Speaking out

Open Letter to Osama bin Laden

In the eyes of the fanatics there is much to diminish the credibility of the author: He is almost a Westerner (in 1995 he could be seen at a Democratic fundraising dinner with Al Gore; Majeed also was a Saudi oil adviser and is chief Executive of Alyph Ltd., a financial consulting firm in London where he lives). And yet: Here he speaks out loud as a Pakistani Muslim who is unhappy with the present state of the Arab world, as unhappy as everyone in his or her right mond should be. And he speaks for the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world.

By Izzat Majeed

Look at what you have done, Osama bin Laden. The carnage in New York, in the full glory of a sunny day and the glare of ever-hungry television, has unleashed forces that are as ambivalent and as conspiratorial as any sea change in the river of history.

Ambivalent because, like you, all that these forces of imperial power understand is that clear and present danger, however concocted, can only be met with the exercise of naked military might. But at the same time, sheer force needs to be tempered with political accommodation on a varied and shifting political and ethnic battlefield.

Conspiratorial, because what you have invited to the region, under the shadow of your terrorism and by now half-forgotten mumbo jumbo of post-war anti-colonialism in the guise of so-called jihad, is today's one and only imperial superpower. Thanks to you, the United States has finally got access to the only region it was unable to penetrate in any meaningful strategic sense since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The new century will be occupied with a growing struggle for power between the US and China (and possibly India). Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and northern India are all now open to the US as hunting grounds under the pretext of fighting the Osama bin Laden of today and tomorrow.

History has no morality, and certainly no sense of justice. Imperialism can conceive of a world cast only in its own image. Capital knows no religion and has no country. To fight the United States, therefore, you may rant and rave about all the tyrannies and genocide supported (or conveniently overlooked) by the Caesars of today. But unless you have a more powerful worldview —— militarily, politically, economically, culturally —— you will remain a revolutionary who became notorious for a while in the poppy fields and pre-historic caves of Afghanistan.

The vast majority of the Muslims of the world do not care about your proclamations and your antiquated notion of Islam. You helped create the Taliban (some say you actually rule over them). If the sheer barbarism of the Taliban regime is your version of an Islamic society, then you must be a true dreamer to think that any Muslim with half a brain will listen to you. The long lost tribal simplicity and austerity that once characterised the practice of Islam interest no one today. The self-inflicted death of intellect in Islam a thousand years ago is the main cause of the retrogressive and unenlightened mullah culture in Muslim societies today.
Your self-selected messiahism is too opportunistic and shallow to become a political movement of a revolutionary sentiment among the dispossessed Muslims of the world. If you are offended at the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, let me tell you something: the great majority of us Muslims do not give a damn. Oil is what matters to the West and the East and Pax-Americana would be just as happy with the oil fields belonging to this or that political entity along the eastern board of the Arabian peninsula where all the oil rests. So now, much too late, if you want us to believe that apart from your petty vendetta against the Saudis, you are also the leader of the Palestinians, it's just too late my friend —— the people of Palestine have been betrayed far too long by their Arab brothers.

Their intifada is now solidly rooted in their ability to fight for their rights and you are the last person they need or would want to hijack their struggle from afar by remote control. The majority of the Afghans want you and your 'foreigners' to leave them alone. By helping create and then lording over the Taliban you have lost any chance of winning the hearts and minds of the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. I am sure every single Afghan woman would love to put you in a burqa and flag you for your medieval and tyrannical version of Islam.

Unlike Saddam Hussain, who was spared when the Americans walked away just 60 miles from Baghdad, you have outlived your purpose. All the pundits in the West cry hoarse about how America abandoned Afghanistan once the Soviet army was defeated. How shortsighted, how very callous, how very self-defeating! But then, that was their entire purpose. Trade one cold war for another, nastier, hotter one. Create the new ogre, this barbaric Muslim fundamentalist. (Who invented this meaningless word?). Let someone like an Osama bin Laden build up a stock of hatred, warlordism, mercenary recruitment and a global network of terror. And then let him loose on the Muslim world. He gathers the delusion of strength and stumbles over the invention of ideology based on a religious populism in an ocean of illiteracy and object poverty. And he goes wild. He turns on the master. He falls right into the oldest trap in history.
Terrorism without an historical juncture supporting a movement for change is just that——terrorism. It can have a few dramatic bangs here and there, it can even shake the world for a moment or two, but it is easily killed. What is left behind is another wave of terrorism, nourished and even protected by this or that imperial power. And that too, in time, is killed.

You will leave a legacy of terror which for a moment lit up the hearts of the poor, uneducated and downtrodden Muslims of the world and then vanished in the caves of darkness and despair. You should have stuck to your original petty war against the Saudis and, perhaps, you would have brought some change for the better there. Instead, you brought wretchedness to proud but hungry and abused Afghans, with your empty slogans and your money and showed them a new hell where bombs and chocolates fall from the skies.

We Muslims cannot keep blaming the West for all our ills. We have to first get our own house in order before we can even make any credible struggle possible to rid us of ignorance, living-in-the-past chest thumbing and intolerance of the modern world. Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on returning from a battle, said: "We return from little jihad (jihad al-asghar) to greater jihad (jihad al-akbar)." True jihad today is not in the hijacking of planes but in the manufacturing of them.

The embarrassment of wretchedness among us is beyond repair. It is not just the poverty, the illiteracy and the absence of any commonly accepted social contract that defines our sense of wretchedness; it is, rather, the increasing awareness among us that we have failed as a civil society by not confronting the historical, social and political demons within us.

The social and political acquiescence to this condition by the vast majority of our people has given rise to cultural paralysis and a totally bogus interpretation of Islam based on self-serving political agendas. Without a reformation in the practice of Islam that makes it move forward and not backward, there is no hope for us Muslims anywhere. We have reduced Islam to the organised hypocrisy of state-sponsored mullahism. For more than a thousand years Islam has stood still because the mullahs, who became de facto clergy instead of genuine scholars, closed the door on ijtehad and no one came forward with a dynamic and evolving application of the message of the Holy Quran. All that the mullahs tell you today is how to go back a millennium and more. We have not been able to evolve a dynamic practice to bring Islam to the people in the language of their own specific era. Little wonder, therefore, that the bulk of our mullahs are illiterate in any modern or ancient sense of the word. They are simply illiterate. Period. Oxford and Cambridge were the 'madrasas' of Christendom in the 13th century. Look where they are today - among the leading institutions of education in the world. Where are our institutions of learning?

The basis of ignorant mullahism issues from a fundamental debasement of the human being. Ours is an ongoing inquisition that thrives on ignorance and poverty. The pathetic ruling elites of the Muslim world remain trapped in their own abandonment of any knowledge about Islam. You cannot lead all of us to a barbaric social order and call it Islam. Most Muslims live in the dark ages already. The last thing they need is the growing darkness in your caves and the stale intellect that is anti-human and anti-progress.

Go and read the Holy Quran again and again until you see what great dynamism and modernism the Almighty has given us through His Word.

In verse 143 in Sura Al-Bacarah (the Cow), the Almighty says: "And thus have we willed you to be a community of the middle way." It is this God-ordained 'middle way' that we Muslims have lost. And we must find it in harmony with today's and tomorrow's hope for moderation and a better quality of life for us all.

By courtesy of "The Nation", Karachi

23. Dezember 2001

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