View from abroad : An email from Bill - Irfan Hussain
IN the wake of Donald Trump’s latest broadside against Muslims, Bill Selman, an American reader who has become a friend over years of correspondence, sent me an email raising several questions. As he is a keen and well-informed observer of the Muslim world, I take his views seriously. Here are some excerpts:
“Can I buy a home [in Saudi Arabia] and bring my family? Will my wife and daughters be entitled to drive to the grocery to buy food? … Why should my family have to abide by Saudi Arabia’s strict Muslim rules? Why don’t they respect me and my family, and allow us to live as we please?”
Sorry, Bill, but women aren’t allowed to drive in the kingdom. And you and your family would certainly have to abide by Saudi Arabia’s rigid laws. For example, there are no churches there for you to pray in; even possessing a copy of the Bible is against the law. Muslims, on the other hand, can pray at hundreds of mosques across the West, mostly paid for by Saudi cash, and spreading their literalist version of Islam known as Wahabism.
Bill goes on: “Does Pakistan accord non-Muslims all the fundamental rights that it gives Muslims? Would I be allowed to cook up my favourite breakfast sandwich of bacon, eggs and cheese? … Could I serve my favourite beer?”
You could have our excellent Murree beer, Bill, but strictly no bacon, ham or pork. And while non-Muslims enjoy equal rights in theory, it’s a different story in real life.
Next, Bill comes to his central point: “Why do Muslims expect westerners to provide them every courtesy and right while, in their own countries, they do not give those same rights and respect to westerners? Because they look down on us?”
These questions go to the heart of the problem. While Muslims in the West think they have every right to pray at mosques, spread their faith, buy and eat halal food, cover their faces and bodies in burqas, and follow what they consider Islamic injunctions, they are generally unwilling to accord non-Muslims in their midst these same rights.
Thus, a foreign woman exposing a few inches above the ankle in Saudi Arabia can be whipped by the shurtas, or the religious police. Possession of alcohol can be — and has been — punished by flogging. A whole list of activities common in the West is punishable by death. And yet Saudis travelling to Europe lose fortunes in casinos, get violently drunk and consort with prostitutes. It is this kind of hypocrisy that makes them so reviled in much of the world.
While most other Muslim countries are not as preoccupied with exposed female skin as Saudi Arabia, western women are expected to dress modestly in public. And almost universally, no open Christian evangelical activity is permitted to convert Muslims. And yet, activists from the Tableeghi Jamaat fly off to countries around the world to convert others to Islam. But henceforth, they might find it harder to get visas.
Recently, a German court decided not to try members of a ‘Shariah Patrol’ in the town of Wuppertal. These Salafist zealots were aggressively trying to prevent couples from holding hands, and advising people not to go to casinos or bars. Signs proclaiming ‘Shariah-controlled zone’ were displayed. The court’s ruling is being challenged by the prosecution.
Imagine the reaction in Pakistan if foreign immigrants tried to impose their values on us. And yet, if Muslim migrants behave in obnoxious ways, claiming their actions are sanctioned by their faith, and are punished or criticised, a howl of ‘Islamophobia’ goes up. While non-Muslims and their faiths are described in the most objectionable way in many of our textbooks, perceived criticism of the way of life of Muslim migrants in the West is seen as racist.
In reality, most westerners bend over backwards to avoid giving any offence to the millions of Muslim migrants who have made homes for themselves in the West. Many of them have migrated to avail themselves and their children of the free educational and medical facilities there, as well as the many social benefits available to them and their families. All too often, this generous social security system is abused by migrants.
Many friends abroad have asked me why, if Muslim migrants insist on bringing their faith, culture and way of life with them, didn’t they just stay at home where it would be easier to live by the tenets of their religion? And this issue is especially relevant when so many Muslim migrants are openly contemptuous of Western values and lifestyles.
These questions demand answers in the wake of growing anti-Western sentiments among Muslims around the world, combined with terrorist attacks and increased violence in the Middle East. Muslims born and brought up in the West who have resorted to terrorist attacks recently raise suspicions about the entire Muslim community that has put down roots in Europe and America. ‘The enemy
within’ has become a common refrain, and the Islamophobic views of aspiring Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump have become mainstream.
These rising anti-Muslim views are gaining ground with each terrorist attack. Survey after survey has tracked the deep unpopularity of both Muslims and Islam. Even liberals in the US and France have voiced suspicions and fear of Muslims living in their midst. And inevitably, this further isolates and marginalises Muslims, radicalising many.
The mantra of ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ is no longer believed by most people in the West. When they witness the mayhem in large swathes of the Muslim world, and fall victims to acts of jihadist terror within their own countries, who can blame them?
So while Trump will probably not be elected as president next year, his angry words will fall on increasingly receptive ears.