(This article is an immediate continuation of Part 1. Readers are therefore strongly advised to read that part first before continuing below).
Indian history and “the Sikh 9/11”
Firstly, during India’s “Great Mughal” era, the 6th Sikh Guru actually had a mosque built for the ordinary Muslims who had settled in the town he had founded in Punjab – despite the fact that his own father had been severely tortured over a period of several days upon the orders of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and ultimately died of his horrific injuries. In fact, that same mosque was very recently jointly renovated by Sikh and Muslim volunteers in India as part of a major restoration project. There are even mosques in Amritsar itself, the “holy city” of the Sikhs. It’s certainly a far cry from Newt Gingrich’s “no mosques until there are churches in Saudi Arabia” rhetoric, given that he’s effectively recommending that the United States should duplicate fundamentalist Wahhabi Saudi Arabian attitudes towards places of worship; furthermore, the notion of holding your own country’s citizens hostage to – and penalising them for – the actions of a foreign government because they happen to be affiliated with superficially the same religion (despite being from very different “denominations”) isn’t just irrational and barbaric, it’s also morally bankrupt.
The second example is more directly related to 9/11. By the mid-18th century, Mughal power was in the process of steadily diminishing, to the extent that large swathes of northwestern India had effectively fallen under the control of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the ruler of Afghanistan. Durrani had already attacked multiple major cities in northern India, and on 5th February 1762 he targetted the Sikhs who were attempting to retreat to the refuge of the desert. The slow-moving caravan of Sikhs consisted of 50,000 people, mostly non-combatants. The outnumbered Sikh soldiers surrounding them did their best to protect them from the onslaught; however, eventually the Afghans repeatedly broke through the cordon, and spent the day killing as many Sikhs as they could – men, women, children and the elderly.
At the time, the total Sikh population was much smaller than it is now; fewer than 100,000 people. The massacre described above is actually called the “Wadda Ghalughara“ by Sikhs, meaning the “Great Holocaust”, because the Afghans murdered 25-30,000 people — which means that, on a single day, up to nearly 1/3 of the entire Sikh population was wiped out, involving ten times the number of deaths as 9/11. And the atrocities didn’t stop there; after returning to the Punjabi capital of Lahore with 50 cartloads of Sikh heads and hundreds of Sikhs in chains, Durrani went to Amritsar. Using gunpowder explosives, Durrani’s soldiers blew up Sikhism’s most sacred shrine, which would later be known as the Golden Temple; furthermore, they also deliberately defiled the complex’s characteristic water pool by filling it with the carcasses of slaughtered animals.
Nevertheless, the Sikhs of that era didn’t use any of this as a justification to demonise or persecute Muslims who had absolutely nothing to do with any of these events, especially Muslims who were associated with Sufism. Not even when the Sikhs had sufficiently recovered for them to eventually end up ruling a very large area of northwestern India along with parts of Afghanistan itself under the Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh, by which time the religious complex in Amritsar had also been rebuilt. The practice of non-discriminatory, pluralistic ideals in the region was continued; Muslims were employed by Sikhs at the highest levels of both the military and the government, and they even fought alongside the Sikhs during the two extremely bloody Anglo-Sikh wars of aggression by Britain’s East India Company in the mid-19th century.
“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”
It is clear that some people, both here in Britain and in the United States, are either unable or unwilling to similarly take the moral high ground, not to mention making the effort to actually educate themselves about the scale of diversity within Islam and amongst Muslims themselves. As discussed in Part 1 of this article, it’s the equivalent of insisting that all Christians everywhere are exactly the same, to be indiscriminately subjected to the same notions of collective guilt and collective responsibility, and typified by (for example) the KKK or the kind of American Christians who are currently trying to organise a “Quran-burning day” on the anniversary of 9/11 this year…..Basically, the kind of views about Christians promoted by Al-Muhajiroun and indeed Al-Qaeda itself.
One should never pander to the most bigoted and ignorant elements of any religious group (whether Christians, Muslims, or anyone else), not only because it frequently involves catering to the lowest common denominator but also because you risk becoming the mirror image of the very people you claim to be opposed to. It’s also a stark contrast to the idealism and wisdom of the historical Americans responsible for the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg Address, all of which I personally regard as amongst the greatest moral & intellectual accomplishments of mankind.
Whilst some people’s knee-jerk hostile reaction to the notion of anything connected with Muslims being located in the vicinity of Ground Zero is understandable, it is certainly not justifiable. Otherwise it raises the question of where that line of thinking should stop: No mosques in New York at all or even anywhere else in the United States, because their presence “pains people” and reminds them of 9/11 ? How about the presence of Muslims themselves in New York or the US as a whole ? How about anyone who is deemed to “look Muslim”, or any non-Christian places of worship which allegedly remind the offended party of mosques ? To quote another great man, namely the Dalai Lama, “Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”
The dangers of playing into Al-Qaeda’s hands
Regarding the claims that Cordoba House would be a painful reminder of an atrocity conducted “in the name of Islam”, there’s another way to look at this: Taking that stance would hand another propaganda victory to Al-Qaeda and similar Islamists who are making unilateral claims to represent Islam and speak for “all Muslims”. They also want ordinary Muslims to feel alienated from the rest of the population in countries where they are minorities, including American Muslims (who are actually amongst the most liberal, integrated and assimilated Muslims in the whole of the Western world). Rather than allowing Al-Qaeda to hijack Islam as a religion and the world’s entire Muslim population, a better way forward would be to support those Muslims who are actually forcefully opposed to them. The latter includes the Sufis involved in Cordoba House, because they are on “our” side and are hated by Al-Qaeda as much as the numerous other groups they are targetting.
The key point is to differentiate between moderate Muslims and the fanatical, militant Islamist variety. The former do not necessarily have anything whatsoever to do with the latter, and there are numerous modern-day & historical examples of them actively opposing the latter (eg. here, here, here, here and here) or being persecuted by them (or both). The type of behaviour being exhibited by some of America’s “conservative Right” and their supporters both in the US and overseas also plays right into Al-Qaeda’s hands, because they want their fanatical, psychopathic version of Islam to be regarded as the default, “true” version of the religion by the rest of the world. Furthermore, bigotry towards Sufi Muslims (who are actually viscerally hated by Islamist extremists) also inadvertently risks confirming Al-Qaeda’s propaganda-driven exaggerated claims about Muslims en masse being a persecuted group worldwide.
The people who stubbornly refuse to differentiate between ordinary Muslims (particularly Sufis) and genuine Islamist extremists are effectively doing Al-Qaeda’s dirty work for them.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,History,Muslim,Sikh,United States