The Inconvenient Truth

The truth is the truth, whether or not anyone accepts it or believes it. The Qur’an came to give the world a solution to its problems. The world is free to ignore it just as it is free to suffer the pain of its problems. What ignorance to criticize and laugh at the very thing that has a power to alleviate our pain. But then, none so blind as those who will not see, writes MIRZA YAWAR BAIG.



In chaos theory, the ‘butterfly effect’ is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. The effect derives its name from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. The long and short of it is to say that nothing happens in isolation and that even events as apparently unconnected as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in the Amazon can change the course of a tornado in Texas. It is not to say that the butterfly caused the tornado but that had it not been for the tiny effect of the flapping of its wings, the tornado would probably have taken a different trajectory and landed somewhere else.

So what then is the effect of the murder of a child? And what if it wasn’t one but 500,000? And what if when the agent of the perpetrators was asked, ‘Do you think it was worth it?’ She replied, ‘Yes I think it was worth it.’ Does this have an effect at least as much as the flapping of the wings of our metaphorical butterfly? Especially since these deaths were not metaphorical but actually happened and continue to happen unabated?

Believe it or not, I majored in history, political science and Urdu literature. That may sound like a strange combination but if you are familiar with Urdu literature, especially poetry, you will immediately see the connection. There is no more pleasant way to get insights into both history and political science than through Urdu poetry.

Today, more than 30 years after I studied these subjects formally, and 30 years of having continued to study them not for the fear of passing exams but for the love of the subject itself, if I am asked to name the single most important lesson I learnt, I would say it is the importance of speaking the truth – no matter how inconvenient.

As they say, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.’

Today we live in a world that has changed the age-old art of telling lies and self-deception to an unprecedented level. That would have been remarkable in itself, but what is even more remarkable is the continued blindness to the truth despite suffering the evil effects of our lies all the while. We seem to live in a world that believes in Goebbels’ famous quote, ‘A lie told a thousand times, becomes the truth.’ We however fail to notice that the man didn’t know what he was talking about. Nobody was really deceived by his propaganda except those who wanted to deceive themselves and in the end, it resulted in the destruction of the very system that he was trying so hard to protect and support. Why then do we believe that our fate will be any different?

Today I heard a so-called scholar of political science speak of ‘Islamic Fascism’, ‘the problem of Islamic fundamentalism’ and ‘the rise of political Islam’. “We must defeat it”, he said. He cited examples of all sorts of random violence that we are all familiar with. But strangely he didn’t site some other, far more violent, heinous and cruel events that we are also familiar with. For example he didn’t say a word about the more than 1.5 million people slaughtered in Iraq by those who have invaded and occupied that country. He didn’t say a word about the famous statement of Maddy Albright that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was worth it. Worth what? I wonder. He didn’t have anything to say about the devastation of Afghanistan allegedly in retaliation for something that all those poor Afghans who died haven’t a clue about. He didn’t say a word about the concentration camp called Gaza or about the illegal action of the Israelis, including the murder of civilians (including American citizens whose lives seem to have a higher price tag than others – unless they are of a particular religion) against those who have the courage to attempt to break that siege. He said nothing about the slaughter of more than 2000 people in Gujarat in a state-sponsored act of ethnic cleansing in the largest ‘democracy’ in the world. I can mention many more things that he didn’t mention but I won’t because I believe my point has been made.

And the point is, in a related world, nothing happens in isolation. So if you want a solution to something, you have to look at all the causes that caused the problem. Looking at a problem without looking at its causes and pretending that it is happening inexplicably is to indulge in intellectual dishonesty and leads to further blindness. To speak of events without their historical context may be alright for the ignorant but for those who consider themselves to be historians, political scientists and so on, it hardly suits the image and clearly smacks of bias, prejudice and evil intent.

Another strange phenomenon I observed also in the context of speaking the truth was the comment, ‘The problem with Ghazali was that when it came to the Revelation, he said that if the word of God contradicted reason, then reason had to be put aside.’ Smiles and smirks accompanied this remark and others like it. ‘If something in the Qur’an doesn’t make sense it should be changed,’ it was said. And ‘making sense’ had more to do with falling in line with modern lifestyle choices than with moral and ethical health of society or the long term well-being of humanity. What seemed very strange to me was that once again these remarks were being made by people who consider themselves not just intelligent but at the peak of the intelligentsia. And to crown the glory, these were all made by people with Muslim names. Calls to change the Qur’an. Accusations that Islam is the source of the world’s problems and amusement at the statement that Islam is the solution. All from Muslims. I shall hold my peace about the spiritual illness and destitution of those who made the statements. They will realize that for themselves soon enough when the angels come to take them to meet their Rabb. The same one they want to ignore. After all, reality is that which doesn’t depend on belief for its existence.

But using their own so-called logic, little do they stop to reflect that for them or for mankind in general to consider itself at any point in its history to be at the peak of all knowledge would be a position the ignorance of which would only be exceeded by its arrogance.  To insist that everything has to ‘make sense’ to us in terms of modern day knowledge is complete nonsense. To give an example, if someone spoke about flying in a machine that weighs several hundred tons and is made of metal, to people in the 15th century it would hardly make sense to them. So by our logic they would say, ‘We think this idea is ridiculous because it doesn’t make sense to us.’ Now if you happened to be among them, having travelled back in time from the 20th century, you would look at them and say to yourself, ‘What an ignorant and arrogant lot these are! They actually believe that they know all that there is to know!’ Precisely what the recording angels must have said to each other that afternoon listening to these comments from the so-called scholars who made them.

Finally what struck me was that it takes genius to add value. But any fool can criticize. It took a Ghazali to write an Al Ihya Uloom-ud-Deen. But every Tom, Dick and Harry can criticize it and point a finger at Ghazali. But ask them to write even one page of Al Ihya and they are helpless. So how can someone who can’t do something criticize someone who is an expert in that art? Strange world we live in. About such, the Qur’an says:

إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

He (always tends to be) ignorant and arrogant.” (H.Q. 33: 72)

The truth is the truth, whether or not anyone accepts it or believes it. The Qur’an came to give the world a solution to its problems. The world is free to ignore it just as it is free to suffer the pain of its problems. What ignorance to criticize and laugh at the very thing that has a power to alleviate our pain. But then, none so blind as those who will not see.

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