Can you believe it? A Chinese–made shoe is holding hostage a population of over 1.4 million in Srinagar. It began in Central Kashmir’s Magam area. On 28 November, someone saw a white sports shoe with the name of the last Caliph (Hazrat Ali) printed on it. A close examination of the shoe, however, threw up a hint of mischief: on the right-side of the toe, the name ‘Ali’ was hand-written with a black marker and didn’t look like a company mark. Soon, men, children and women gathered on the streets. Protests ensued. The shoe was held high in the procession while the demonstrators called for an end to “hurting” Muslim “sensibilities.”
Even before the crowd from this protest had returned home, a new mob gathered around 30 kilometers away at Srinagar’s Zadibal-Nowhatta neighbourhood where Shia and Sunni communities live together but their union is often marred by frictions from time to time. For years, youngsters of this area have been stone-pelting the armed forces for atrocities and the clampdown on Azadi-demanding protests, but today they were stone pelting each other’s houses, breaking windowpanes and disfiguring fence walls. Some people say pro-India PDP’s Shia leader had spoken against the first three Caliphs of Islam during his Moharram speech (a few days before the shoe-incident) that angered the majority Sunni population. Others say the Shia youth wanted to enforce a strike in the Sunni area of Nowhatta which was resisted by the shopkeepers triggering stone pelting between the other communities. The result: the police and the paramilitary CRPF are enforcing a curfew for several days now; seizing some youth in nocturnal raids, and even the parents of those running away to escape the Khakis. Ghulam Qadir Sheikh, the father of a youth who was detained in one such raid, says he was dealt with like a hardcore criminal in the police station. Adding to the absurd chaos, Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner Asghar Samoon, as quoted in the local media, explained that he had recommended in the past too that parents of minors (allegedly involved in stone pelting) must be punished. Meanwhile representatives of around 30 religious bodies (both Sunni and Shi’ites) are now trying to calm the angry communities.
A friend jokingly says if this is what a single Chinese shoe can do, imagine the magnitude of global unrest if the whole of China were unleashed on the world.
Ruptures between Shi’ites and Sunnis aren’t new. They had developed immediately after the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 AD. There was no agreement on his immediate successor. Sunnis recognise the first four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar Farooq, Usman Ghani and lastly, Ali Murtaza) as his rightful successors; the Shi’ites believes the prophet nominated his son-in-law, Ali. Since then, sentiments over the matter continued to boil right through to the modern times, sometime pushing countries to the verge of civil war. But in the case of Kashmir, Shi’ites and Sunnis rarely have such turbulent history. There is a greater realisation among many regarding who will actually benefit from such a sectarian fight which I’ve already mentioned in my previous blog post.
Such protests, however, also throw up questions (so far avoided and unanswered too). Was this shoe-protest a justifiable rage? How will a violent protest in Srinagar force the shoe-manufacturer (in case it’s established that a mischief was played at the manufacturing level) in China to stop such production. Or how will it force some individual or a group not to play this malafide act again? They must be already giggling somewhere after having successfully triggered clashes in Srinagar over a shoe.
This incident also reminds me of the June 2010 anti-West and anti-India protest in Kashmir. Young men in hundreds in the same neighbourhood carried a blue underwear on a wooden stick, after spotting on it, a sketch of a building which looked like the Al-Aqsa Mosque of Palestine. Without any thorough examination, the underwear enraged them. Soon they blamed the West for “hurting Muslim sensibilities” and clashed with the police and the CRPF. The under wear protest soon faded after it was established that it never carried images of any Islamic worship place. The blue underwear flouted as a placard had in fact sketches of buildings that resembled London’s Big Ben and Saint Paul’s Cathedral and several other places.
This year, during the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ protests, I was in Kashmir. The entire valley was angry. I was on my way to Poonch (researching for a story about a strange disabling disease that has become a scourge in the border district) when my car was stopped by some protesting youth in Shopian district. It took me, my cameraman friend, Abhijit Dutta and the driver, Tanveer Ahmad almost half-an-hour to convince them that the media should be allowed to cover such protests and there were similar other protests in other areas too which our team was supposed to cover. Abhijit took some pictures of sloganeering youth before Tanveer accelerated the car. In such situations, lying to the police, the CRPF or protesters is often best to save one’s skin.
On the just-reopened Mughal Road, we were soon negotiating curves in the mighty Pir Panjal Mountains that separate Kashmir valley from Poonch and Rajouri districts. I asked Tanveer how one should react to the anti-Islam film, the condemnation call by pro-India mainstream parties and strike call by pro-Azadi groups.
