WHAT TO DO WHEN AN ACT OF TERRORISM OCCURS?
When an act of terrorism occurs, we ordinary Muslims should first and foremost start by acknowledging the innocent victims (both Muslims and non-Muslims alike) before touching on anything that has to do with politics, religion, resistance, war and revenge especially when innocent people are attacked and lives lost.
Next, we should point out the real reason we speak up against any terror groups is simply because we are human beings like everyone else and not simply because we are Muslims. This is an important step.
Just as importantly, we need to make clear Muslims have a right to mourn their fellow Muslim and non-Muslim citizens without needing to apologise for fringe members of their faith who commit acts of violence and who ignorantly call themselves Muslims.
While at it, we should also ask ourselves and each other – why we Muslims feel compelled to defend Islam every time someone does something that has no basis in the Qur’an and Hadith (narrated sayings and actions of Muhammad – PBUH)?
Worse still, why are Muslims the world over unfairly put in the dock or why are all Muslims always presumed to be heinous, whenever someone with a Muslim name commits an act of violence?
WHY DON’T MUSLIM LEADERS CONDEMN TERROR?
In 2014, a leading Islamic group, penned by 120 Muslim scholars countersigned an open letter to ISIS that meticulously deconstructed the group’s theology. This was not, the first nor this is likely to be the last. Multiple Fatwas have been declared against extremism and spiritual jihads announced against terrorism and yet every time ISIS, Al-Qaeda or any of their incestuous cousins commit an act of violence in the name of Islam or ordinary Muslims, a tragically familiar refrain arises: Where is the condemnation from the Muslim world?
Despite an avalanche of condemnations from the upper echelons of the world leading Islamic figures, leaders and scholars after every single terrorist attack including the Paris attacks, Boston marathon bombing, Boko Haram kidnappings, Charlie Hebdo shootings, Orlando shootings, the entire Muslim community continues to be the scapegoat for the actions of individuals and groups that commit morally repugnant acts – all in the name of Islam.
In fact, 19-year old Hera Hashemi, student at the University of Colorado decided to put the notion to the test in November 2016. Using Google spreadsheets, she made a “712-page list of Muslims condemning things with sources”, which she tweeted. The list includes everything from acts of domestic violence to 9/11. “I wanted to show people how weak the argument [that Muslims don’t care about terror- ism] is,” she explained. Her stats struck a chord. Within 24 hours, Hashmi’s tweet had been retweeted 15,000 times. A couple of her followers volunteered to help her turn her spreadsheet into an interactive website and, within a week of the tweet, muslimscondemn.com was born. (Source: The 712-page Google Doc that proves Muslims do condemn terrorism, Arwa Mahdawi, 26 March 2017, The Guardian)
Yet, why is the media not giving due coverage to public denouncements and series of formal condemnations by leading Muslim figures that the very same media so vehemently demands, we ordinary Muslims often wonder? Why are these important voices being drowned out by the very same people who keep making the call for them to speak up? And why is the public still deliberately misinformed with the same xenophobic implications about Islam and ordinary Muslims – time and again?
In the words of Yamine Hafiz: “The implication is that every Muslim in the world who doesn’t engage in terrorism is nevertheless a latent supporter, or enabler, of terrorism because he doesn’t make loud proclamations against”. (Source: Muslims Condemning Things: Tumblr answers a question that should be obvious on 20 Aug 2014 by Yasmine Hafiz, Huffington Post)
WHY DON’T ORDINARY MUSLIMS CONDEMN TERROR ATTACKS?
Never mind how ordinary Buddhists are never expected to condemn the extremist diatribes and tirades of the “Buddhist Bin Laden” Ashin Wirathu or Christians are never repeatedly asked to condemn the crimes against humanity by Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik.
Even moderate Jews are never repeatedly asked to denounce the long ago Baruch Goldstein’s mosque killings or the IDF for its almost never ending, extra-judicial killings or illegal incursions by the illegal settlers in the West Bank. The average atheists are also never asked to denounce the actions of deranged killers like Craig Stephen Hicks.
Yet, the giant perpetual spotlight has always been on Islam and ordinary Muslims. Why?
Since 9/11, Muslims by default are instantaneously asked to condemn acts of terrorism as if all Muslims are evenly responsible, often times well before the smoke clears while leaders have failed to demand similar levels of all-round condemnation when ordinary Muslims are verbally or physically attacked in Europe and America, all in the name of freedom of expression. Respect it appears is a one-way street. That the vast majority of Muslims are as peaceable as the vast majority of Christians is of no matter.
“Anyone who keeps saying that we need to hear the moderate voice of Islam – why aren’t Muslims denouncing these violent attacks doesn’t own Google . . . The voice of condemnation is deafening and if you don’t hear it you’re not listening”. Reza Azlan, (Source: Anyone Who asks why Muslims aren’t denouncing attacks “Doesn’t Own Google, January 11, 2015, Media Matters for America)
“It’s true that every Muslim leader in Britain has denounced them several times, but that’s hardly sufficient. They might denounce them at five past three, and then again at twenty past three, but what are they doing in between? For all we know they’re blowing themselves up at bus garages . . . So to truly distance themselves from the shooting, every Muslim should have to draw their own satirical cartoon involving Muhammad trampolining on a pig, so we know we can trust them . . . This is a fair point, because it’s hard to think of a single newspaper that at any time has ever said anything critical about Islam, isn’t it?.” Mark Steel, Columnist, The Independent (Source: January 8, 2015, Charlie Hebdo: Norway’s Christians didn’t have to apologise for Anders Breivik, and it’s the same for Muslims now, The Independent)
IF MUSLIMS ARE CONDEMNING VIOLENCE, WHY CAN’T WE HEAR THEM?
When virulent, unsubstantiated however brief statements are posted online by individuals and groups who claim to be Muslims, all the expert analysis emerges in the form of 24/7 media coverage lasting weeks or month at a time, asking: “Why are Muslims not condemning terrorism?”. On the other hand, when detailed statements are made by regional leaders and scholars let alone ordinary Muslims condemning violence, it is deemed non-newsworthy. Why is that?
“It appears major media and critics can in fact hear Muslims scream but only when they scream threats and vitriol. Words and acts of altruism, compassion, love, tolerance, and pluralism fall on deaf ears”. (Source: Why Won’t Major Media Report on Muslims Combatting Terrorism on 17 November 2014 by Qasim Rashid, The Huffington Post)
Put another way, the vast majority of Muslims can’t help but wonder why is the killing of innocent civilians by less than 0.03 percent of people claiming to be Muslims only newsworthy but if the vast majority of Muslims (99.97 percent) pledge peace, nobody cares to report the same? How can anyone possibly believe that small groups of terrorists accurately represent Islam or ordinary Muslims worldwide? In the words of Saman Shad, an Australian Muslim who wrote for the Independent UK in September 2012: “We aren’t fanatics and we don’t issue death threats over YouTube clips – which is why we don’t get the airtime”. (Source: Say g’day to Australia’s other Muslims, 18 September 2012, Saman Shad, The Independent)
SHOULD MUSLIM LEADERS STOP CONDEMNING VIOLENCE THEN?
The standard protocol today of first calling on every single Muslim religious leader, activist, public intellectual and interfaith speaker to take a “clear and courageous stance”, “loudly and explicitly denounce terrorism” and “condemn unspeakable criminal acts” by terrorists or suicide bombers every time an individual or group does something horrendous in the name of Islam dragging its name through the mud – no doubt needs to be thoroughly reconsidered. The endless cycle of demanding Muslim communities – “to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject acts of terrorism” as if this has even an iota/atomic portion to do with Islam or any ordinary Muslim also needs to be thoroughly thought-through once again.
“This expectation for Muslims to keep speaking out is nothing short of Islamophobic. It assumes that Islam is, at its core, evil. It also upholds the view that Muslims can be essentialised as a monolithic whole”. (Source: Why #illridewithyou is an ill ride by Nazry Bahrawi, on 17 Dec 2014, Aljazeera.com)
Put another way, the current knee-jerk reaction by Islamic leaders to decry faraway atrocities that are grossly disconnected to Islam, needs to stop for what is probably the most important reason:
“Above and beyond these endless series of condemnation and apologies, there is now growing weariness among ordinary Muslims around the world who find it severely draining and disempowering about having to apologise for the actions of extremists who claim to represent Islam, a religion with over 1.6 billion followers worldwide – when this has nothing to do with Islam or ordinary Muslims but misguided foreign policies, politics, oil & gas, war and history – among some of many complex underlying factors that in influence terrorism today.
In fact, during the 2010 Chilcot enquiry, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director General of M15 from 2002 to 2007, confirmed unequivocally that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to a “substantial” increase in the threat of terrorism in Britain. Our involvement in the Iraq war had a direct impact on the number of threats, and forced the security service to request that their budget be doubled. (Source: Former MI5 chief delivers damning verdict on Iraq invasion, Richard Norton-Taylor, 20 July 2010,The Guardian)
Therefore, the fact that Muslims condemn these acts in front of a bank of cameras as often as we do, creates a dangerous confirmation bias, reinforcing the false, common stereotype that there is a relation- ship however weak, between Islam and violence when the whole point of condemning these acts should also be for the sake of clarifying how these acts have nothing to do with Islam or ordinary Muslims.
Given how this is having the opposite effect, Muslim leaders and Muslim advocacy groups ought to explore other alternatives every time an individual commits an act of terror in the name of Islam or while invoking the name of Allah, since at present we are applying a bandaid nowhere near the expanding wound that matters.
“I just want to know why I have to get down on bended knee and ask for forgiveness from the entire western world . . . every time some asshole who has twisted my religion commits an act of violence, but whenever some delusional, white, gun toting religious fundamentalist shoots up a Planned Parenthood or a black church in South Carolina, it’s immediately labeled the act of a lone wolf or someone clearly not indicative of Christianity as a whole? . . . that kind of “built-in double standard” is why “this country still has a wink-wink and not approach to the Ku Klux Klan” but why Islamic Americans “have to be put through sixteen levels of screening” when traveling . . . And the fact is that since that day far, far more Americans have been killed in domestic mass shooting events than have been killed in Islamic terrorist attacks. So why do they insist,” she asked rhetorically, “on demanding that I apologize for the Paris attacks and specifically condemn those psycho- paths, but they get to just put their hands up and slide-step six paces to the right away from this Planned Parenthood shooter?” Anika Kaber a resident of Colorado (Source: Moderate Muslim: Where Are All The Moderate White Christians Denouncing Planned Parenthood Shooting?, 28 Nov 2015, Political Garbage Chute)
“There is an argument that in condemning these acts we are admitting that it is done on behalf of Islam, that we are responsible and we are attaching guilt and shame to ourselves and Islam. There is an argument that the West has much more to apologize for its acts of genocide and war in the Middle East and other places. There’s an argument that in expecting Muslims to apologize, we are subjugated by the West and held in a catch-22 scenario of having to apologize, even though these acts have nothing to do with our religion . . . I simply condemn these acts out of my Islamic religious convictions, which teach me that I should speak out against injustice. All forms of injustice, and that I do. There’s a certain pain that I feel when I watch as my religion is being run through the ground by loud ruthless voices who take all the head- lines. If I’m able to counter that, by my actions before my words, I will always do it”. Mona Shadia, Award-winning Egyptian American journalist and writer (Source: Not in My name, January 8, 2015, Huffington Post)
“We should treat people like the Charlie Hebdo attackers as what they are: monsters who kill both for the simple sake of killing and to provoke exactly the sort of religious conflict that mosque-attackers are indulging. And we should treat Muslims as what they are: normal people who of course reject terrorism, rather than as a lesser form of humanity that is expected to denounce violence every time it happens”. (Source: Max Fisher, in an article he originally wrote after the Sydney siege but updated in the event of the Charlie Hebdo killings, Vox)
On the other hand, it may be worth citing a counter-argument. Egyptian-American journalist, Mona Shadia said: “Muslims who feel they must condemn these actions, not to please anyone but to remain proactive and in charge of our destiny”. (Source: Not In My Name by Mona Shadia, 10 March 2015, Huffington Post)