As I write this, news of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) bombing UN protected schools in Gaza is making the rounds. The impunity with which Israel is carrying out war crimes, the impotence of world powers and the UN, and the complicity of Arab leaders makes Palestine an epitome of universal shame. The positive side is that protests have taken place all over the world to condemn atrocities in Gaza. Notwithstanding the need for global efforts to end Israel’s illegal occupation, it is interesting to note the hypocrisy with which some have come forth to express values they do not stand up for in home-grown and other conflicts. In recent years: over 250,000 have been killed in Syria by ISIS, al-Nusra and Bashar al-Assad; 5,500 killed in Iraq in wake of ISIS’s recent offensive against Iraqi Shias, Sufi Sunnis and Christians; 300,000 killed in Darfur as a result of tribal rivalry; 2,000 killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram; plight of the “worlds least wanted” Rohingya Muslims; systematic persecution of Kurds by Muslim countries, human rights violations in occupied Kashmir; 2,000 killed in Baluchistan and several thousand missing; siege of Parachinar, Hazara-Shia community and more than 10,000 Shias (to quote a conservative figure) killed in direct targeted attacks in Pakistan; Christian exodus in Mosul; hundreds of attacks led by Islamist extremists on many countries; burning of Christian and Hindu neighborhoods in Pakistan and Bangladesh. These and several other incidents have drawn little or no outrage from Muslims.
Why is the Muslim street (relatively) quiet on atrocities committed by Muslims as a group or by Muslim states?
Some of the conflicts listed above are perpetrated by non-state actors and some are enabled by state patronage and direct state oppression. Furthermore, some are cases of illegal occupation, such as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and others represent structural discrimination against people of various sects, races and identities. Of course mentioning other conflicts does not belittle or negate the Palestinian tragedy, but it does reveal how some protestors (read some, not all) hold a bias in value propagation and consequent condemnation. For instance, many supporters of Hamas don’t know that Ahmadis do not have the right to religious freedoms in Palestine, yet they do in Israel. They are also unaware of the violence between Hamas and Fatah that killed more than 500 Palestinians, or of some reported attacks on Shias in Gaza. Another glaring example of this comes from the Ahmadi homes that were set alight in Gujranwala a few days ago, with the arsonists cheering the death of those inside, including women and young children. Much like the celebrations reported after the 9/11 attacks or Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (a banned terrorist outfit) cheering the murder of Pakistani Shias. Some of the SSP members who openly call for the purging of Shias from Pakistan protest for Gaza and so forth. Facebook memes and cartoons pointing out the same discrepancy have been self-revealing: Why is the Muslim street (relatively) quiet on atrocities committed by Muslims as a group or by Muslim states? ‘Right to live’, ‘Resistance to state oppression’, ‘Condemnation of murder’, ‘Right to religious freedoms’ – these are some of the principles that form the basis of modern universal morality. How can someone condone murder at home and condemn it elsewhere? How much will this selective outrage and moral bankruptcy weigh on an un-biased eye? How can partisan value propagation form a better world? The same applies to many Western countries, including the EU and the USA, who in spite of public pressure are selective in adapting the values they propagate. Some of the questions asked above can be answered with the Social Identity Theory which social scientists believe forms the basis of social psychology and the concept of social identity as a way to explain inter-group behavior. In sociology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group to which an individual does not identify. In our case, it is being an Arab, a Pakistani, a Bengali or simply a Muslim. Once a relatable social identity is formed, in general instances or in particular conflicts, it leads to in-group favoritism and out-group discrimination. In-group favoritism (also known as ‘in-group bias’) is an effect where people give preferential treatment to those perceived to be in the same in-group. We have to let go of this selective value propagation if we dream of a better world and desire a cleaner conscience. There should be consistency in our principles and values. Unless we preserve some integrity in our expression the “yours vs. mine, theirs vs. ours” narrative will ensure we continue to live in a world in love with hate, rich with poverty and at war with peace.