Muslim Leaders Accountable
By Mirza A. Beg
Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at
It is sad and unfortunate part of the human
nature, that when oppressed by others, we appeal to humanity and justice, and
fight against the oppression, as we should. Once we get the upper hand we turn
around and inflict similar atrocities on others. All ethnic groups, religions
and societies have been guilty of this evil.
In these ever-repeating tragedies, the innocents are the victims. Yet by their
quiescence, when it happens to others, they are guilty of being enablers. Often
the lament is what could an individual do? It is usually true, but not always.
As the history is witness, not many but a few times, an average individual has
made a difference.
It is important to speak out against all atrocities, even when one cannot make a
difference materially. It is more difficult, therefore more important to speak
out against atrocities committed by one's own kind.
O you who have attained to faith! Be ever
steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God,
even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk... (Quran
There are a number of examples where the oppressed have turned around and
become the oppressors them selves. In 2004 the Asian Center for Human Rights
reported the land grab and killing of indigenous "Jumma" people in south-eastern
Bangladesh (Chitagong Hills). The attacks are aimed at terrorizing indigenous
people for their lands. In April 2003, the army and illegal settlers burnt down
Jumma houses in Bhuiochari village after indigenous peoples asked the settlers
to stop encroaching onto their lands, and to dismantle the houses they had
built. The army encircled the village and forced the indigenous people out of
their homes while the settlers looted and burnt down the houses.
Recall that Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971 because of the
inequities and the maltreatment from the more dominant West Pakistan government.
Similar atrocities are committed by the Janjaveed (Nomadic Sudanese, claming
Arab decent) on the darker settled Muslims of Darfur region.
Muslims vocally, monetarily and emotionally decry and condemn, as they should,
the atrocities and land grab against Muslims in Palestine, Bosnia, Kosovo,
Chechnya, Ughur, Kashmir, Gujarat and many other places. Such land grab, ethnic
cleansing and genocide are occasionally even gingerly condemned by the
supposedly Islamic governments, though not too vocally lest their own record may
be examined more closely.
Yet, when Muslims oppress people of other religions or even other Muslims in the
same manner the criticism at most is muted. For example the persecution of
Muslims and non-Muslims by the Talibans in Afghanistan, Kurds by Arab regimes,
Jumma people in Bangladesh, Qadianis in Pakistan or tribal cleansing in Darfur
region of Sudan and Acheh in Indonesia.
To their credit, many Muslim journalists have taken pains to write about it with
passion. Bangladesh Observer wrote a very strong editorial, but the governments,
social and political organizations and individuals remain generally silent or
perfunctorily shake their heads.
Often governments justify their actions or inaction by pointing to the follies
and deviance of the people being oppressed. These are more self-serving then
Even when true, the duty of the government is to treat all its citizens with
equality and justice. The miscreants should be brought to the court of law.
Governments that suppress civil descent and practice oppression in effect invite
Unfortunately it is true that some in the western media with an anti-Islamic
agenda would take the Muslim condemnation of other Muslims for their own
purposes. This should not deter us, because bias against Islam has been going on
for a long time and we have no control on what others do. We need to make sure
we do what justice demands. Our timidity and non-condemnation only helps the
evil forces within our communities. Paucity of reform and negation of such
heinous forces from inside the community bring condemnation and pressure from
outside. It only helps to advance the agenda of those outside forces that are
malicious towards Islam for their own vile reasons.
It is always better if the opposition springs from within the community. It is
more effective and conducive to thoughtful change.
The idea that "true understanding and adherence of religion would ameliorate
these problems," have been bandied about in all religions since time immemorial.
It has only produced more discord and arguments about the true meaning of the
In public discourse we never tire of pointing out that Islam stands for peace,
mercy and compassion' and it does! Oppression breeds extremism. When extreme
becomes common, the normative base of the society is severely injured. Such
perversity of beliefs must be opposed by the civil society, especially one that
claims a moral high ground.
When others practice cruelty and mayhem against Muslims, it hurts and we resist
and fight against it. When Muslims do it, we need to fight even harder. We
should condemn it, resist it and fight against it with even greater resolve.
The question that is staring us in the face and tugging at our conscience is -
Do we practice Islam as a religion of morality without exception as it ought to
be, or simply as an extension of local tribalism into a super tribe?
Should only others be condemned for inhumanity, but people in our own
super-tribe are ours therefore should be supported lest they grow even weaker or
at worst should be gingerly criticized so that others may not see what we refuse
It is a shame that the central tenet of Islamic ethos based on justice is so
cavalierly and nonchalantly violated by many Muslim governments and leaders, and
we are mute, observers at best and by our quiescence collaborators at worst.