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Bridges TV: Building or Breaking ‘em?

 

By Syed M. Islam

 

On May 2, 2003, the New-York based Bridges Network, Inc., announced it would launch Bridges TV, the first Muslim television channel in North America. The expected launch date is around the summer of 2004, but it is also incumbent upon the network’s ability to lasso in ten thousand paying members, so that they can demonstrate public support. 

The publicly-articulated intent behind this separate TV channel is to remedy popular misconceptions about Muslims in North America, by sharing Muslim life, etc., on TV. 

The intent seems quite commendable as stated. However, some people have expressed concern over the need for a Muslims-only channel, as it seems to also encourage the concept of separatism when the world seems to be going the other way. Why does Muslim life need a promotional venue of TV? Wasn’t it said that living by example for a Muslim was the best promotion of his faith? 

Should this proposal for a separate Muslim TV channel be a point of concern? While there may not be enough causes for concern as yet, I do not understand the need for a separate channel for a group of people on the basis of their faith. Can Muslims for some reason not adapt themselves to the regular TV channels, like the rest of the people who throng to America seeking a better life seem to do? Besides, how many other religions have exclusive channels where the glory of their lifestyles is promoted, presumably as superior to all else’s? 

Personally, I see this idea as potentially promoting separatism at some levels, despite the noble and stated intent of the Bridges Network, Inc. It also seems anachronistic: in a secular democracy of the USA where religions belong to the private domain, running a TV channel to promote the lifestyle of people with a common faith seems a bit too public and out of tune with the larger goals to establish societal harmony and identify common grounds. In a pluralistic society such goals seem attainable when faith-based separatism is socially discouraged, not championed. Unfortunately, the latter still seems to be the unflinching mindset of many an expatriate Muslim. 

If anyone’s faith helps him to be good personally and respectful of all else as equals, I can empathize and respect him, so long as he keeps his faith private. However, from a humanistic perspective I have no sympathy for anyone who uses faith to justify and promote separatism, as well as a sense of superiority over others. At many levels his justification would appear logically indefensible, as he will possibly refuse to acknowledge and respect the same basis of superiority for all others who feel similarly, but practice a different faith. Quite likely, therefore, this indefensible, faith-based separatism could lead to needless conflict, prejudice, and hatred of others. Is there any corroboration of this hypothesis in real life? 

I clearly recall multiple instances when many a US Muslim had shouted anti-American epithets at mosques, during khutbahs, and in pamphlets and books during the Eighties and Nineties, long before the September 11, 2001 tragedy, after which the stereotyping of Muslims began to surface in the US. Interesting and humorous, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to guess why these Muslims won't gallop on camelback to countries that seem to honor their lifestyle preferences as well as a system of theocratic government that they presumably salivate for, such as Pakistan, Iran, or Nigeria. Regardless, there is a pronounced sense of separatism amongst many expatriate Muslims from the mainstream US culture that is often packaged in a veil of superiority. That they continue to live in this unIslamic country when their freedom to migrate to any Islamic-theocracy based respite has not been restricted seems arguably hypocritical. 

On the theme of Bridges TV, let’s ask what exactly is a faithful Muslim’s idea of bridge building with the west, when he may also endorse a Muslims-only TV channel? What exactly does he wish to see in the US: a return to the seventh century Arabia where social customs and all else were governed by faith-based, uncontestable dicta, instead of reason-based, contestable and evolving domestic policies as well as the rule of law, here in the US? 

What is a Muslim’s idea of the US' being a secular democracy? Does he wish for it to devolve—and I shudder at the thought that some might--into an Islamic theocracy, instead? If not, then why are there strident and ceaseless efforts by many of them to denounce the concepts of secularism and democracy as anti-Islamic while caring little to develop a defensible understanding of either?  Why do they present reams of balderdash to argue the superiority of an Islamic theocracy—while also denouncing all of its working examples such as Pakistan, Iran, and Nigeria, as unrepresentative of its nonpareil perfection? 

Such denouncement is insisted upon possibly because those examples put on its head their claim that Islam purportedly offers all the vestiges of equality and other ‘modern’ aspects of society, but its superiority lay in its public policy level deference to Allah, unlike the unholy approach to governing mankind such as secularism, for instance, which relegates Allah and all of His former renditions to the private domain of citizens? Oh how unbearable that must be for a true-blue Muslim! 

That such superiority is strictly a matter of one person’s faith, beyond which it can hardly offer much substance if reason serves as the bedrock of argument as to why ALL Gods need to be relegated to the private sector in this century of pluralism, it seems next to impossible to discuss with many a Muslim faithful. 

Because I catch quite often on many dedicated Islamic eforums the high waves of turgid turbulence over the unIslamic West and its ways of kufr and Jahiliyyah, let’s ask: What is a Muslim's idea of living in a society with the following utterly unIslamic features: bars that serve alcohol, pork is raised as cattle and sold as edible meat, meat that is not always processed in a 'Halal' way, restaurants that stay open during the fasting season of Ramadan, banks that charge interest, the church has no control over the state’s affairs, public schools have no mandated curriculum to include courses in religion, women do not wear hijabs and can drive cars and go outside at night without needing a bearded male escort, polygamy is outlawed, young couples can date and have consensual sex outside of marriage, children out of wedlock are socially acceptable, same sex couples have equal rights, a woman who had sex or got pregnant out of wedlock is not half buried into the ground and then stoned to death, etc.? The list must be unbearable for a good Muslim living in the US. 

