Not In My Name
Muslims protest ISIS and extremists, but does the West hear them?
These days it seems to be de rigueur for the American right to deliberately make enemies out of Muslim moderates, using provocative, aggressive anti-Islam propaganda, like the billboards Pamela Geller plastered in New York City, as I wrote in a previous column. It would be better to maintain Muslim moderates as allies, if not outright friends, to defeat the menace that extremist political movements masquerading as religious cults, like ISIS, present to the entire world, including the West. Yet, the corollary that all Muslims are the enemy is increasingly prevalent all over social media, in American news programs, and even emanate from a “progressive” like Bill Maher (I’m only being a little sarcastic here. In fact, Maher is widely regarded as having bigoted views against Islam, in line with right wing commentators).
- Pakistan is a country of contradictions – full of promise for growth, modernity and progress, yet shrouded by political, social and cultural issues that undermine its quest for identity and integrity. My bi-monthly column “Pakistan Unveiled” presents stories that showcase the Pakistani struggle for freedom of expression, an end to censorship, and a more open and balanced society.
- Bina Shah is a Karachi-based journalist and fiction writer and has taught writing at the university level. She is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories. She is a columnist for two major English-language newspapers in Pakistan, The Dawn and The Express Tribune, and she has contributed to international newspapers including The Independent, The Guardian, and The International Herald Tribune. She is an alumnus of the International Writers Workshop (IWP 2011).
This is a change for the worse from the days following 9/11, when there was a real effort to differentiate moderate, peace-loving Muslims in America from the terrible extremists who bombed the Twin Towers. “We know you aren’t like them,” was a strain echoed in communities all across America, where Muslims had always lived peacefully with Americans of all creeds and faiths. It was a unifying motto, one that affirmed the goodness in all humanity. It created space for people to heal. Muslims all over the world felt obligated to condemn the actions of those thirteen Saudi hijackers, and people who wanted to believe that the hijackers were an aberrant minority in an otherwise peaceful majority met them halfway.
But today, thirteen years and two wars later, the tune has changed to one that speaks of irreconcilable differences between Muslims of any nationality or background and non-Muslims, particularly in Western countries. More and more, the sentiment is “You’re like them; it’s just a matter of time before you reveal your true self.” In thirteen years, ordinary Muslims have gone from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent. Increasingly, proving one’s innocence is harder and harder to do.
Moderate Muslims feel as revolted by the events unfolding in the Middle East as anyone. ISIS and Al-Qaeda have wounded, raped, and killed far more Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia than anyone of any other religion in any other region. But the moderate Muslim reaction is believed to be insincere, an act put on to deceive others about the true nature of bloodthirsty Muslims, who secretly wish for all non-Muslims to die.
Armed with a few verses cherry-picked out of the Quran, twisted to distort their original meaning and context, many Westerners have convinced themselves that all Muslims are commanded to kill Christians and Jews. The verses refer to a specific historical instance when early Muslims were allowed to conduct a defensive war against certain Jewish or pagan tribes that conspired against the early Muslim community, not an instruction on how to behave with non-Muslims throughout all time. Explaining this is called lying, or being an “apologist for jihad.”
When Muslims insist that they are telling the truth, they are told, “You’re using taqiya to lie about the true nature of Islam.” Taqiya is the concept that a Muslim is allowed to conceal the fact of his or her faith in order to escape being killed by enemies. But in the parlance of many detractors, this is coarsened to mean that Muslims are allowed to lie about anything in order to propagate the religion. Or, Muslims are taunted about “love jihad,” a particularly odious phrase coined by the Indian media to refer to a Muslim man who marries a non-Muslim woman specifically for the task of converting her to Islam. The specific case that caused a resurgence of the phrase this year was later found to be false, with the woman in question saying she had lied about being deceived and had actually converted out of her own will. Islam is made to feel like a virus and, the moderate Muslim its carrier, like Typhoid Mary.
And then there’s that final insult, when moderate Muslims are asked, “Why aren’t you protesting ISIS and other extremists?” In fact, all moderate Muslims are protesting what is being done to the world’s perception of their religion. Imams in the UK and the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, the British care worker David Haines, and, most recently, Abdul Rahman (Peter) Kassig. Young Muslims started a #notinmyname campaign on Twitter and other social media to not only distance themselves from ISIS, but disown them completely. Similarly, Muslim leaders all over North America have been vocal about their condemnation of extremism. But all the condemnation, disavowals, and apologies seem to be disappearing into thin air, heard and witnessed by nobody. As Hend, the blogger behind Libya Liberty, says: “If you think Muslims aren’t condemning ISIS, it’s not because Muslims aren’t condemning ISIS. It’s because you’re not listening to Muslims.”
What’s astonishing is that distorting the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) is exactly the same strategy that extremists like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other militants use in order to find reasons to wage a war against the non-Muslim “West.” By agreeing with the distorted and ugly version of Islam that extremists peddle, and by peddling distortions of their own, Western detractors are increasing the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims. How sad to see that the belief that Islam and the West are incompatible – a belief shared by Islamic religious extremists and the American right wing– has now entered mainstream parlance with only a few qualms for repercussions. And how disheartening it is for moderate Muslims to see that they, the majority, are losing their allies thanks to ISIS and Islamophobes alike.