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Rabaa Al-Adawiyah And The End Of Secular Liberalism

By Shaheen Mohideen

22 August, 2013

Leading to the final days of the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya, I came across a Facebook post by eminent American intellectual, political scientist and author of the book ‘What Gandhi Says About Non-violence, Resistance and Courage” among many others, Dr Norman Finkelstein; his honest observation being “Are sustained Muslim Brotherhood protests despite murderous provocation the single greatest example and test in history of Gandhian non-violent resistance?”

Dr. Finkelstein rightly deserves our deepest respect and reverence for such an unprejudiced statement, especially at a time when commentaries by the self-styled liberal media both here in India and abroad are marred by a certain orientalist moral high ground that seeks to recognize only Anglo-Saxon narratives of revolutions and holocausts as worthy of remembrance and romanticization. So back here in rural India where I hail from the Boston Tea Party incident is mandatory part of the school syllabus whereas you have to be a researcher or possess a really good reading habit to know and understand indigenous anti-colonial uprisings that occurred in my own backyard. This Eurocentric yardstick has the utmost disdain when human life at the wrong end of the rifle belongs to a Muslim and even worse if he or she is a representative of political Islam or as the media would like to dub them Islamists. Going through secular liberal discourses, one can safely assume that the ‘human’ in human rights and the ‘demos’ in democracy are used with an exclusivist policy towards Islamists. Even immutable perspectives like justice and equality suffer from the same malaise. We were witness to the opprobrium amongst secular liberals and the Indian media when Dr Binayak Sen was wrongfully detained by the Indian government, and the media to a certain extent was directly responsible in helping to mobilize public opinion and launching various campaigns demanding his release, but at the same time when the Islamic scholar and leader who tried to mobilize Dalits and Muslims on a common political platform, Abdulnasser Maudany, languishes in prison, our secular media follows the maxim ‘silence is golden’ literally. The fact that Maudany’s beliefs and convictions stem from his Islamic faith rather than secular ideals is the primordial reason for such discriminative silence and of late this hypocrisy has become the raison d'etre for secular liberalism.

The most glaring example of such a myopic perspective was seen in Prem Shankar Jha’s article titled “Egypt Takes a Giant Step Towards Civil War” that appeared in Tehelka magazine, one of India’s leading political magazine well known for its unbiased coverage. In his write-up, Mr Jha tries to analyse the 8th July bloodbath when the security forces massacred 55 civilians performing their dawn prayers in cold blood including women and children while they were protesting the illegal detention of President Morsi following the coup of 30th June. Mr Jha contends that the massacre was the Muslim Brotherhood’s own doing and in his narrative proves the all supreme Egyptian military that transcends democratic accountability to be innocent and the dead as the covert perpetrators. The outrageousness of the article’s logic would make even General Sissi wince. Mr Jha challenges the fact that the civilians were gunned down while they were performing their dawn prayers, his trump card being that on 8th July the call for prayer was at 4:45 to 5 am much later than 4 am when the shooting reportedly occurred, hence how could they perform dawn prayers at 4 am when the call for prayers is at a much later time is what Mr. Jha bases his logic upon. Mr. Jha assumed that the call for the dawn prayer at 4:45 am in native Delhi is the same world over. A cursory Google search would have shown that in Egypt and other Arab countries the call for dawn prayer in early July was 3:20 am and this little fact demolishes all of Mr Jha’s arguments. Later on he calls El-Baradei and Amr Mousa ‘icons of democracy’ – really!! A man who demanded to be made President while hardly getting 2% of the vote in the Presidential elections on one hand and a long time Mubarak ally on the other, then a grim picture is painted predicting mounting death tolls resulting in extremist jihadis sweeping in from Libya and Tunisia to aid the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most flabbergasting observation of all “As the battle intensifies, Salafi TV and radio channels based in Saudi Arabia and the UAE will accuse the soldiers of being traitors to Islam and toadies of infidels who don’t want god’s writ to run in the Muslim world”; we are all well aware that what transpired was the exact opposite, as opposite as it could get. Each and every observation in that article reeks of ignorance of Islam, Islamists and the Islamic world. Human rights organizations and independent media have after interviews of witnesses, neighbours and onlookers and after analysing extensive video footage have established beyond doubt that the security forces used excessive force on unarmed civilians without any provocation. The massacre of 55 civilians including women and children in their prayer protesting for the reinstatement of their democratically elected president was analysed by Prem Shankar Jha in the most contemptuous manner. One would wonder why Mr Jha did not use his reasoning and logic at verifying the 20-member Tamarrod gang’s claim to have collected 22 million signatures and being starry eyed in dubbing them as “the largest mass movement in history” rather than toying around with erroneous prayer timings. If this was the commentary of an expert with all the right academic credentials and with decades of journalistic experience behind him, then I can only imagine what an amateurish response in any other commercial media outlet would look like. It is the same trend globally that when it comes to understanding Islamists, experts often recourse to fatwas of ‘Imam Google Search’ rather than any serious reading or study.

