Double standards on Darfur

Ed Husain has a point on selective Muslim outrage

In Monday's Independent, the Quilliam Foundation's Ed Husain - a man I've disagreed with in the past - issued a brilliant denunciation of Muslim double standards on Darfur:

"In January this year, millions shared similar feelings of horror and anger witnessing the bloodshed in Gaza. Both events were especially painful to Muslims watching other defenceless Muslims being killed. But why have the deaths of vastly more unarmed Muslims in Darfur caused so little concern among co-religionists?

The Khartoum regime, brought to power in a highly ideological and fundamentalist Islamist coup 20 years ago, has killed an estimated 400,000 of its fellow Muslim citizens. Yet there is near silence about massive human rights abuses in the remote western corner of Sudan. As Tareq al-Hamed, editor of the Asharq al-Awsat paper, has asked, "Are the people of Darfur not Muslims as well?"

...Muslims' amnesia about Darfur is also symptomatic of the malaise affecting the public face of a faith that lacks the confidence to engage in constructive debate or renewal. Until Muslims can be self-critical without being condemned as heretics, there will be atrophy where there should be vibrancy, and polarisation and extremism where there should be tolerance and inclusiveness. Darfur's tragedy is fast becoming an indelible stain on the collective name of Islam and Muslims."

I could not have said it better myself (although I prefer to distinguish between Islam, the religion, and Muslims, the practitioners of the religion). The one point I would add is that Muslims do tend to get very angry when they see fellow Muslims being attacked by non-Muslims (eg, in Gaza) and Ed Husain is right to point out that Muslims should also get angry when they see their fellow Muslims being attacked by other Muslims (eg, in Darfur). But crucially, I would argue, Muslims should also get angry when they see non-Muslims being attacked by non-Muslims, ie, when we have no theological stake or interest in the conflict. We have to stop navel-gazing and mumbling only about the "ummah" - our common humanity demands that we sit up and also take notice of, say, Chinese oppression of Buddhists in Tibet or Sinhalese repression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Why, for example, do you never hear about Muslim groups protesting against right-wing Colombian death squads? Islam is a humanitarian, not a sectarian, religion and so selective outrage will not do.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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