“If I won’t earn Rs 100 or 200 today, how will it hurt the United States, the film maker or Obama. Or, how will it decrease my love towards Prophet Muhammad and Islam both,” he replied. “Not people, the response should come from the 52 Islamic states. Let the core states like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Turkey and others expel US’ Ambassadors as a mark of protest or let the Gulf countries stop exporting oil. The West will come down to its knees. But it needs gurda (guts) which they don’t have.”
Tanveer was right. First Muslims must abandon protesting on vague things like the shoe or underwear. On films like Nakoula Basseley’s anti-Islam film or other issues, there is a greater need to channelise this rage in a manner that registers the full magnitude of hurt felt by Muslims by such actions. Also the present forms of random, uncoordinated and thoughtless protests, like the one we saw in Kashmir, further negates the Muslim cause, divides the community and in fact weakens the merit of a genuine protest.
Tanveer-a pro-Azadi Kashmiri, however, said that he supports strikes often called by separatists on HR violations “ because it shows that with people’s help they (Separatists) can run a parallel government and literally dent the state government’s affairs.”
For some time, like diplomats, Dutta, Tanveer and I pondered in the moving car over what could be the genuine response of Islamic block if Muslim sensibilities are hurt instead of burning down public property and stone pelting moving cars. What we thought could be these:
1. Diplomatic- Expel and call back Ambassador from the country which the Islamic countries feel has hurt the sentiments of Muslims
2. Economic – Stop oil exports for a month until that country takes strong action
3. Military – Organise a military alliance like NATO and issue a joint press statement by the commander in chiefs of this alliance condemning the event
4. Criminal – Put the specific person responsible on an international Islamic watch list so that if and when he travels through or into any Islamic country he can be nabbed/deported
and finally the most important,
5. Intellectual Response – A creative, intellectual response as well that contextualises the above response in terms of a meta-narrative (without coming off as conspiracy theorists).
Tanveer, who at the end repeated his previous one-liner, however, undermined all the joint efforts. “It needs gurda (guts) which they (the Islamic nations) don’t have.”
Apart from gurda (guts), sometimes there has been an element of hypocrisy and ignorance among Muslims as well. Imagine a scenario where an American F-16 blasts a Muslim holy site in Pakistan or an Israeli bulldozer razes an age-old shrine in occupied Palestine. What would be the Muslim response? I am sure it will be similar to the previous responses. Protesters across the Muslim world will occupy streets, some will try to march towards US or Israeli embassies and police will fire at them to quell the protests. There will be killings and loss of property. Strikes and clampdowns. And that’s it. But has anyone ever thought about why Muslims are often enraged when the “West” is seen as mocking them, but equally indifferent when Muslim Countries blast shrines, raze historic sites and bring down holy places that are connected with Muslims’ identity.
By no means should this piece be seen as advocating stupid violence like the one we saw in Kashmir, but have Muslims ever launched a genuine indignation against the razing of house where prophet Muhammad was born on which a library stands now. Where was the Muslim rage when the house of Khadija (Muhammad’s first wife) where Muhammad received some of the first revelations of the Quran) was replaced with a public toilet block and Dar-al-Arqam, the first Islamic school, where Muhammad taught was levelled for construction? Did it not deserve a response when Jannat-ul-Baqi, a large cemetery where tombs of several of the prophet’s wives, daughters, sons and as many as six grandsons and Shiite saints were once located were bulldozed and levelled? In both Mecca and Medina (the birth place of Islam), Saudi Arabia has, according to many reports, already bulldozed over 90% of the Islamic monuments (during the past 20 years) dating back to around 1400 years. In their place, five star hotels, parking lots and shopping malls are coming up. Saudi authorities often use the excuse that the expansion is necessary to accommodate the increasing number of Muslim pilgrims. But why can’t the hotels and malls be constructed outside the historic interior of Mecca thus preserving both Islamic identity and the monuments? At a place where Paris Hilton can open a luxury bag shop, (in Mecca Mall) why can’t the old shrines and monuments co-exist?
Now apprehensions are also growing over the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi that will see the demolition of three of the world’s oldest mosques that hold the tombs of Prophet Mohammad, and his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. At a cost of US $6 billion, the construction will raze holy sites as old as the seventh century.
So instead of stupid protests over a vague China-made shoe or someone’s underwear, the rage should be directed at something real. Many Muslims usually label people of other faith as ‘infidel blasphemers’ when a verse of the Quran appears on a skating board or a page from the Quran is burnt, but when the sacred and holy sites are razed in the Islamic states, the word ‘blasphemy’ disappears and the silence becomes remarkable.
Author, an award winning Kashmiri journalist, is a Senior Correspondent at Weekly Tehelka in New Delhi. Source: http://blog.tehelka.com/the-muslim-rage-and-hypocrisy/