Fatal fatalism

April 13, 2019



WHEN Brenton Tarrant, a crazed Australian terrorist, gunned down dozens of worshippers in a Christchurch mosque, New Zealand went numb with shock and horror.

A peaceful country, it had never known such an act of terror. The rest of the world stood with the distant island in sympathy and support. But it wasn’t until its prime minister, the youthful Jacinda Ardern, stirred our collective conscience by her touching humanity that we learned how love and sympathy can heal deep wounds.

Rightly, then, the world applauded Ms Ardern for her leadership in condemning terrorism in whatever form it took. Muslims were at the forefront of this wave of approbation and admiration. This is all well and good; so why do I catch a whiff of hypocrisy?

Nor is our fate written in the stars. Our future is what we make of it.

The truth is that Muslims are killed by their fellow believers in mosques with sickening regularity. Apart from shedding a few crocodile tears and a routine denunciation of the group who carried out the latest atrocity, the ummah is silent. We see none of Ms Ardern’s warm and sympathetic engagement with the survivors and the relatives of the victims. There are no flowers or lit candles for the fallen. The best they can hope for is an editorial expressing ‘shock and horror’. And so to the next bloody incident.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, worshippers are slaughtered in mosques or ‘places of worship’. Muslim leaders and clerics barely pay attention to these barbaric attacks, treating them as expressions of excessive religious zeal.

Is this indifference a sign of our callousness, or years of violence that have rendered us incapable of sharing in the suffering of others? When a Hazara is blown up because he’s a Shia, is his blood any different from ours? And because his Central Asian features identify his faith, does this condemn him in the eyes of the majority?

When a school was attacked in Peshawar is 2014, and around 140 children massacred by Islamist militants, many of the great and the good visited to show sympathy and support. But how many of them turn up to console the bereaved and the maimed following similar attacks on churches and temples? Or imambargahs? Where is the Muslim Ardern?

As the Israelis and their American backers (take a bow, Donald Trump) proceed to annex more parts of occupied Palestine, few in the Muslim world demonstrate against this flagrant breach of international law. The strongest opposition to the Israeli land grab comes from European countries, not the Muslim world. An increasing number of Arab leaders are now comfortable with the oppression Palestinians suffer every day of their lives. (Let’s give MBS of Saudi Arabia a big hand here).

While we demand justice for Kashmiris, the plight of Muslims in other parts of the world is off our radar. If we protest against the genocide of the Rohingya, we do so online. Indeed, social media is our favourite platform of protest as it requires so little effort.

Or is our lack of empathy for the suffering of others due to our fatalistic attitude? If we grow up in the belief that everything is preordained, then the death of worshippers is part of their karma. Hence what’s the point in condemning the attackers who were only carrying out God’s will?

This is a worrying thought because it means that things remain static in Muslim societies. In India, too, the untouchables (or Dalits) remain locked in their lowly status because it is seen as part of their fate dictated by the Hindu belief system. This kind of fatalism also kept Christians under the heel of the Catholic church until liberation came in the form of the Reformation and later, the Enlightenment.

Progress in the West has come through a rejection of fatalism, and the rise of individualism. The prevailing sentiment is that we can control our destiny through our actions, and do not have to wait for divine intervention. Nor is our fate written in the stars: our future is what we make of it.

Across much of the developing world, we blame European colonists for our poverty. But colonial rule ended over 70 years ago. What have we done in this long period to change the laws left behind by our erstwhile rulers, and move on? At one level, we think our backwardness is part of our fate. Venal and incompetent leaders take advantage of this fatalism.

China remained weak and absent from the world stage for centuries, despite its many inventions. For instance, while it invented gunpowder, it didn’t take the next step of weaponising it to produce muskets and cannons. This was done in the West and led to world domination. The Chinese invention of the compass was used by Western navigators to explore and conquer much of the world. These were triumphs of individualism over fatalism. Until we seize control of our destiny, we will remain where we are.


Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2019