Can a Muslim truly sustain his faith with an unperturbed mind, in a pluralistic society where he may not have a religious orthodoxy that bullies everyone else to conform to its interpretation of Allah’s ONLY way to live—as it seems to be the case in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Nigeria, for instance? Moreover, how does he deal with being a religious minority? If he should feel that Islamic laws must be forced upon everyone, including non-Muslims, in a theocracy where Muslims are the majority, would he feel equally comfortable if the US majority should force him to drink alcohol and eat pork, for starters, because those are holy enough according to their secular laws? 

In my opinion, these seem to be poignant points to ponder over for many Muslims living in the US, before howling over how painful it is for them to see open restaurants during their fasting season of Ramadan or smell alcohol as they speed-walk past pubs, for instance. A Muslim can be legitimately thankful that he is allowed to practice his faith privately in this secular democracy and not forced to conform to someone else’s faith-based dicta as to what is good for EVERYONE, unlike what any of his theocracy-based Islamic nirvanas seems to do to minorities. How unIslamic do the ideals of secular democracy really appear now? 

Does a Muslim have difficulty accepting any legal decision in the US, fearing that it might not be in conformity with the Islamic Sharia laws, and, therefore, unfair to his right to practice his faith? Could a reality check be in order, in this context? 

Lot of these questions quite possibly percolate amongst not only the expatriate Muslims but also among many non-Muslims, who may often find it difficult to ferret out measurable congruence between Muslims' preference for a 'dialogue' (bridge) and in much of their thoughts and actions that prefer isolationism and separatism, while also denouncing everyone else's faith or lack thereof as nothing but 'path to Satan'. That their actions speak more of a "clash" than "dialogue", regardless of some of their lip service for the latter, I wonder how many Muslims can honestly and faithfully acknowledge.  

I am not sure about the time-phased plans of Bridges Network, Inc., but I surely would hope that they'd address these larger issues that seem to affect the psyche of many a US Muslim, before launching to showcase the pristine version of Islam that may not offer much corroboration from real life examples and that also does not offer any reasonable solutions to the REAL issues that many an Islamic theocracy seem bogged down with: illiteracy, poverty, high death rate of babies, sizeable disparity in regards to the rights for women and minorities.  

Otherwise, this effort to "bridge" anything may only serve to perpetuate the stereotype of Muslims as separatists, which at this time does not seem very conducive for an honest “dialogue” that can be based upon mutual respect. Bridges are built by congruence between one's thoughts and actions to prefer a “dialogue”, but hardly by rousing attendees at Jumuah prayers to 'confront' the 'so-called' 'new world order' of 'kufr' and 'Jahiliyaah', which essentially means anyone who isn't a Muslim is in the path of Satan! Once the religious zeal is filtered out, this bigoted mindset can hardly be called reasonable, logical, and pro-peace. 

Regardless, it seems reasonable to offer Bridges TV the benefit of the doubt. Let's see if they will try to BUILD bridges between Muslims and ALL ELSE or simply promote thoughts and attitudes that encourage BLOWING UP of such bridges. 

In a potential worst case scenario, if they promote societal segregation for Muslims so that they could eventually lobby for a sovereign Muslim-land smack dab in the middle of the US, if only to remove the last vestiges of obstacles between them and Allah—la Illaha Ill Allah--then it’d seem reasonable to hope that the US military would round them up and swiftly ship them out to any of the haloed Islamic lands, with choices varying from Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, to some other allegedly imperfect but working examples of the religion that claim to offer perfect rules for all times and for all people. After all, the US might not be too keen on a house divided and a reversal of its foundational ideals, simply because one minority group claims to have the latest version of godly truth that needs such ungodly division. 

It seems ridiculous to empathize with anyone’s promotion of divisiveness in society and insistence on faithful blindness to consider it justifiable. Such morbid earnestness of faith is hardly good enough and could very well lend itself to needless civil unrest and chaos. It seems ridiculous that any rational creator of this universe, if He should indeed exist, would promote unholy separatism among groups of his glorious creation, when he could have just as easily distributed his latest and greatest message to ALL of humanity, if one believes that HE has all the power to do so. How absurd it is to have humans blow up bridges because their allegedly all-powerful creator was for some reason unable to disseminate HIS latest and greatest dicta to all of humankind. 

No matter what crumbs of shallow semantics that any Muslim apologist may fling in HIS defense, it seems much more humane to build the cranial bridge to acknowledge the equality of all, instead of breaking bridges among various groups due to one’s faith in his religious superiority. That dangerous mindset of faith can be decidedly unfaithful to the larger cause of humanity, or so it seems.

 

Syed M. Islam is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at

[ [email protected] ].

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