Listening to the feelings expressed by Muslims around the world, one perceives an emotion of anger and revolt mixed with a deep sense of helplessness. The current massacres are but a confirmation of the well known: the “international community” does not really care about the Palestinians, and it is as if the state of Israel, with the support of the United States and some European countries, has imposed a state of intellectual terror. Among the presidents and kings, nobody dares to speak out; nobody is ready to say the truth. All are paralyzed by fear.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sometimes perceived, and experienced, as crucial to the relationship between the West and Islam, many Muslims no longer know how to act and react. What does Islam have to do with it? Should we make it a religious concern in order to call upon the ummah to mobilize itself? Essential questions in truth.
Muslims around the world are facing three distinct phenomena. First, in the Muslim-majority countries or in the West, they see they can expect no reaction from governments, especially from the Arab states. They adopt the position of silent complicity, hypocrisy, and contempt for Palestinian lives. Second, Western media coverage is alarming, with a majority of them accepting and reproducing the Israeli story: two belligerents are of equal strength, with the victim of aggression (Israel) acting in self-defense. What a distortion! Yet the third phenomenon is most interesting: while 73% of Europeans were backing Israel in 1967, more than 67% are supporting the Palestinians today. With time, understanding and sensibility have evolved: populations are not blindly following the games and hypocritical stands of their political elites.
Considering these factors, Muslims around the world, and especially Western Muslims, should clarify their position. While refusing to turn the Israeli-Palestinian war into a religious conflict, they should not deny its religious dimension and thus take a clear stand. From an Islamic viewpoint, it should be clear that their resistance is not against Jews (anti-Semitism is anti-Islamic); targeting innocent civilians must be condemned on both sides; and the objective should be for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (with women and men of other religions or no religion) to live together with equal rights and dignity.
The Palestinians are never going to give up; and Israel, for all its awesome firepower, has not won the conflict. Muslims around the world should be a driving force of remembrance and resistance. Not as Muslims against Israel or the hypocritical Arab states, but more broadly for justice with all (religious or not) who refuse to be brainwashed or reduced to powerless spectators. It is time to create broad alliances and synergies around clear political objectives.
If the Middle East is teaching Muslims anything, it is to stop acting in isolation and return to the universal values they share with their fellow citizens. They should realize they are in and with the majority. Demonstrations, articles, and so on are necessary but we need to go further. To launch a global movement of non-violent resistance to the violent and extremist policy of the state of Israel has become imperative. The violence inflicted, in front of us, upon a population of one and a half million humans makes our silence, our divisions, and even our limited emotional reactions undignified, unhealthy, and inhumane. A true and dignified resistance requires commitment, patience, and a long-term strategy of information, alliance, and non-violent democratic participation.
Tariq Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford and the author of Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation (2009), In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad (2007), Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (2004), Islam, the West, and the Challenge of Modernity (2001), and To Be a European Muslim (1999). A version of this article, in French and English, first appeared on Ramadan’s Web site on 2 January 2009. This version is based on the English text that appeared in his site and edited to bring it closer to the French text.