Could uprisings in Egypt and the Arab world produce a 'Muslim Gandhi'?
Far from being utopian, the Gandhian emphasis on an ethical politics based on nonviolence and mutual respect may be the most practical path to achieve democracy in a region exhausted from the seemingly endless repression and bloodshed that has resulted from the belief that violence is the real source of power.
Nearly two years after the emergence of the “Green Movement” protesting election results in Tehran, new nonviolent uprisings against repressive regimes are spreading across the region from Tunisia to Yemen and, most importantly, Egypt. Despite their geographic and cultural diversity, these nonviolent movements across the Muslim world exhibit a remarkable similarity to Gandhi’s strategy for checking power and opposing violence in India decades ago. This raises the hopeful prospect that nonviolent campaigns for democracy might be the essential paradigm of change in the Middle East and Maghreb – areas of the world that have been marked by violence for so long.Skip to next paragraph
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Many in the West are familiar with the nonviolent strategies that, helped bring civil rights to the United States as well as democracy to Eastern Europe. But this path has been discounted in the Muslim world where the media has perpetuated stereotypes of Muslims as dangerous and violent fanatics. The present movements certainly challenge that stereotype and may indeed remind the world that many nonviolent Muslim activists and thinkers have played a role in opposing and checking the levels of violence both within their own communities and against others.
Gandhi had the good fortune to have among his companions two important Muslim figures: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Both Azad and Ghaffar Khan had a great impact on Gandhi. They in turn were deeply influenced by Gandhi’s character and his philosophy of nonviolence, accepting the Gandhian invitation to self-examination and self-criticism which stemmed from his belief that no one possesses the whole truth. For Gandhi, truth emerges only through empathetic encounter with “the Other.”
The time may be right for the emergence of a Muslim Gandhi for the 21st century.
Today, political Islam is largely an ideological response to the dominance of the West in our time. The success political Islam has enjoyed in recent times has largely been a result of the failure of the secular state, modeled on the West, to provide a space where democratic culture and faith traditions can both thrive.
Post-colonial secular governments have often been aggressive in their project of modernization, lacking in sensitivity toward religion and forcefully authoritarian in their politics. As such, they have failed to capture the allegiance of faithful Muslims.