Secular liberalism and priesthood although overtly and diametrically opposed to each other are cut out from the same cloth. Their alliance was for everyone to behold with El General Sissi, ElBaradei, Salafi sheikhs, Imam of Al-Azhar and the Pope of the Coptic Church announcing the coup against President Morsi. The irony is that when separation of church and state remains the cornerstone of secular liberalism, Machiavellian opportunism demanded they cohort with religious authorities to bring down a democratically elected government. Just as secular liberals lay a sole claim to governance and ownership of democracy and pluralism, similarly the Sheikhs and the Popes lay claim to authority and hermeneutical ownership over religion and its adherents; they both possess the same modus operandi and ostensibly promising deliverance through their respective pursuit of power giving a whole new meaning to the idiom ‘Politics makes for strange bedfellows’. Such alliances of liberals and priesthood have historically aided empire and this alliance always needed the bulwark of armed forces to enforce their diktats thus creating an unholy trinity the likes of which we are witnessing today in Egypt and hence even a vowed leftist like Hamdeen Sabahi shows the audacity to tweet words of gratitude and praise to the Saudi and UAE monarchs for backing the military bloodbaths in their actions against the terrorists. Another fitting example of leftist hypocrisy is the appointment of Kamal Abu Eita of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions to the position of Labour Minister by the military regime. It is not that the liberals and secularists are enamoured by dictators and monarchs rather they deem the Islamists to be far more threatening that they are ready to suspend their own sacred values and principles.

This traditionally skewed outlook with the imperial demand for demonizing Islam and Muslims have resulted in the other-ization of Islamists. Facts and explanations are only so valid if they are in keeping with the respective metanarratives of the left and the liberals. So when it is apparently clear that the Tammarod and its founder Mohammed Badr have proven to be outright fascists, backed and funded by Mubarak-era remnants, whose support base can hardly squeeze in a telephone booth inciting the military on state-run TV to kill civilians, they are still eulogized with revolutionary credentials, so when the military issued figures of 20 to 33 million have been conclusively blown apart by communication engineer and Google Earth Expert Amjad Almonzer and brought down to less than half a million, commentators and media pundits still cling onto tens of millions, so when David Kirkpatrick in his New York Times article exposed the role of the deep state in undermining the state infrastructure and distribution system, the financial crisis is still laid solely on the incompetence of President Morsi and the initiatives launched by President Morsi to combat corruption, generate employment, etc are not even mentioned, so when Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim refuses to protect the FJP headquarters from vandalism and destruction and orders the detention of the President himself, cries of President Morsi’s alleged consolidation of power and Brotherhoodization of the government still echoes, so even when the Brotherhood has repeatedly and strongly condemned attacks against Christians and churches and when Father Youssef Ayoub, a Coptic priest, boldly stated that the attack on the church in Minya and the looting of Christian homes were the handiwork of military supported thugs to incite chaos and violence, the media still harps on Islamists as the culprits, even when Human Rights Watch states that the vast majority of protesters were not in possession of, let alone displaying or using firearms, liberals still repeatedly shout out that the protesters were armed. Hence we have this constant blind spotting of Islamists that has to be broken down in order to not only fully understand what the Islamists are all about but also to be able to subject Islamist thoughts and policies to proper social auditing and appropriate criticism.

