JSD Candidate Dawood Ahmed on Riots in Muslim Countries

Taking the bait
Dawood Ahmed
Dawn.com
September 17, 2012

The death of the US ambassador to Libya is a troubling and tragic reminder that the pursuit of reform within Muslim countries will not only be challenging, but can easily be derailed by insignificant individuals. Some are already reminding us that the intervention by Nato was a failure. Others are speculating that the project to bring reform to Muslim societies is doomed. Whatever the merits of these claims, there is one argument that cannot be overlooked. While reforming state institutions and the economy is important, such reform must go hand in hand with endogenous social efforts to challenge the sticky, myopic attitudes held by some segments of society as to what merits significant protest.

That is, there must be some questioning of the assumptions held by some people that a) violence is a legitimate form of protest when religious symbols (and that too, only ones own religious symbols) are insulted and b) insults focused on religious symbols are a greater “injustice” in the hierarchy of wrongs than actual physical brutality carried out against fellow man or even fellow co-religionists.

Thus, those serious about promoting democratic reform and tolerance within Muslim countries would do well then to focus their reform efforts on persuading norm producers – religious scholars, elders and community leaders who set much of the agenda for segments of Muslim society – that these assumptions are not watertight and deserve some rethinking.