by Abu Dharr
Muqtedar Khan is a character who, despite his relentless efforts to promote himself, has not been taken seriously by Muslim scholars. The foolishness characterizing many of his writings over the past few years is normally ignored on account of his naïveté, intellectual shallowness and delusion of grandeur. When some of us would get irritated at his more imbecilic ravings, there were others who insisted, yeh to bacha hai (he’s just a child,- or at least writes like one); just let it go! For those not familiar with Khan’s messianic writings, his website, www.ijtihad.org, is a good place to start.
Perhaps the time has come to take him a bit more seriously because his project – rather the project that he is a willing pawn in – has become more insidious than initially thought. He seems to have realized that the projection of himself as part of “a growing number of young, moderate Muslim thinkers who believe themselves engaged in a battle for the soul of Islam” cannot succeed without getting some other American Muslim “moderates” on board. In order for him to be the “prince’s advisor” and to become “the first Muslim Henry Kissinger,” Khan must bring along some other “moderate Muslims.” Because of the larger Islamophobic-induced fear amongst Muslim intellectuals in the U.S. today, Khan and his policywalla pals seem to have been left with few other attractive options at the moment.
Here I want to highlight some of Muqtedar Khan’s writings to comment on his right-wing theatrics.
Khan and 9/11
Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11th 2001, Khan wrote:
“This is not the time for politics. This is the moment for unity and all Americans, regardless of their faith, politics and ethnicity must unite behind the singular principle that an attack against one American is an attack against all.”
Two questions arise: Unity with whom—the U.S. government, business and political elites coveting opportunities that allow them to expand their power across the world, sometimes by brute force, or with ordinary Americans, bewildered and lost, because of the massive state-corporate-media campaign to mislead them into doctrinal mythology? And unity for what purpose—to give a carte blanche to “nuke’em,” or to critically assess the big picture which we’ll discover is not so black and white. Khan’s tone seems to be on the side of the former. The Qur’anic notion that the killing of one individual is like the killing of all of humanity is much more principled than Khan’s parochial, nationalist “principle,” if it can be called that.
He goes on to say:
“This attack against innocent Americans is not only a test of American resolve and power, but is also a test of the loyalties of American Muslims. Today American Muslims have to decide who they are and where their loyalties lie. Silly debates about whether they are American Muslims or Muslim Americans will have to be settled immediately. You cannot enjoy American hospitality and secretly applaud cowardly attacks against Americans.”
For Khan, loyalties are about labels, pre-packaged, pre-approved, rigid, and fixed, not about content, substance, and commitment. For Muslims and millions of others from other faiths and traditions, there is ultimately only one loyalty that is important, and that is to the truth. After all, the Qur’an recognized the fundamental division in mankind to be between those who proclaimed the truth and those who covered up the truth.
As for the “silly debates” about the appropriateness of the term “American Muslim” or “Muslim American,” one can take a quick sample of Khan’s own writings to see that he is probably the most obsessed and prolific writer on the topic, almost as if he is undergoing some type of profound identity crisis. We can only express our sympathy for him if that is the case. The hospitality business, however, is a mixed bag. Khan may have a different experience but South Asian cab drivers in New York and migrant Latinos working on southern farms for less than minimum wage have not exactly been treated like welcomed guests. And, as the cultural critic Vijay Prashad has put it, it’s been our labor that this country has been interested in, not our lives, families, cultures, and heritages.
Commenting on the not so noble past of U.S. foreign intervention, Khan writes:
“I hope that the US government will conduct itself in a manner that is in keeping with its long history of exercising power with due regard to humanitarian concerns. I hope that wisdom prevails and while recognizing the paramount need to maintain security, the US will not give up its moral struggles to promote democracy and freedom overseas.”
The “long history” of “due regard to humanitarian concerns!” Is that what Georgetown has taught Khan in his American International Relations courses? Even Jean Kirkpatrick, the hawkish former political science professor at Georgetown, will blush twice in describing such a benign picture of U.S. foreign policy. The “long history” of the U.S. exercise of power abroad is the history of brutal interventions and subversion from Central America to the Middle East and to Southeast Asia. The humanitarianism, though, does sometimes express itself, as in the recent U.S. war on Afghanistan, where while dropping “daisy cutters” and cluster bombs, the U.S also dropped food packages. And also in Iraq, where the U.S. at least evacuated most of the city of Fallujah before razing it to the ground, and only killing perhaps a little more than a thousand people. But we can all be happy that, as Khan states, “democracy and freedom” are being advanced in Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, as they’ve been advanced by the U.S. in places like Iran, Vietnam, and Chile before them.