The phenomenon of Rabba Al-Adawiyya

“Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts of our body is death and so beautiful appeared my death…”

These verses on the eventuality and embracement of death was scripted by the famed 8th-century Sufi poet and mystic Rābaa Al-Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya, in whose name lies the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque located on the northern edge of Nasr City district in eastern Cairo. These mystic thoughts are a befitting eulogy to the spectre of death that prevailed at Rabaa Al-Adawiya on 14th August 2013. The day the security forces stepped in marked 46 days of sit-ins by hundreds and thousands at Rabaa Adawiya. The sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya must be marked by history along the likes of the French, the Bolivarian and the Occupy revolutions and should be romanticized as such. Women, children, old and young against the searing Cairo summer where temperatures soar up to 400 centigrade, the vast majority of them fasting, singing, praying, protesting, newborns, holding weddings, Id-day football tournaments, play and recreation area for children with swings, slides and trampolines, this entire mass of humanity staying there put for 46 days, under the looming threat of instant death either by sniper fire or by the thugs and being depicted as terrorists and extremists by a very unsympathetic media. Never before has such a colourful revolution that brought out not just men but entire families to the streets have taken place, making this the first comprehensive revolution of sorts and as such deserves a place in history. True to their word of maintaining a non-violent struggle, this mass of humanity was able to stay unprovoked, unmoving in the face of excessive force, live ammunition fire and march forward only armed with their convictions and courage even when loved ones fell one by one in front of them which would have made both Gandhi and Martin Luther proud. The ensuing horror and mayhem failed to unsettle their resolve reflected well in images of youth marching directly in the line of fire, then falling and scenes of comrades rushing to carry them off and falling again. Almost everybody in the leadership has lost a loved one and to the dismay of the liberals there are no fanatical cries for revenge or retaliation and yet they are called terrorists. Only one among them, Dr ElBaradei shocked by the violence tendered his resignation, but it came a few hundred corpses too late and even in his farewell statement could not muster the courage needed to condemn General Sissi or the security forces.

We can only realize the enormity and efficiency of their efforts when one compares it to the efforts of the CPI(M) in their attempt a couple of weeks back at pressurizing the Kerala Chief Minister, Oomen Chandy to resign for his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal. The CPI(M) had announced a mass sit-in at Trivandrum which would for last for days and only breaking up once the Chief Minister resigns and even citing the revolutionaries of Egypt as an example and inspiration, but in spite of all its revolutionary credentials, glorifying slogans of sacrifice and steadfastness could not manage a sit-in for hardly 24 hours and the failure to do so was owed to logistical issues, food, toilets, etc! This is why the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in and the subsequent demonstrations need to be immortalized as it was an unparalleled feat of endurance, patience, sacrifice and courage seldom witnessed in human history.

Now almost two weeks on and several thousand martyred, thousands more detained, the anti-coup protesters march on, still unprovoked, their leaders jailed, focused and determined more than ever. One could not be reminded at a better moment of Macaulay’s Horatius inspiring his men,

"To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods”

As I sign out, I cannot help but quote another gem of a Facebook post by Dr Norman Finkelstein that appeared few days later after his above mentioned post “Revolutionary twits tweet while Gandhi’s army marches into the valley of death.”

About the author:

My name is Shaheen K Mohideen and I am part of the leadership of Solidarity Youth Movement, a grassroots movement based in Kerala. I have traveled to Egypt and Gaza on several occasions and have met and had discussions with both Islamists and secular. Earlier in December 2011, I was detained by the Egyptian military for two days while trying to cross into Gaza at Al-Arish. I was last in Cairo a couple of months back and had met with Dr Essam El-Erian, the vice-chairman of the FJP and spent eight nights at Tahrir square talking and discussing with the young revolutionaries present there. I am presently working on a book detailing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from a historical as well as social movement theory basis, which I hope to complete by October this year






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