Defaming Islam: The Tactics of Bigots


Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017


In the mind of a bigot, the enemy is Islam itself, not just the fanatics. And if the faith is evil, then by implication, anyone who claims to follow Islam and calls themselves Muslim is deliberately espousing evil and should be dealt with accordingly. The entire faith community is condemned as repugnant to modern society. To a bigot, violent Muslims are the true Muslims and peaceful Muslims are fake Muslims. Thus, the implicit assertion of bigotry is that if you’re a Muslim who understands Islam, you have two options. Either you are peaceful, in which case your claim to follow Islam is a lie, or you are violent, in which case you are a “real Muslim.”

If this sounds seriously problematic, it’s because it is. Bigots do not make philosophical or scientific arguments. Rather, they make theological judgments that do not entertain any complexities, critical reasoning, or nuances. So, it is no secret to research groups and intelligence agencies that this bigotry is factually bogus. An MI5 research document discussed in the Guardian noted:

Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practice their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization.

This suggests that the ideology that extremists call “Islam” denotes something completely different than the “Islam” recognized by a billion faithful Muslims. Yet, despite the bigots feigning “expertise” on Islamic theology and Qur’anic exegesis, no sophisticated discussion of these subjects ever emerges in the course of their anti-Islamic diatribes. They never mention any work of theology of any of the diverse theological schools, nor any reference to the scholarly discussions on Maqasid (goals of Shari’ah), Usul(principles of Islamic jurisprudence), and Mu’aamalat(civil laws). Thus, all it takes is the slightest familiarity with the foundational texts of Qur’anic exegesis to demonstrate that bigoted portrayals of Islam simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

Moreover, it is not hard to notice a very crude simplification process operating behind the bigotry. This is because the easiest (and laziest) thing for them to say is that the lowest common denominator is an evil religion, that’s why these “savage subhuman Muslims” keep misbehaving! In contrast, the rational thing to do would be to examine the historical, cultural, sectarian, and political data about where these conflicts originate and come up with a scientific explanation. What if it’s not about the religion but the weaponization and instrumentalization of religion by certain groups? What if political instability, decades of warfare, tyranny, occupation, and hundreds of thousands of people killed are advantageous to the emergence of extremist groups? What if, like every violent movement in human history,2 these groups simply exploit whatever popular ideology or religion they can in order to advance their agenda?

Unfortunately, what we are witnessing today is an intensified effort to demonize Muslims as inherently violent, savage people with a backward, barbaric religion that is dominating public discourse. So whenever a Muslim is encountered in daily life, the discourse of bigotry demands that the Muslim be regarded as either a peaceful-liar or an honest-criminal, but never as a fellow human being to treat with respect, dignity, and compassion. This point illuminates the fundamental difference between criticizing religious beliefs versus hate speech intended to dehumanize a faith community.3 For instance, people can criticize one another’s beliefs as illogical and incoherent and still go home feeling friendship toward one another. But declaring that someone else espouses criminal beliefs, that their entire way of life and identity is evil, or that they subscribe to a doctrine of violence is essentially rejecting them from society and implicitly calling for their legal incarceration.

Thus, we must realize that this rhetoric of bigotry is both factually wrong and dangerous. Bigots have made it seem as if there is an existential war between the West and Islam. So, according to the bigots, there should be fighting between Muslims and the West, because their identities necessarily conflict. But this is precisely the same message that extremists use as a rallying cry. As one German journalist embedded in Daesh confirmed, anti-Islam movements “are unwittingly playing into the hands of ISIS. The [Daesh] movement has stated numerous times that escalations between Muslims and Non-Muslims in Germany and other countries of the West are in its interest.” So extremists want Muslims to think that the West is waging war against them, to feel beleaguered and marginalized by society, and to feel that they must take up arms to defend their identity from annihilation. If extremists are using such propaganda to lure disillusioned alienated Muslim youth, why are bigots so actively peddling it? This hate-filled ideology has also spread beyond North America, to Europe, and its sole aim is to elicit fear and hatred of Muslims. As an example, Anders Behring Breivik, who indiscriminately killed 77 people in Norway, cited an American Islamophobe no less than 64 times in his manifesto, demonizing Islam and Muslims as evil.

Sadly, this bigotry has also contributed to a dangerous rise in the amount of hatred of Muslims. Muslims have become the most despised religious group in America, suffering a tremendous rise in hate crimes, attacks on mosques, and employment discrimination, with some academics asserting that anti-Muslim sentiment is similar to the hatred of Japanese Americans during World War II. Hatred inevitably leads to violence. A fanatical atheist with frequent online rants against Islam and religion translated his words into actions when he entered a Muslim family’s home and murdered three innocent young people. Consider also the stabbing of a New York taxi driver. According to the prosecutor in that case, “After insulting the tenets of Islam and mocking the restrictions of Ramadan, the defendant, unprovoked, reached through the cab partition and sliced the victim across his neck.” And such incidents happen repeatedly. Many experts have expressed great concern that the rising prominence of a discourse that dehumanizes Muslims could lead to more systematic forms of persecution, witnessed earlier in the twentieth century.

What many people fail to see is that hating Islam is no different than hating Muslims. By definition, being a Muslim means following Islam. If you call yourself a Muslim, it typically implies that you regard Islam as an integral part of your identity. And therefore, whenever anyone places Islam in the crosshairs, they place you in the crosshairs. The logic is very simple—if someone believes that the world should be rid of Islam, they believe that the world should not contain anyone who espouses and practices Islam. If someone believes that Islam should be eliminated, that logically necessitates that they believe that Muslims should be eliminated—the only question is how.

But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t criticize beliefs. In fact, beliefs, doctrines, ideas, and values that are violent or intolerant should be criticized, along with those particular individuals who espouse them. However, when speaking about a global faith community, the essential caveat that must be added is “this interpretation of Islam” or “some Muslims believe,” otherwise one again descends into a generalization and monolithic characterization of Islam and all Muslims. Whenever someone says “Islam is X” or “Muslims are Y,” they can either mean it in a descriptive or prescriptive sense. If they mean it in a descriptive sense, it will invariable be factually wrong, because the identity of 1.6 billion people is not monolithic and resists such reductive characterization. On the other hand, if it is intended in a prescriptive sense, then one is saying, “the true Islam is X” or “Islam should be understood to mean X,” which is an appropriate sentiment for a Muslim theologian or preacher to express, but otherwise wouldn’t make any sense.

Bigotry really isn’t sensible, neither ethically nor theologically. We really have no choice but to roll up our sleeves and get to work trying to break down barriers, foster mutual respect and compassion, and strive to eliminate oppression, discrimination, injustice, and violence.4 To do so, we must collaborate in constructive educational, humanitarian, and diplomatic efforts to provide justice, security, transparency, and the restoration of basic human rights and necessities to all. Muslims must also play a vital role in reaching out to the non-Muslim community, embodying the Prophetic virtues in their moral character and being a source of good in the society around them. Because in the end, love, compassion, and kindness will always conquer hatred and hostility.