Comment: Beware of the drip, drip of religious fascism in Asia

Unfortunately instead of encouraging tolerance many governments are creating more blasphemy laws and encouraging more attacks on minorities.

November 7, 2016 12:42
A BUDDHA sculpture sits atop wreckage after an attack against a Buddhist temple in Cox’s Bazar, Bang

A BUDDHA sculpture sits atop wreckage after an attack against a Buddhist temple in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On October 30, 1910, rumors spread through the city of Shiraz in what is now Iran. Muslim extremists whipped crowds into an angry frenzy claiming that “the Jews have desecrated the Koran.” Local trash pickers, always a reliable source of information, claimed they had found the remnants of the holy book among human waste near the Jewish quarter. Soon the Islamist mobs had heard that a body of a young Muslim girl had been found in a Jewish cemetery. Local police and soldiers led the mobs to burn down the neighborhood.

Twelve Jews were murdered, dozens wounded and thousands displaced. It was a “fury of vandalism,” recalled a representative of Alliance Israelite Universelle.

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Fury and unrest are “simmering” in Indonesia today. “Hardline Muslim groups,” Reuters says, have sent tens of thousands to the streets of Jakarta to demand the city governor be prosecuted for “blasphemy.”

The governor is a member of two minorities in Indonesia: he is Chinese and a Christian. His “blasphemy” was claiming that his Muslim opponent was using a verse from the Koran to encourage voters not to vote for a non-Muslim. He apologized for mentioning the verse, saying he “was not criticizing the Koranic verse but those who use it to attack him.” How does one protest a governor whose comments offend? Well, you go to a Chinese section of town and loot. “Chinese-owned shops and restaurants were shuttered in northern Jakarta on Saturday,” and a Buddhist temple had to be guarded.

Because when the “fury” is unleashed, its not about one man’s blasphemy, it means destroying places of worship of every minority.

Luckily Reuters reminds us that “Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, but most follow a moderate form of Islam and protests on such a large scale are rare.” Protests? Just protests? No intolerance here. After all, surely when the European antisemites used to burn the Jewish quarters, the newspapers would remind us that “most Europeans follow a moderate form of Christianity.” Most Germans, surely, followed a “moderate form” as well in 1933.

Sometimes though, inconvenient facts slip through. “Despite Indonesia’s history of discrimination – and, at times, savage violence – against ethnic Chinese, Mr. Basuki says he considers neither his faith nor his ethnicity to be a political handicap,” the New York Times said in 2014. “Savage” is a convenient way to describe the historic mass murder of 500,000 people in Indonesia in 1965. “Eagerness to kill was spontaneous,” a Wikipedia page about the 1965 killings claim. Most victims were members of minority groups, including Chinese and non-traditional Muslims.

SPONTANEOUS , SAVAGE fury is the kind of excuse for intolerant human behavior that has been mainstreamed.

There is no such thing as a “spontaneous” mob that just happens to burn an area of town where minorities live. When the KKK lynched black people it was not just “savage fury,” it was a carefully calculated campaign of terror.

We need to believe that mob violence in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan or Iran is spontaneous to maintain the illusion of moderate populaces whose normative culture is one of “tolerance” and “coexistence.” But the reality is that all mob violence stems from a long-term encouragement of hatred and murder as a solution to every feeling of being “offended.”

In Pakistan on September 20, 2012, crowds assembled in reaction to rumors that an American had made an offensive video called “The Innocence of Muslims.”

Anger over the film had already lead to the ransacking of US embassies and consulates in Egypt and Libya, in which Americans were murdered. “An attack on the holy prophet is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims,” Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the people. “Blasphemy of the kind witnessed in this case is nothing short of hate speech, equal to the worst kind of antisemitism or other kind of bigotry.”

And how do you respond to bigotry? First you burn movie theaters and murder a television employee, as was done in Peshawar. Then you burn an Anglican church, as was done in Mardan in northwest Pakistan.

The knee-jerk reaction to every offense is always murder.

The comparison to antisemitism is ironic. What if Jews, angered over antisemitism in France, went and burned an Anglican church in America? In a replay of the 1910 pogrom in Shiraz, a mob of Pakistanis burned a Hindu temple in Larkana in March of 2014 after a man claimed he found a Koran burned in a garbage bin outside a Hindu house. It’s a routine event in Bangladesh. On October 31 more than 15 Hindu temples were vandalized in Brahmanbarhia after someone saw “disrespect shown to Islam on Facebook.”

In 2012 more than a dozen Buddhist temples were burned in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh after one man was tagged in a Facebook post “depicting the desecration of the Koran.” One man was tagged, so 25,000 people marched to burn and murder minorities.

Religious fascism and Nazism are a daily way of life in countries spanning the region, from Iran to Indonesia.

The media talks a lot about intolerance and Islamist extremism in the Middle East, but in central and southeast Asia we are constantly told about “coexistence.”

An article about Ghotki in Pakistan reminded readers that “for many years, Muslims and Hindus lived here peacefully, they share a common culture, language and traditions. But fanaticism has taken root.” In this harmonious utopia, men arrived at a mosque in Mehrab Samejo to find a burned Koran.

Enraged, they attacked the local Hindus as “enemies of Islam.” Men on motorbikes shot two Hindu men.

That’s “peaceful” living. Why is it burned Korans are always being found? No one wonders. Just like they didn’t wonder about blood libels in Europe, about how Christian children supposedly kept disappearing.

Because the mob needs no answers. But the mob doesn’t appear from nowhere. People are encouraged to riot and murder. They are taught from a young age that when you are offended, the solution is murder. You cannot call a culture “moderate” and “a model of coexistence” when the standard reaction of so many people to every rumor is to want to murder minorities. It’s part of mass culture.

In Pakistan a Christian woman named Asia Bibi has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. Her crime? “The mother of five from rural Punjab was convicted in 2010 for defaming the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a group of Muslim women over a bowl of water.”

A country that sentences women to death for a rumor is a country that encourages murder. Would you call the Salem Witch trials an example of a harmonious, tolerant, moderate culture? Tens of thousands were executed for witchcraft in Europe between 1300 and 1700. The difference is that Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are today living in the 1600s – and going backwards. Every year they murder minorities in a drip, drip of slow genocide, whether it is killing Shi’ites and Hindus in Pakistan, Bahais in Iran or Christians in Indonesia.

In Malaysia the religious fascist authorities have deemed the word “hot dog” offensive, because dogs are not halal. It’s like renaming Nathan’s Hot Dogs because dogs aren’t kosher. Malaysia also banned the use by Christians of the word “Allah” for God.

Moderate Malaysia, mind you, where supermarkets in some regions have separate lines for women.

Separate but equal. In Indonesia there has been an increase of persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are seen as non-Islamic.

Islamist extremism, like Nazism, doesn’t stop when the non-Muslims are killed – it then has to kill all the minorities who are not the right kind of Islam. The same extremism exists in other non-Islamist forms, from Burmese mobs attacking Rohingya, to people lynching albinos in Tanzania or ‘price tag’ attacks against Palestinians.

All of this is connected to rising religious fascism.

Riots are not spontaneous. They receive a seal of approval from religious and political leaders. It’s not that the masses are exploited, the masses are intolerant and all that is needed to get them to murder is an excuse. Their intolerance has been ensured by a history of education and inculcation of the same intolerance that made fascism and Nazism seem normal to many Europeans. Unfortunately instead of encouraging tolerance many governments are creating more blasphemy laws and encouraging more attacks on minorities.

Follow the author @Sfrantzman.

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