Twitter Against Tanks: Islam Meets Modernity

content_In_A_Bold_StatementIn a bold statement to a world in turmoil, the American space agency, NASA, has named one its spaceships to Mars, Zahran. The 23-year old beautiful Sally Zahran was beaten to death by the security forces of Egypt’s ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Zahran, a university graduate in English and translator, was one of hundreds of Egyptians who paid the ultimate price for throwing off 30-years of oppression. Now the beneficiaries of her martyrdom face the even greater challenge to establish a just and free government that is responsive to the needs of the Egyptian people.

About 6,700 – 11,000 Muslims have died at the hands of fellow Muslims between December 18, 2010 and March 11, 2011 in an effort to modernize the cradle of human civilization – Middle East and North Africa. They deserve our support and prayers that their sacrifice will help deliver their nations from a medieval mindset that for centuries kept much of the world, including my native India, in slavery.

It was 26-year old street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in a small town in Tunisia, who lit up the spark that began this movement for freedom. When he was only 3-years old, Bouazizi’s father died of a heart attack. His mother married his uncle who became sick, unable to support the family of six children. Bouazizi had to start working when he was ten and by the time he was 18, he had to give up his own ambition for an education to support his mother, uncle, and sisters – one of whom he sent to a university.

In a country with over 30% unemployment, Bouazizi had few options. Every application he submitted for a job was rejected. He borrowed money to buy and sell produce on the streets. His hard work made it possible for him to dream of buying a pickup truck – provided he could save something from the policemen who regularly extracted bribes from people like him. They were paid to protect him and his property; some of them even worshipped in the same mosque that he did.


content_Man_on_fireWhat he could not accept was the humiliation that was (allegedly) meted out to him by a 45-year old female official on December 17, 2011. The previous night he borrowed $200 to buy the produce before dawn. By 8 am he was selling on the streets. She came along with her entourage at around 10:30 am, demanding a bribe. He had not had the time to earn enough to repay even the interest on his loan, but she wanted her cut first. It is said that she slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, and tossed aside his produce cart.  The self-respecting young man found it hard to accept this public humiliation by a female robber! Bouazizi marched to the governor’s office to complain. He may have been too naïve to realize that Ms. Hamdi was simply a part of a giant machine the governor and his superiors used to siphon off the wealth of working people. When the governor refused to see him, Bouazizi doused himself with some flammable liquid and within an hour of his humiliation, he was aflame in front of a local government building. His self-immolation sparked the deadly demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia which forced then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on January 14, 2011, after ruling his country for 23 years to its ruin.

Unemployment and under-employment give young people time to explore social medias such as Facebook and Twitter. This unregulated media, rather than the established press, university, mosques, or political forums turned the spectacular success of Tunisian protest into a wildfire. It was social network that brought young people like Sally Zahran to Tahriri (liberty) Square in Cairo, Egypt.  Abdel-Moneim Jaafar, a 49-year-old restaurant owner, demonstrated that they were not out to shout shallow slogans. He followed Bouazizi’s example, by setting himself alight in front of the Egyptian Parliament. Such desperate acts forced the resignation of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. During 30 years of his rule his family is estimated to have amassed $80 billion at his people’s expense!

This liberation from corrupt dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt fueled freedom’s fires in Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya. It is in Libya that Islam is finally meeting modernity’s challenge.  At the moment of writing it appears that it will be Islam, not modernity that will win the war.

content_GaddafiGaddafi’s regime has been associated with silencing legitimate questions, oppressing rival tribes, sponsoring terrorism during 1970s and 1980s, assassinating expatriate opposition leaders, and crass nepotism. Through control over the nation’s oil, his family has amassed a fortune of at least $70 billion. A part of this money is used to buy the loyalty of his tribe as well as foreign mercenaries who have kept Gaddafi’s gang in power for 41 years. His militia is well funded to fight for years and crush its opponents. In spite of his outrageous rogue status, the West has decided not to defend the people of Libya without support from neighboring Muslim nations. It is already apparent that the corrupt and oppressive heads of other oil rich Muslim nations would prefer to follow the Middle-Eastern way represented by Gaddafi’s brutal tactics rather than the aberration that happened in Tunisia and Egypt, where corrupt leaders resigned. Since Twitter cannot fight tanks bought by Allah-given oil, the real question is: Can the brave and intelligent people of Libya or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Syria find inner intellectual and spiritual resources to free themselves from their traditional slavery?

