Of freedoms and exile

In Society on 31. May 2017 at 20:30

IF ANYONE CAN tell of populism, fake news, conspiracy theories and all that follows strongmen riding a populist wave, then it would be the many Muslim majority countries that can present authoritarians of all colors. Moreover, if you wonder what the cost is of illiberal populism in the hands of illiberal leaders, then the citizens of the same countries have a long tale to tell.

While fleeing authoritarian policies, many a Muslims have found home in Europe and the ‘western world’, where they can safeguard their lives, families and freedoms of ideals, faith and speech. At a safe distance, they have in recent years seen a shrinking space for freedoms in their countries of origin (to a varying degree), with the element of increased demands for freedoms (with their dire consequences).

Sure, many a migrant came for work and financial flows were the main concerns, but there was a reason they did not had jobs at home, or the stability, education and prospects for future in their countries of origin. At this point, many would point fingers at colonial west – and some is due, but lack of indigenous democracy and freedoms is not solely the legacy of colonialism. It is the result of several factors, support for authoritarianism is the prime of them.

Democracy is at loss in this – and with it, the fundamental freedoms that guarantee individuals their rights. Jailing of journalists, arresting for so-called blasphemous or traitorous content, internet blockade and sensor is contributing to infringe and weaken rights. What’s more, these acts do not receive near enough attention or criticism from diaspora.

Contrary, the diaspora is politicized and used to fight domestic political tussles. Recent Turkish referendum and before it the parliamentary elections are good examples of how instrumentalization of religion, and minority status is used to gather votes for a project that weakens democracy.

It is true, that not everyone is an activist, but a diaspora generally has a close link to its country of origin, and generally do care for the economic and security situation of homeland. With organized and financial strong backing, diaspora manage to become influential powerbrokers for politicians to listen. It is therefore of upmost shame, that chunks of the same diasporas are either used to, or encourage themselves to, the decline in freedoms and weaken democracy in countries of origin.

Pakistani diaspora seems generally to be quite fond of its military, in where its Army has ruled the country for almost half its existence, and had a major role to play during civilian periods. While Army and state is involved in persecution of rights activists, the diaspora rather turns the blind eye, or served propaganda justifying the same acts.

The Turkish diaspora is more eager than the domestic Turk to support Erdogan’s shift towards one-man rule. And even though persecution of Kurds and activists is severe in Turkey, it receives among diaspora a support with the logic served through state controlled or allied propaganda channels. Turkish activists or critics living abroad experience being expelled from their own communities, and in certain cases threatened, coerced to silence.

These two examples are not rare – and they do not only apply to countries with Muslim majority only – but many of these either lack or have weak democratic structures, and they have at the same time a good linked diaspora that enjoys these same given rights. How then to channel the support for rights from diaspora to the country of origin?

To demand that, in a time where large chunk of European and American voters vote illiberal strongmen, and try to shed away the progresses made by enlightenment, would be unfair. But Europe still is the bastion of freedoms, there is no doubt compared to many a regions throughout the world – and it has a strong standing of these values among its citizens.

At the very same time, human rights activists flee countries belonging to the same diaspora and tend to find themselves in company of a diaspora where a core is organized in support of these countries policies. Human rights activists from the same countries face therefore a double exile, first as traitors and or blasphemers, sent to exile, for then to meet a diaspora that demands a less critical approach to problems at home ground.

But there’s irony in this game of silencing and speaking up. So called community leaders among diaspora Pakistanis can tend to criticize the amount of corruption in Pakistan, but they would do little or nothing for the jailed Aasia Bibi or army’s policies in Baluchistan. Certain priests would hail the killer of Governor Salman Taseer, but few have till date prayed for Mashal Khan who recently got lynched for blasphemy.

Had Erdogan been the leader of the secular-leftist CHP, he and his cronies corruption would have received noise from chunks of Turkish diaspora – still it manages to be deflected because faith is involved, because symbolism, populism and new found faith/nationalism is more important than strengthening the institutions that guarantee freedoms.

When Sadiq Khan was elected mayor of London, a list of non-Muslim mayors and other top political positions in Muslim countries made its rounds on social media. An effective clickbait, which forgot to tell of Jakartan Christian-Chinese Governor ‘Ahok’ Purnama’s blasphemy trial. He lost his election amid allegations and a court sentence, due to the simple point, claiming Quran does not prohibit non-Muslim rulers – the irony here is outstanding, the outcry against this injustice, quite the opposite.

To counter such, one cannot only rely on others. There is no shortage of Muslims fighting for rights. They pay a huge price for this fight, and need the support many in safer circumstances do enjoy.

Rights activists were there fighting colonial rule, fighting own dictators and authoritarian structures from religion to gender. They were there when Arab world lit up in protests and rage – and they will continue to be there.

While they risk security, and their own life, the diaspora risks nothing but being listened to as they do form a powerful block. It is an important part of emancipation and progress in countries of origin, and it might be one of the strongest tools to fight authoritarian tendencies.

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