Khan then states how Muslims will need U.S. help: “Muslims overseas will need the US to protect them from their own authoritarian governments and from the nations that occupy them from Kashmir to Palestine who may wish to exploit this tragedy.”
According to Khan, other nations will exploit this tragedy, but not the benign Bush administration. The two examples, Kashmir and Palestine, are two areas where the governments involved in massive state terror are two of the closest allies of the U.S. and crucially rely on U.S. support to carry out what they do. While peoples all over the world are looking toward regional blocs, the Europeans, the UN, God, and anyone to save them from the menacing tentacles of the U.S., Khan proclaims that they should count on the U.S. to be their savior, and that too from the “authoritarian governments” that have often been imposed on them by the U.S. itself.
Muqtedar Khan’s Memos to American Muslims
Copying Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Khan has also started writing memos to whosoever he is angry with. In a now infamous memo to American Muslims, he writes:
“Muslims, including American Muslims have been practicing hypocrisy on a grand scale. They protest against the discriminatory practices of Israel but are silent against the discriminatory practices in Muslim states.”
That is a very sweeping accusation. Do all American Muslims practice such hypocrisy? Are there no voices at all among Muslim intellectuals who are equally critical of all forms of injustices, wherever they are practiced? Amongst South Asian Muslims, I have not heard one discussion where, when Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states are mentioned, there is no mention of the ill-treatment of the South Asian migrant workers there.
He goes on to say:
“The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens.”
Such sweeping mischaracterizations simply pile up, one after the other. Let Khan talk to some Israeli Arab who can tell him how the Arab citizens of Israel are still treated like second class citizens. Apartheid South Africa treated “its Blacks better than they were treated in the Congo?” So what?
While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)? Remember Pakistani army’s excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)? Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them?”
The cases Khan uses here are interesting. Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the Pakistan army in the early 1970s, and the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s were all close allies of the U.S., to varying degrees. Saddam did not need direct U.S. intervention to help him crush the Kurds, but did at times to beat back the Iranians, the Pakistan army almost cajoled the U.S. to intervene on its side to help butcher the peoples of then East Pakistan, and the Mujahideen could not do what it did without the crucial U.S. financial, military, and political support and moral encouragement. If anything, many Muslims are fully aware of the fact that these regimes and forces in the Muslim world couldn’t have done what they did without the support they received from the United States.
And then comes his now trademark statement:
“Muslims love to live in the US but also love to hate it. Many openly claim that the US is a terrorist state but they continue to live in it. Their decision to live here is testimony that they would rather live here than anywhere else. As an Indian Muslim, I know for sure that nowhere on earth, including India, will I get the same sense of dignity and respect that I have received in the US. No Muslim country will treat me as well as the US has.”
We can ignore Khan’s simplistic dualisms and Daniel Pipes type rhetoric as, again, being characteristically juvenile. However, let’s be very clear on what he, and much of the political Right of the U.S., is doing. He basically is falling back onto the weakest and most intellectually bankrupt card of all: the “anti-Americanism” card, which has been a weapon of ideological propaganda developed precisely to stave off sound, critical analysis and debate. This is the criminalization of dissenting voices (which are many millions in America now) under the label of being “anti-American,” and is the most pathetic intellectual tactic available, which in itself should say a lot about Khan. My response to Khan’s reveling in the fact that he is appreciated and respected here like no where else is simple: You say what you like because they (media bosses) like what you say! Once Mr. Khan starts saying the wrong things, as many dissident voices in the U.S. do with the consequence of being shunned from the mainstream media, no longer will there be Muqtedar Khan articles in those dozens of global newspapers that one can see pretentiously highlighted on his website.
“It is time that we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy in the US are more desirable to us than superficial solidarity with the Muslim World. If you disagree than prove it by packing your bags and going to whichever Muslim country you identify with. If you do not leave and do not acknowledge that you would rather live here than anywhere else, know that you are being hypocritical.”
According to Khan, we Muslims in the U.S. are being hypocritical if we refuse to acknowledge an American life to be more valuable than an African life dying of AIDS with the complicity of the international pharmaceutical industry. Or an Iraqi or Afghan child dying of American bombardment, or the hundreds of millions more all across the world suffering because of displacement, hunger, and exploitation. Many in this country are involved in real solidarity with the victims of our government’s direct and indirect crimes, but Khan has absolutely no idea what that is, so we can’t blame him for this oversight. “Packing your bags” probably would have been an option for many if the conditions created by international capital and the “Great Powers” in their former colonies were not so miserable. This “love us or leave us” rhetoric is not Khan’s; it is directly borrowed from the extreme rightwing fringe of America that views any criticism of U.S. policies as unpatriotic.
