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Religious intolerance must be tackled urgently, urgently, decisively

3rd June 2012
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There is ample evidence now indicating that the notion of our nation being an island of peace and harmony on the troubled continent is gradually losing meaning.

The chaos we witnessed a few days ago in Zanzibar, which the nation is still painfully trying to comprehend, is a stark reminder that all is not well and that there is a need to look at ourselves, and do whatever is necessary to salvage the situation.

Several theories are being floated to explain the riots linked to what is being referred to as the Association of Islamic Awareness and Public Discourse, which is based in Zanzibar. As expected, the Association has distanced itself from the chaos, although some of its followers have been arraigned in court to answer charges related to the disturbances, while others are still under investigation by state security organs so that those implicated may be required to account for their role in the tragic drama.

The fact that the Association and its supporters have reservations about the relevance, present structure and modus operandi of the union is indisputable, as this group of Tanzanians has been voicing the sentiment in broad daylight.

In fact the demonstration which spurred the ugly scenes witnessed worldwide, thanks to advanced communication technology which has turned the world into a global village, was meant to make a statement about the union. Staging a demo to publicly express views about political issues like the state of the union government may not be a big deal, much as some leaders in power think it is.

Let us make it clear that the focus in this specific write-up is not about the merits or merits of the union, and how to strengthen or even break the half a century-old political marriage. Our attention here is on the religious dimension of the event under review.

Evidence from electronic media coverage and other reports showed clearly that property worth billions of shillings was destroyed during the chaos which also left some islanders caught in the crossfire injured.

We also note with concern that in an area dominated by places of Muslim worship, only churches were attacked and put on fire at the climax of the chaos. This development suggests that there was method to this madness, as William Shakespeare put it in one of his literary classics. In other words destruction of property by youth “hooligans” was selective. Some questions are being raised in these circumstances, one of them being : are the teachings offered by the Islamic awareness programme appropriate and useful to broader society, or misguided and potentially destructive?

If faced squarely and boldly answered, questions of this nature may provide us with lessons, thus proving that there can probably be a silver lining on the Zanzibar cloud under discussion.

It is true that the socio-economic and political liberalisation process our society is going through has spurred all sorts of ideas and projects in all sectors, including the cultural and religious domains. One of the developments is the mushrooming of religious denominations and institutions, most of which are based on different interpretations of major religious holy books.

Some of these institutions are not different from ordinary NGOs, characterised by, among other things, operating like personal outfits of individuals and a few like-minded colleagues who happen to be beneficiaries of any worldly gains offered by such bodies.

Today there is also evidence that the tendency by some leaders and clerics behind these religious NGOs to venture into troubled political waters is pronounced and, of course, disturbing.

The point being underscored here is that religious fanatics and fundamentalists have evolved in different denominational camps and are busy sowing seeds of religious conflicts in the name of serving the Creator. It is unfortunate that the fanatics-cum-petty politicians have found fertile political soil on which to plant their seeds of destruction.

We even have media outlets owned by institutions of this kind which specialise in the dissemination of religious hatred messages in broad day light. All this has been happening and continue to happen as if there are no laws against such dangerous malpractices.

Political interests must be behind the hesitation to take decisive measures against those misusing religion to disrupt national peace. In short, our political leadership is letting us down and must bear the blame for unnecessarily playing with fire at the expense of national unity.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant hmuhanika@yahoo.com

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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