Abusing the Politics of Privilege*

I wouldn’t deign to speak for those “othered”, but here is an exception.

I got this e-mail from my aunt today, and it got my riled up. The rant is titled “Peace-loving Muslims are rendered irrelevant by their silence” purportedly by a psychiatrist named Dr. Emanuel Tanay.

But it was actually written by Paul E. Marek, whose blog post was titled in a less inflammatory way than the e-mail subject above. Nevertheless, it’s worth commenting on.

A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism. ‘Very few people were true Nazis,’ he said, ‘but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.’

We are told again and again by ‘experts’ and ‘talking heads’ that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.

The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honour-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.

The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the ‘silent majority,’ is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China’s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.

And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were ‘peace loving’?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points:

Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.

Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don’t speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts–the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

I wrote back because I think Muslims and the Islam religion were implicitly attacked by certain statements in the article. And to think this has an introduction saying this is “the best explanation of Muslim terrorism” so far. Come on!

It’s not that peace-loving Muslims are “silent”, I think it is because as society’s perceived minorities, they have not been “given a voice” and thus are left in the margins.

This means very little space is given to them by mainstream– obviously Luzon-based or US-centric — media and they have very little political participation as shown in the low number of Muslims who hold positions of power in our government or in the private sector.

In the rare cases that they are represented or heard in this public space, they are also grossly misrepresented as violent or fanatic communities, as is the case of the person who wrote this e-mail.

Though it is a fact that there are Muslim groups who resort to violence or terrorism (I mean, anyone from any religion can), to say that those Muslims who are working for peace are “irrelevant because they are silent” is a slap in the face to many Muslim groups and institutions including alternative media outfits – like the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy and many many others – who have been engaging the predominantly Christian state and have been successful in forging partnerships of peace, tolerance, and understanding between the 2 major religious groups of the country.

They have been working hard to prevent discrimination or violence against the Muslim people in the Philippines.

It is as if pointing the blame on the peace-loving Muslims themselves would somehow explain their supposed “powerlessness” and as if it is the peace-loving Muslims who allow this violence to occur.

Viewpoints like those in the e-mail forget that terrorism or fanaticism (as well as warlordism, in the case of Mindanao, or god forbid, Communism!) are ideological responses to systemic social inequalities and the inability of the predominantly Christian state to respond to the people’s needs.

Like providing access to basic social services, laws that protect against discrimination in all aspects of their lives, honoring their human rights, or giving them a democratic space in the first place.

Who is really the “majority” and the “minority” here? And by that definition, is the “majority” really powerless or are they complicit to the oppression against the “minority”?

Nevertheless, the issue here is not that the peace-loving Muslims need to speak up, because they have been speaking (but they are sometimes spoken for by people– like myself, Mr. Marek, and all the hapless people who took the e-mail’s message as fact– who *cannot presume to know what they are going through).

The issue hear is that we need to HEAR THEM, and more importantly, we need to LISTEN TO THEM.

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