He goes on to say:
“Today the century old Islamic revival is in jeopardy because we have allowed insanity to prevail over our better judgment. Yes, the US has played a hand in the creation of Binladen and the Taliban, but it is we who have allowed them to grow and gain such a foothold. It is our duty to police our world. It is our responsibility to prevent people from abusing Islam. It is our job to ensure that Islam is not misrepresented. We should have made sure that what happened on Sept. 11th should never have happened.”
The pertinent question here is who is this “we” that Khan is talking about? First, it is not the vast majority of ordinary Muslims who have no say in these decisions, but various authoritarian regimes in collaboration with the U.S. government. Second, Khan himself continuously befuddles his Muslim reader here and throughout his writings by his muddled use of the term “we.” Are “we” Muslims responsible for the global ummah’s problems or are “we” Americans working toward the progress and change of American institutions and society? “We” are taken on quite the roller coaster ride in trying to figure this out.
And then he advises “us”:
“I hope that we will now rededicate our lives and our institutions to the search for harmony, peace and tolerance. Let us be prepared to suffer injustice rather than commit injustices.”
Perhaps this is easy for Muqtedar Khan to say living on the outer parameters of the American academy, but it seems highly unjust for him to ask Palestinians, Kashmiris, and other Muslims suffering injustices of decades to continue to agonize and die in silence. The “us” that are the usual sufferers are rarely “us” dwelling in the West; it’s mostly those in those God-forsaken Oriental lands which, according to Khan, are not worthy of our solidarity.
“We must be always willing to express our disagreements with US policies but we must also not be stingy in expressing our solidarity with the US.” What does he mean by “solidarity with the US?”
The “US” is not an abstract entity. It has institutions and policies with which many may have great disagreement; it has right wing fascists as well as progressives. And if he means solidarity with the U.S. government and U.S. power, then I can do no better than to offer the advice of the courageous Israeli journalist Amira Haas, who states that the role of journalists and writers is to “monitor the centers of power,” not to be their bedfellows.
And here comes the cat out of the bag:
“I remember telling my wife; maybe I will be our Henry Kissinger, the first Muslim to become the Secretary of State. Then came Bin Laden and his bloody men and along with the World Trade Center, American Muslim dreams and aspirations came crashing down.”
If all Khan wanted in his life was to become Henry Kissinger and to oversee military interventions, economic strangulation, and political subversion of other nations and peoples, in short what most U.S. Secretaries of State do, then perhaps Bin Laden did Muslims a favor by saving ourselves from our own evil nafs (selves)! Many Muslims speculate that Khan’s emotional bombast since Sept. 11th reflected precisely this issue of a lost opportunity to climb the policymaking hierarchy. Don’t worry, Khan: If you remain steadfast in your sycophancy, you may still have a shot.
Here is another strange assertion:
“Most American Muslims have very little use for the radicalism of militants that belong to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. That is primarily the reason why they are here and not back home.”
It seems like Khan is implying that all of the “homes” of origin of American Muslims are overrun by Al Qaeda or the Taliban, including his home India. Perhaps he should remind President Bush to add all of them to the list of “rogue nations” to be attacked next. And I was under the impression that Muslims and non-Muslims came to this country because their own countries have been so devastated by over 500 years of maldevelopment caused by colonialism and neo-colonialism, and therefore could earn better here. Thanks Khan for clarifying that it was the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that caused them to migrate.
Another of Khan’s memos was addressed to Bin Laden:
“Once the war is declared, make no mistake Mr. Saddam Hussain and Mr. Bin Laden, We are with America. We will fight with America and we will fight for America. We have a covenant with this nation, we see it as a divine commitment and we will not disobey the Quran (9:4).”
I hope Khan continues to maintain his enthusiasm to fight in the U.S. war on Iraq since today, many American soldiers returning from Iraq are refusing to go back and risking long sentences for it and the majority of the U.S. population is opposed to the continued occupation. At such a critical time for the U.S. armed forces, Khan’s services are needed more than ever. Can we dare to hope to receive his next memo from the trenches of Fallujah or Baquba?
“Sure at this moment out of anger, frustration and fear, some in America have momentarily forgotten their own values. I am confident that, God willing, this moment of shock and insecurity will pass and America will once again become the beacon of freedom, tolerance and acceptance that it was before September 11th. On that day Mr. Binladen, you not only killed 3000 innocent Americans, many of whom were also Muslims, but you signed the death warrants of many innocent people who will die in this war on terror and many more who will live but will suffer the consequences, the pain and the misery of war. Before September 11th, the US was giving aid to Afghanistan and was content to wait for the Iraqi people to free themselves and the rest of the world from their dictator.”
