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Uproar over Gaza, silence over ISIS: Why is the Muslim ‘brotherhood’ not uniform across conflicts?

Most Muslims believe that Israelis have forcefully taken away Palestinians’ land with the aid of the Americans.

Written by Irena Akbar | New Delhi | Updated: August 18, 2014 9:10 am
israel-L Palestinian boys with Hamas supporters hold toy guns and shout slogans to support people in Gaza and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo. (Source: AP)

Last month, my Facebook news feed was flooded with images of broken houses, wailing mothers and dead children of Gaza. Friends were sharing news reports of how Israelis were celebrating this bloodbath. Many of them even replaced their profile or cover picture with banners “Save Gaza”/ “Save Palestine”.

I, too, was affected by the disturbing reports of Israel’s massive crackdown on Gaza civilians, and for some days, even I uploaded a “Save Gaza” banner as my Facebook cover picture.

With the Israel-Gaza conflict now waning, fewer pictures of devastated Gazan families now show up on my news feed. But as one gory episode in the Middle East fades into the background, another emerges. That of the Iraq and Syria-based Sunni militant group ISIS’s massacre of minority Yazidis, Shias and Christians in Iraq.

But the same friends who were crying “death of humanity” over Israel’s ruthlessness are deafeningly silent over the ISIS’s barbarism. A disclaimer here: Much before the ISIS showed its ugliest face so far in its mistreatment of Iraq’s minorities, I had stated on my Facebook wall that as a Sunni Muslim, I abhor the group and all that they declare or do. That was when the group had declared a so-called Islamic caliphate. In the wake of the Yazidi massacre, I again made clear my hatred for ISIS on Facebook.

Of course, I am no holier than thou. There are other Sunni Muslims who have condemned the ISIS. But sadly, the vast majority of them are mum. There are no street protests condemning the ISIS, nor sharing of pictures in solidarity with the victims of ISIS’s terror on my Facebook news feed.

Considering that the ISIS’s attacks on Yazidis and Christians comes immediately after Israel’s attacks on Gazans, this contrast in Sunni Muslims’ reactions appears even starker. Just because one of your own does an evil act, it’s not that bad, huh? If someone else does it, it’s really bad? And if that someone is a Jew supported by an American, it’s worse? These are some questions that Sunni Muslims, or Muslims in general, need to ask themselves.

But first, let’s get some historical background to this. The Israel-Palestine conflict is rooted in history and religion, and most Muslims believe that Israelis have wrongfully and forcefully taken away Palestinians’ land with the support and aid of the Americans. Palestine-Israel even hosts Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. The anti-Americanism among Muslims dates to the beginnings of American support for Israel, in the 1940s. So, when trouble erupts in Gaza, the Muslim world erupts in uproar.

The case of Iraq is different. America invaded Iraq in 2003, and left the country in a mess in 2011. The ISIS is a product of that mess, most Muslims think so.

I do believe in the above arguments for Israel/Palestine and Iraq. Indeed, Muslims, whether in Palestine or Iraq, have suffered the most in these conflicts. And their animosity towards Israel and the US makes sense to a certain extent. But it makes no sense, whatever the root of the conflicts in Gaza or Iraq, that one should not condemn the evil acts of one’s own. At this point, I am reminded of another evil act, that of the kidnapping of school girls by a certain Boko Haram in Nigeria. Where were the cries for humanity then among Muslims?

Muslims believe in the concept of ummah, brotherhood and fraternity. If a Muslim in Syria is hurt, a Muslim in Indonesia is bothered. But the concept of brotherhood should work the other way too. If your brother does wrong unto someone else, should you not stand up against him?

There is another worrying pattern. It seems Arab Muslims are viewed by other Muslims as some kind of a special race. True, Islam originated in Arabia but the religion is egalitarian. Muslims are being massacred in Central African Republic but no one is bothered. Is it because the victims are black, and not worthy of such attention? Muslims are being discriminated against in Myanmar. Why is the anguish felt for them so diluted, as compared to the pain felt for Gaza? But of course, nothing could be more evil than Israel and the US for the Muslim, right? And I am yet to see any Arab Muslim display the same pain for a non-Arab one, when the latter is discriminated against, like the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.

A lot of commentators are asking this question: Why are Muslims not protesting against the ISIS? It’s a fair question, no doubt, as the arguments above show. But it’s slightly unfair too. Muslims are always expected to prove that they are anti-terrorism, anti-violence. Why are not Christians expected to rise against the Christian militia in Central African Republic who are massacring the Muslims? Or how about the Buddhists speaking against their government for its mistreatment of Muslims? Why no such expectation from them?

Muslims must stand up against the ISIS. The group must be condemned. However, I do wish, equally, such standing-up was expected from other religious communities when their own do wrong.

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