weather icon Clear

Those gentle Muslims

This piece ran in this space eleven years ago. I am offering it again because of the attack on “Charlie Hedbo” in Paris last week.

In popular culture, Islam is a caricature.

Journalism and politicians have learned the skill of pitting us against Muslims by emphasizing all the worst events and figures of Islamic history and by marginalizing the complexities of Islam from our knowledge, the admirable figures of the faith from our view.

Imagine if Gandhi were unknown to us. Think how much his life and example have leavened our view of Hinduism. Imagine how distorted our view of that faith would be if we did not have him as a bridge to understanding.

The Taliban is mainly Pathan, meaning they are natives of the region along the Afghan/Pakistan border. So was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The Pathans have for centuries been known as fierce warriors. Kipling wrote admiringly of their prowess.

When India was still intact, Ghaffar Khan led Pathans from militarism to nonviolent action. In 1930, after an Indian declaration of independence in defiance of British occupation, Ghaffar and his followers, the Servants of God, set the city of Peshawar on its ear with nonviolence. The British had never seen anything like it, least of all among the ferocious Pathans.

When a group of resisters was fired on, according to one account, the wounded fell down and “those behind came forward and with their breasts bared, exposed themselves to the fire … so that some got as many as 21 bullet holes in their bodies, and all the people stood their ground without getting into a panic.”

Awed by the courage of the resisters, a renowned British regiment refused orders to participate further in the slaughter. (All the anger of the British empire in decline fell on those gallant, unfortunate soldiers – arrests, courts martial, long prison terms, and, in one case, exile to a penal colony.) The regiment had been inspired by the nonviolent example of the resisters.

Ghaffar Khan deplored purdah, the tradition of repression of women. Nor did he view religion as simplistically or restrictively as many Christians do. (How many Christians would want George W. Bush to typify Christianity?).

As the British were being driven out of India by nonviolence in the 1940s, London (which had helped carve up Czechoslovakia for Hitler) wanted India slashed in two. For years, the Servants of God controlled the northwest region, defying and frustrating this western scheme to invent another nation. And they did it peacefully. Ghaffar’s followers swore an oath: “I shall never use violence. I shall not retaliate or take revenge, and shall forgive anyone who indulges in oppression and excesses against me.”

That the Pathans with their brutal culture and history could so easily adapt to nonviolence – and succeed at it! – mystified Ghaffar Khan himself.

“I started teaching the Pathans nonviolence only a short time ago,” he told Gandhi. “Yet in comparison the Pathans seem to have learned this lesson and grasped the idea of nonviolence much quicker and much better than the Indians…How do you explain that?”

Gandhi responded, “Nonviolence is not for cowards. It is for the brave, the courageous. And the Pathans are more brave and courageous than the Hindus. That is the reason why the Pathans were able to remain nonviolent.”

The Pathans’ territorial triumphs were lost in negotiation and the nation was carved up into India and Pakistan. The partition pitted Muslims (who dominated Pakistan) against Hindus and Sikhs (who dominated India) and triggered war in which hundreds of thousands of people died.

In the ensuing years, though he lived until 1988 (he died in Peshawar under house arrest), Ghaffar Khan vanished from view, expunged from the history he did so much to make. The obliteration of Ghaffar Khan from history has two consequences.

First, those of us in the west are robbed of history that would contradict our stereotypical view of Islam. Second, the glittering example of Ghaffar Khan could have given Muslims an alternative to those leaders who appealed to their worst instincts. Imagine if George Wallace were remembered in U.S. history books while Martin King was obliterated.

Ghaffar Khan and his supporters can now serve as a reminder that it is not possible to define all Islam as violent.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
LETTER: Books in the children’s section; sexualization and grooming

Editor’s note: This complaint was originally emailed to Pahrump library trustee John Shewalter on Sept. 27, 2022. It is being republished after library trustees voted 5-0 Monday to craft a review system of “questionable” materials in the youth library that’s likely to include a number of LGBTQ-affirming titles. The writer of the complaint is unknown. Trustees redacted the name and email address of its sender before circulating a printed copy of the complaint at a public meeting this week.

COMMENTARY: Donald Trump gets just what he wanted

Does anyone really want to be indicted? Maybe if your name is Donald Trump, and you’re facing four investigations, three of them for serious abuse of presidential powers and one for using a lousy fix-it lawyer who paid hush money to an alleged mistress, writes columnist Susan Estrich.

TALK OF THE TOWN: Pahrump is hungry for new restaurants & business

Pahrump is hungry for new restaurants and other businesses. That’s evident by the long lines that snaked around the new Arby’s that opened along the frontage road of Highway 160 on Tuesday. Here’s what PV Times readers are saying about our most-read story of the week.

TALK OF THE TOWN: Pahrump ‘fired up’ after claims from firefighters unions

PVT readers share their thoughts about a 56-point list of health, safety and mismanagement concerns co-written by members of the local firefighters union that called for Pahrump Fire Rescue Chief Scott Lewis to step down — or face removal from his position.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS | Share your stories of ‘progress through perseverance’

In fewer than 350 words, we invite you to tell us about an initiative or project that you or your organization have successfully executed since the pandemic. Describe the problems you faced, and explain how you solved them. Tell us about the people behind the project who propelled it foward. Lastly, share a bit on how others in the community benefited from your progress. We will publish excerpts from the best stories, along with photos that celebrate PROGRESS through perseverance in an upcoming special section.