January 28, 2007

Islam in a Secular World Part II

Throughout my travels in South Asia, home to 44% of the world's Muslim population, I am stunned to see a very commonplace apathy to the struggles of their brethren in the West, namely Muslims in the US, Canada, the UK and the continent.

In fact, to many, the whole notion of a "Western Muslim" smacks of an oxymoron, commonly buying into "Clash of Civilizations" discourses that populate many conservative minds, both in the West and the East.

I went to a talk arranged by London University Muslim Students' Group in which some British Muslim artists were engaging a diverse student crowd. In the back-row, were many uncle types, staff and post-graduate (graduate) students I assumed, who started attacking the young artists for claiming any adherence to the notion of a Western citizenship. "You can't be a Muslim and be Western!"

There was mention of a gay Muslim group. One of the uncles roared that homosexuality was a Western import! Of course, practices of pederasty (man-boy relationships) in large segments of Late Medieval aristocracy in Mughal, Ottoman and Safavid Empires are hardly remembered.

Not to say that Mughal, Ottoman and Safavid Empires that spanned a great part of what's today the Islamic World are easily labeled as "Muslim Empires." But the fact remains that homosexuality, perhaps in a less culturally coded term, has been a part of many Muslims' realities throughout history.

Ever since Muslims started migrating in substantial numbers to the West, mostly after World War II, to European cities to rebuild war-ravaged cities, and to America in the 60s and 70s, the attention focused on them was rather minimal.

And then came a spate of controversies, including, but not limited to the Rushdie affair, the murder of the Dutch painter Van Gogh, the Bradford Riots, London's 7/7 (unlike 9/11 of course, 7/7 was largely a perpetration of Britain's homegrown Muslims), the riots over the cartoons on Danish Jyllands-Posten, and more recently, over the Pope's remarks.

A number of questions are worth asking:

Despite a commonly-held idea among many Eastern Muslims that Western Muslims are "less Muslim," what is this recent phenomena one notices of extremism amoung various British Muslim youth?

Is this explained by the popularity of certain extremist Islamist groups in Britain, ala Hizb-Al-Tahrir, Ahl-i Hadith, etc? How much does racism have to do with this (see earlier post, "A Soapbox for All")?

How widespread is this problem of extremism among British Muslims? Are they just monopolizing the media or the larger realm of ideas in British Muslim minds?

And what's with this attention on British Muslims? There are comparable Muslim populations in Germany and France, where reports of racism are equally manifest. Why are certain sections of the British Muslim community seemingly more radicalized than their continental counterparts?

And finally, what's the deal with American (and Canadian) Muslims? Why do American Muslims appear to be a more tolerant bunch?

The fact that median immigrant American Muslim salaries rove around 70 grand and 48% of them are likely to have an M.A. or higher, self-explanatory?

Or is there something about the religious history of America and its tolerance towards various religious groups (while most of Europe suffered blood-baths to undermine churches) one needs to understand when comparing American and British Muslims?

Stay tuned to Addafication as we try answering some of these questions.

No comments: