Why the world ‘Khan-not’ be divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’

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What seems to unfortunately escape the bigots of the world is that we are all part of humanity, a recurring message that the protagonist in My Name is Khan tries to impart, observes Mustafa K Anuar.

It is difficult enough to live a life of an autistic, but it is even harder if one is also a Muslim especially at a time when ethno-religious zeal rears its ugly head.

Rizwan Khan, played by renowned Shah Rukh Khan in what promises to be yet another Bollywood blockbuster My name is Khan, had witnessed the ugly ravages of religious strife between Hindus and Muslims in his home country India. Khan was born with disability called Asperger Syndrome.

Such animosity baffled Khahttp://aliran.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10644&action=editn who had, since childhood, been taught by his doting mother (played by Zarina Wahab) that the only difference between people is the bad ones and the good. This was amply illustrated to him when the mother drew two matchstick human figures on a paper, one holding a lollipop and the other a stick.

The mother asked Khan to distinguish (out of the two matchstick figures) a Hindu from a Muslim, to which the son retorted that he couldn’t because the figures look alike — an answer the mother was expecting. The only difference is that one held a stick (the baddie), while the other a lollipop (the virtuous).

Yes, the primary lesson for the son (and also a useful reminder to us all) is that we humans are all the same: we have the bad ones just as we have the good ones in our midst. This very simple and yet powerful lesson became the principle that had guided troubled Khan throughout his life and one that he doesn’t compromise.

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To be sure, no ethno-religious group has a monopoly over virtue just as evil deeds are not the preserve of a particular ethno-religious collective.

But this crass and contentious distinction unfortunately becomes convenient to and favoured by certain people particularly in a post 9/11 world. Indeed, the actions of some extremist and misguided Muslims have been depicted wrongly by certain quarters in the Western world, including the global media, as if violence and killing are integral to the teachings of Islam so that the entire Muslim community is tarred with the same brush.

Equally damning, a demonisation of an entire group of people has, as Khan learned the hard way, given rise to heartache, hatred, and mayhem not only between different religious communities and neighbours, but also within a particular community and families. Khan himself and his wife (played by competent Kajol) clashed and parted ways, although temporarily, as a result of the hideous impact of the 9/11 atrocities.

As if defying the warped logic of plonking all members of a religious community — in this case Muslims — in one neat but ‘negative’ box, Khan instead extended his love and compassion beyond his wife and adopted son. His relentless care and love for humanity and justice drove him, for instance, to the Southern Black of the United States where there appeared to be institutional neglect of the black poor and the marginalised who were then ravaged by floods.

Despite being a victim of ethno-religious hatred and ethnic profiling in the United States, Khan showed the world that mutual understanding, respect and bridge-building – not ethno-religious vengeance – should take centre stage. His action also demonstrated that piety and virtue should also take the form of caring and loving even those who come from a religious community not of his own.

READ MORE:  Racial politics is toxic and contaminates justice

On the home front, our local politicians, particularly those who are bent on playing the ethno-religious card for their vested interests, could learn a thing or two from My name is Khan, directed by the celebrated Karan Johar.

For one thing, while there may be a short-term gain to be extracted from the deliberate politics of divide and rule, it however makes a colossal mockery out of the faith the perpetrators profess to adhere to (which calls for mutual understanding, respect, justice and peace). Worse, the seeds of hatred, suspicion and misunderstanding that they sow obviously can give rise to untold misery and damage to human existence and dignity.

What also seems to unfortunately escape the bigots of the world is that we are all part of humanity, a recurring message that the so-called disabled Khan tries to impart.

Mustafa K Anuar is an academic at a local university.

This piece was first published in The Malaysian Insider.

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