I will assume that most thinking readers will want me to spare them the condescension involved in having to show them how Khan is grossly misled on issues of U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century. In a world where so many Americans are reading alternative U.S. media and foreign newspapers like the Independent and Guardian on the internet, one is amazed when such ignorance and naïveté are displayed. If nothing else, Khan could have learned much about U.S. policies toward Afghanistan and Iraq before 9/11 by reading only Steve Coll’s The Ghost Wars and Chalmer Johnson’s Sorrows of Empire.
And then comes another gem of wisdom for American Muslims:
“The choices we face are tough, but Muslims must realize that the interests of our sons and daughters, who are American, must come before the interests of our brothers and sisters, whether they are Palestinian, Kashmiri or Iraqi. Only then will Muslims in America become American Muslims.”
This is probably Khan’s most humane statement. He essentially is stating that the U.S. can destroy Iraq and kill without limit there; U.S. allies such as Israel and India can continue to repress and kill Palestinians and Kashmiris, but as long as we Muslims in America are healthy, have our jobs, and say our prayers, then everything is OK. One would be hard put to espouse a sentiment more humanitarian and morally/religiously-inspired than this.
Khan’s newly-founded organization, the American Muslim Group on Policy Planning (AMGPP), best epitomizes the lofty ideals of our “moderate” American Muslims. Some of the organization’s primary tasks will be: (a) to provide “valuable assistance to the US in the war on terror;” (b) to “help improve US image” in the Muslim world; (c) to “act as a spokesperson for American policies, concerns and interests;” (d) to restore American “credibility” in the Muslim world; and (e) to include Muslims in “policymaking.” Residents of Baghdad, Fallujah, and Ramallah should now be comforted that we’ll have a few of our very own Colin Powells and Condi Rices overseeing the assaults against them. Perhaps their inclusion in “policymaking” will make the bombs and bullets less painful.
The AMGPP folks can be expected to defer any critical political analysis for the greater aim of “policy cooperation” with state planners. There may be a few criticisms regarding the usual grievances on Palestine and Iraq and some advice may be given to the U.S. not to bomb this or that city so much since Zarqawi or Al-Qaeda are really in that other city over there, which can be bombed with AMGPP approval. We can also expect AMGPP to be supportive of “moderate” Muslim dictators—Musharraf of Pakistan and Hassan of Jordan—their moderation defined by the former’s possession of a pet dog and the latter’s praise of the internet, and lest we forget, their close alliance with the U.S. The fact that the theologically immoderate Saudi regime has been the oldest Muslim ally of the U.S. defies the moderate-equals-U.S. ally postulate. Khan’s crowd in the AMGPP will thus have no qualms about the fundamental immorality of U.S. foreign policy in general and the undemocratic and elite institutions from which all such decisions flow.
The flawed notion held by folks like Khan is that once Muslims become a part of the hierarchy of U.S. government policymakers, then U.S. foreign and domestic policy will be more moral and just. There are few viewpoints as discredited as this one. Women have seen their “caring” representatives like Secretary of State Madeleine Albright callously asserting that the deaths of around 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of the US/UN-imposed sanctions were “worth it.” African-Americans will witness one of their “own” women become Secretary of State, and if her stint as National Security Advisor is any indication, Condi Rice may just as well be one of the most hawkish Secretaries of State in the history of the U.S., in close competition with Khan’s role model, Henry Kissinger.
“Moderate” American Muslims flocking to projects such as AMGPP are not at all interested in engaging the broader Muslim community, empowering Muslims in their times of great difficulty, and helping to build alliances with other faiths and groups striving for social justice at home and abroad. Their present preoccupation seems to be more about being the unashamed posterboys and cheerleaders for those laudable U.S. policies around the world. Ironically, these folks also rely on the same “clash of civilizations” thesis expounded by Islamophobes like Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, and the contemptible Daniel Pipes. The U.S. attempt to “civilize” the Muslim world, articulated most explicitly in the recent Rand report entitled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies,” is what these “moderate” Muslims are building their careers on, arrogantly proclaiming themselves the handful of “good,” liberal Muslims amongst the herd of retrograde barbarians. Nowhere else but in America can these mediocre “moderate” intellectuals gain an iota of respectability and prestige, relying primarily on Uncle Sam to build their images and egos.
