Only a week back, as I settled myself on a plane en route to London, the relatively aged woman next to me tapped my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, if no one sitting on those seats, can you please move?” On first instance, I thought she wanted me to exchange seats with someone she knew, but staring at the rather forlorn looking seats at the other end of the aircraft that she pointed at, I figured there was no real reason behind her asking me to move unless she badly wanted to put her feet up and sleep tight. Give it thirty seconds and my brown face, Bangladeshi passport and religious idealism seemed to give a broader and clearer picture. Sadly though (for her), someone did end up taking those seats and with perfectly good intentions, I smiled at her and said, “I guess you’re stuck with me.” In response, her expression was that of a rabbit who was just spotted a fox and doesn’t know where to hide.
Interestingly, and this is the part where my belief in karma got reinstated for the umpteenth time, halfway through the flight, I was the one running from one end of the aircraft to the other, looking for an air hostess who would provide hot water for her flu-struck son. A profuse note of thanks immediately followed and perhaps, a tiny shred of faith into the Muslim mankind reestablished.
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and it’s difficult to measure how tangibly the world has learnt on interfaith tolerance. The Muslim majority world has seen its fair share of wars, apologies, more wars and more apologies – but as we stand on the crossroads of an epitome resonating Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village, we ask ourselves – “Have we really taken any lessons home?”
Interfaith dialogue, next to terrorism and political leadership has been one of the most conversational topics across international media over the past decade. Numerous talk shows, documentaries, special news reports and so on have been released – many of which, supposedly trying to strike a fine balance between fundamentalism and “safe livelihoods”. I remember on a weekend night in Toronto a couple of months back, I caught a bunch of serious looking people packed with credentials discussing on late night CBC: “What is the moderate Muslim?” There seemed to be all kinds of discourse and deconstructions on screen, and like any talk show, bottomed down to a point of zero compromise and intolerance of philosophies. Assuming that is a subtler, more acceptable form of intolerance, we move on.
Question is, must we move on? Should we take a second glance, form a more informed opinion or hide under the liberty of indifference because this just isn’t my problem?