Gaddafi sees himself not as a dictator, but as the Father of one of the wealthiest nations in the whole of Africa. So, why would he send tanks to butcher his own “children?” On February 22, 2011, the ‘Father of Libya’ explained on national television that he sees the protestors as nothing more than “rats and cockroaches.” That shocked the world: had he, however, described human beings as qualitatively no different than amoebas and cockroaches then every secular university in the West would have endorsed his perspective completely. Virtually every person who chooses to abort a baby agrees with Gaddafi that, intrinsically, a human being is no more valuable than a rat. Whatever value a human being has is given to him or her by society. If that is so, what is wrong if Muslim nations choose not to ascribe human dignity or inalienable rights to non-Muslims or fellow Muslims from other tribes or sects?

content_Modern_tools_such_as_TwitterModern tools such as Twitter and Facebook helped weed out dictators from Tunisia and Egypt. But weeding is only a minor step in good gardening. The Bouazizis and Zahrans who want to build new nations, have to find inner strength to question the fundamental philosophical assumptions of their societies. They cannot afford to be deceived by America’s Declaration of Independence that suggests that human dignity, equality, and rights are “self-evident” truths. For that is a myth invented by the American Enlightenment.

content_Human_DignityHuman dignity, equality, and rights have never been self-evident to anyone. Nor did the architect of America’s Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, believe that these truths were self-evident to human mind. That is why in the original draft of the Declaration he wrote, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” By “sacred” he meant revealed by God in the Bible. He changed the words under pressure from deists who, having pirated the idea of human dignity from the Bible tried to make it dependent on man’s common sense. A majority of Indians are classified as “Backward” castes because human equality was never self-evident to any Hindu sage. It is self-evident that human beings are unequal. That is why Hindu philosophers speculated that the Creator must have created us unequal and our karma must have aggravated our intrinsic inequality.  Just as a rejection of human dignity lies at the heart of Hinduism, so does it constitute the very rationale for Islam’s existence.

Islam was born in a rejection of the historical narrative that is the source of the modern belief in human dignity. It denies that human beings are so precious to God that he came to this earth to save us and died on a cross for our salvation in a way that is far more profound than the martyrdoms of Bouazizi and Sally Zahran. Islam insists that God is so majestic that he cannot possibly become man and die as a helpless victim.

content_The_modern_notionThe modern notion of human dignity was born during the 14th and 15th centuries when the pioneers of European Renaissance took Islam’s intellectual challenge seriously. As I have discussed in my forthcoming The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Modern World, (Thomas Nelson, May 2011), it was on the basis of God’s revelation in the Bible, that Renaissance writers such as Petrarch, Salutati, Lorenzo Valla, and Pico della Mirandolo concluded that as a creature man was no different than rats and cockroaches, for he is also made of dust. The factor that makes man different and valuable is that the Creator made him in his own image (male and female) to rule on this earth. These writers agreed with Islam that God could not become a dog. However, if man was made in His image, then God could become a man. But did He?

Muslim intellectuals insisted that it was “illogical” to think that God could become a helpless little baby and die as a powerless victim on the cross. What these intellectuals did not realize was that this faith in “logic” came not from divine revelation but from Aristotle and it prevented Islamic culture from developing modern science. Europe birthed modern science because scholars such as William of Ockham at Oxford and Jean Buridan at Paris were able to liberate Europe from this bondage to Aristotelian logic. As they studied the Bible these scholars realized that God existed before the cosmos. He was not a part of the universe. Therefore, He was free – not bound by the logic that came into existence due to God’s free choice.  This insight into the metaphysical freedom of God implied that the Greeks and Islamic intellectuals were wrong in assuming that truth could be deduced logically. Because God was free, we needed to go out to observe what God had actually chosen to do, without any logical compulsion that bound him. Logic had to be subservient to empirical observation. Its conclusions had to remain subject to the authority of observed facts.

content_In_other_wordsIn other words: the question is not whether or not God could become man, but whether or not he actually did. What if He did become man and die for us? That would imply that man is precious – different than rats and cockroaches. A human being is valuable, not because his society says so, but because the Creator holds us precious – objects of his unique love.

This idea of the freedom of God had a second profound practical implication. If man was made in God’s image . . . if he was made to create his own culture over this earth . . . then the state must exist to protect every man’s God-given freedom. Human freedom is not a ruler’s gift to us. Authority is delegated to a ruler in order to defend our God-given liberties.

Islam denies freedom to Muslims because it denies freedom to God. It denies to God the freedom to love us enough to come to this earth to save us. Since Islam does not permit God to come to this earth to establish his kingdom, Muslims have no option but to be ruled exclusively by flawed and corrupt human rulers. Islam ruled over much of India for almost 8 centuries but during that long period it did not produce a single reformer. Neither Islam nor Hinduism cultivated freedom, because human dignity and liberty were not aspects of these worldviews.

During the 16th century, the printing press played a critical role in liberating Europe. It allowed Europeans to debate and discard ideas that sustained oppressive social-political structures. However, it was not printing technology that reformed Europe, for printed had existed in China for five hundred years before Guttenberg invented his press in 1450. Europe’s Reformation began after 1517 when Protestant reformers began using the press. Likewise, today’s social media can enable brave young people to reform their nations, provided they are willing to debate beliefs held by tyrants such as Muammar Gaddafi.  Will Islam tolerate such freedom to seek truth? I plan to discuss the issue of Islam and tolerance in an Op Ed piece next week. You can get a free copy and contribute your thoughts by joining

Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi’s letters to Arun Shourie, “Missionary Conspiracy: Letters to a Postmodern Hindu” can be obtained from 

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