty gruesome behavior. But then I am shown Islam’s history of forcing its faith on others by fire and sword; of the many killed because they would not submit. True enough, I reply, but is that essentially Islamic any more than the Inquisition is essentially Christian?

There is one argument, however, for which I have no compelling answer: the consistent failure of Muslim leaders—both religious and political—to condemn Islamist terrorism unequivocally and to maintain that principled stance. That means condemning terrorism without always adding how "others" are terrorists, too; without "understanding" the terrorists’ alleged frustration; without providing a loophole to define innocent victims as potential adversaries. When Dr. Baruch Goldstein entered a mosque in Hevron, Israel and began shooting, the Jewish world including the government of Israel condemned him without trying to "explain" his actions. When extremists turned his gravesite into a place of pilgrimage, the Israeli government destroyed it.

On the other hand, what do Muslims hear at the mosque? Anti-Islamist Muslim, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury of Bangladesh says he was told, "Kill a Jew, be a good Muslim." Neither is that relegated to a small group of extremists. Muslim clerics regularly refer to Jews a "sons of apes and pigs," to Christians as "Crusaders," and to Hindus as "polytheists"; with each of those designations telling Muslims to treat those non-Muslims with contempt. Every week, these calls—and worse—are played to millions on state-run radio in Muslim countries. When Israelis released Sami Kuntar, who smashed a baby’s head with a rifle butt, Muslim clerics and political leaders hailed him as a hero. Not one dissented.

Today, however, Muslim leaders have a chance to reverse that shame and put to rest claims that Islam is the problem. The world is witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus. Once making up over one in five Bangladeshis, Hindus now are less than one in ten. They face relentless attack by Islamist radicals and violent opportunists who know they can attack Hindus with impunity. There is ample evidence of murder, mutilation, ritualized gang rape, and abduction; all carried out without any government action against the perpetrators; quite the opposite, in fact. Refugees from the carnage told me that when they went to local authorities for help, they were told bluntly to leave the country. Attacks are intensifying and now spilling over to their West Bengal refugee camps. I was in one camp on the India-Bangladesh border that neighboring Muslim villagers—included recently infiltrated Islamists—attack regularly.

Many of the refugees lost ancestral land under Bangladesh’s racist Vested Property Act (VPA), which has been in force since 1974. That law empowers the government to seize the property of non-Muslims, declare it vested, and distribute it to Muslims of their choice. Both major political parties have used this illicit booty as a key component in their notorious gravy train of corruption. Dr. Abul Barakat of Dhaka University has conducted the most authoritative study of the VPA. He documents that the party in power—whether the center-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party or the center-left Bangladesh Awami League—gets around 45 percent of the spoils and the other gets a little over 30. Yet, when I recently asked Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United States, M. Humayan Kabir, about this, he said “the current government has no intention of addressing the Vested Property Act during its tenure” as the matter was too complex.

Too complex? Would it be too complex if the United States had a law enabling it to seize the property of non-Christians and give it to Christians? Or if India has a similar law enabling it to seize non-Hindu property for Hindus? Of course, it would not be too complex. The VPA is an offense against humanity; it is bigotry plain and simple. Pakistan has used a similar law to almost eliminate its Hindu population. Do Bangladeshi Islamists look to repeat that deed?

One Hindu refugee told me that he owned a small piece of land in Bangladesh. One day, a chicken of his wandered into the yard of a Muslim neighbor who seized and ate the bird. When confronted about it, the man said that he did this "because he was a Muslim and his religion told him he could." Unfortunately, it was not an isolated incident but rather standard operation in the Bangladeshi countryside.

Efforts are currently underway in South Asia and internationally to stop the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus and to repeal the VPA. Muslim leaders can end accusations that Islam is the problem by joining them. Ethnic cleansing is wrong, whether it is committed by Myanmar against the Muslim Rohingyas, by Buddhist Bhutan against Hindu Lhotshampas—or by Muslims against Bangladeshi Hindus. Muslim leaders can right this wrong by making it clear that they condemn this anti-Hindu ethnic cleansing and that it is contrary to their faith. If Bangladesh’s official claim to be an Islamic state is more than an empty designation—and if the charges against the Religion of the Prophet are false—it must repeal the racist and cynical VPA immediately and without equivocating about its "complexities."

Finally, one of the world’s most authoritative Islamic seminaries is less than 100 kilometers from new Delhi. The Deobandi Seminary issues hundreds of fatwas a year, but thus far has been silent on this issue. It can bring honor to Islam by changing that and condemning any Muslim who participates in attacks on Hindus or who benefits from the looted property that resulted from it or from the VPA. It will be to Islam’s shame if it does not.

All of Islam now has the chance to stand on the side of justice. Will it answer the challenge?

- Asian Tribune -