Among the moderate Muslims that Khan has identified in some of his writings is Chandra Muzaffar, someone who is not at all a moderate when it comes to speaking out against injustice. Muzaffar is someone who rejects Khan’s pandering-to-power political formula in favor of an approach that distances itself from power and privileges the struggles and rights of the marginalized and oppressed, the mustad’afun fi’lard. Chandra Muzaffar and the political scientist Farish Noor are leading Muslim activists in Malaysia, highly critical of their own state and even more so of the U.S. and the global processes of war and corporate-led globalization that the latter is spearheading. And then there are the vibrant women’s movements in the Muslim world which often are as critical of the U.S. as the Islamists. They accuse the U.S. of opportunistically appropriating their socio-political projects and discourses for its own geo-political agenda. In South Africa, we’ve had Muslims such as Farid Esack and Na’eem Jeenah who fought against apartheid there, and continue to criticize the anti-poor policies of the ANC regime as well as the criminal intellectual property rights and patents of Western pharmaceutical companies that mercilessly deny medicines to tens of millions of AIDS patients destined to die without treatment. In Iran, reformers may be advocating freedom and democracy, but we should not confuse this position with being any less nationalist than the Iranian hardliners. Reformers in Iran are just as firm in their conviction that their country has every right to have nuclear capability to defend itself from foreign aggression.
What all of these activists in the Muslim world demand from Muslims in the U.S. is not to be spokespersons for U.S. policy, but to be courageous enough to work alongside other religious and secular social justice groups to halt U.S. military, economic, and political expansionism abroad, and to fight against injustices at home.
At this critical juncture for Muslims in the U.S., one looks around in vain for any Ali Shariatis or Eqbal Ahmads. And the activist voices that are there, like some of the aforementioned ones, are rarely given the coverage they deserve. The voices of Eqbal Ahmad and Edward W. Said are sorely missed for their penetrating analyses of the world situation, with particular emphasis on the predicament of Islam and Muslims. It is a pity that these powerful voices are now replaced by tactless apologetics and opportunistic accomodationism. My suggested exercise for American Muslim intellectuals, Khan included, is to read the writings of M. Shahid Alam, a “rare voice” (to take a description of Khan, albeit an incomplete one, because between “rare” and “voice” was, you guessed it, “moderate”) amongst American Muslims who, in “a time of crisis,” truly rose to the occasion to debunk the racist discourse on Islam and Muslims and to challenge Muslims to rise to the prophetic responsibility to struggle against tyranny and injustice wherever they may be. It does not require a genius to figure out what Muslims, in cooperation and solidarity with others, should be doing in the heart of an Empire.
It is almost as if the Quranic injunction “to rise and bear witness for God, even though it may be against yourself” has been essentially reversed by Khan and his ilk. Their motto seems to be: if it is for the immediate aggrandizement of my image and my nafs (self, ego), then I will rise and bear witness to the grand almighty U.S. state! If Khan’s issues of nafs had only been limited to undermining his own moral and ethical compass, then it would not have really mattered to me or others sharing my view. But his egotistical nafs is misleading other confused and frightened Muslims to essentially follow his lead or be labeled as the “bad” Muslim in an Islamophobic environment that has concocted such coarse binaries as the “good” and the “bad” Muslim. Khan himself is not yet ready to assume the responsibilities of the “American” in “American Muslim,” because for him some abstraction called “Islam” first needs to be reformed, not the policies of the U.S. He is thus abdicating his responsibility as a citizen of the empire, and that is a serious dereliction of duty since, as the Indian activist Arundhati Roy has said, the only thing more powerful than the U.S. state is U.S. civil society, on which the whole world rests its hopes.
The Muslim leadership in the U.S. must take a moral position on the numerous injustices in the world, particularly those that are perpetrated either directly or indirectly by the country they now call their home. It is understandably difficult for Muslims to do so at this time, but that is precisely why it is crucial to build meaningful alliances with other religious and secular groups working for social justice at home and abroad. Nothing ethically worthwhile comes without risks and costs. During the 1980s U.S.-supported counter-insurgency wars in Central America, a significant section of the Catholic Church both in Central America and in the U.S. knew what their religious consciences as Christians required of them. At the same time as priests and religious leaders and nuns in Central America were being murdered left and right by U.S. supported and trained paramilitary groups, many Catholic Church leaders in the U.S. were being implicated in harboring “illegal” refugees from Central America who were fleeing from the wars in their countries. This is what real solidarity work and a commitment to the prophetic mission is about. Alhamdullilah (Praise be to God), we still have scholars like M. Shahid Alam who take the Quranic, Prophetic, and humanist message seriously.