No One “Hijacked” Islam – Part 2

The Orientalist defines the Oriental.  This is but one way the late Palestinian-American activist and scholar Edward Said described the relationship of power and domination between the West (the Occident) and the East (the Orient); the Westerner (the Orientalist) and the Easterner (the Oriental).  Orientalism is still at work today as White supremacy defines the Muslim, the Arab, the Iranian, the South Asian, the African, the Asian, the Latino, the Native-American, the “Other.”

In my original post (part 1) in November of 2009, I critiqued the way Muslims and non-Muslims alike tried to defend Islam after the shooting at Fort Hood.  Though well-intentioned, many made the mistake of using a very problematic phrase:  “Islam has been hijacked.”  The extremists, they say, are the ones who made it worse for all Muslims.  The terrorists took over the religion of Islam and the only way to save the faith is if “moderate Muslims” take it back.

The problem with this narrative is that it functions to (1) justify stereotyping and demonization of Islam, (2) hold the vast majority of Muslims responsible for “properly” representing their faith, and (3) dismiss the racist double-standards that exist in our society, such as never asking a White Christian to answer for atrocities orchestrated by other White Christians, but always demanding a Muslim to do so.  The label “moderate Muslim” is not only assigned to us by the dominant White supremacist culture, but it also represents the way racist and oppressive systems define who we are.  When we use the term “moderate Muslim,” we internalize the West’s simplified categorization of Muslims.  As Hoda of “The Ruh of Brown Folks” described during an online discussion, “Muslims can be neatly divided into polarizing categories of ‘moderate’ (read: Uncle Tom Muslims who are friendly to US foreign policy and law enforcement officials) and ‘radical/extreme’ (which lumps everyone else together).”

Similarly, the phrase “Islam has been hijacked” implies that militant extremists represent the majority of Muslims when, in fact, they do not.  It also serves as a way to corner Muslims into exhaustively condemning and apologizing for crimes and murders committed by other people.  Imagine if someone approached a White person and asked, “Why haven’t you condemned the White supremacist who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum in New York?  Are you an anti-Semite?”  Muslims are asked such ridiculous questions, along with “Do you support Al-Qaida?  Are you a terrorist sympathizer?  Why don’t you condemn Hamas or Hezbollah or the Taliban?”

These questions are asked because Muslims are viewed in a suspicious light.  These questions are asked because in the minds of many non-Muslim Americans, Muslims are not welcome here.  Last year’s Washington Post poll revealed that 48% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Islam.  While there are those who dismiss the disturbance of these numbers, the anti-Muslim rallies and rhetoric surrounding the incorrectly titled “Ground Zero Mosque”  are just a couple of examples of how rising Islamophobia surfaces in the United States.

But it doesn’t stop at hate speech.  Wednesday’s hate crime in New York where a 21 year-old non-Muslim White male, Michael Enright, repeatedly stabbed a Muslim cab driver after asking him, “Are you a Muslim?” reveals the danger of Islamophobia and how worse it’s becoming.  In light of this recent event, our time to constantly stress on why young White males are not being racially profiled is long overdue.  We should also  heavily emphasize on how “moderate White people”are not expected to condemn or answer for Enright’s attempted murder.  And while we’re at it, let’s mention the White man who flew his plane into an IRS building, as well as the White Christian militia group that plotted to assassinate police officers.

What of Timothy McVeigh, the Crusader language of Blackwater, and even the religious justification George W. Bush used to invade Iraq?  When was the last time you heard someone say “Christianity was hijacked”?  Or, what about the JDL (Jewish Defense League) former Chairman, Irv Rubin, and group member, Earl Krugel, who were arrested 3 months after 9/11 for planning bomb attacks on a Mosque in California and on the office of Arab-American US representative Darrell Issa?  Did anyone say “Judaism was hijacked” by these extremists?

The reality is that the phrase “Islam has been hijacked” is a product of White supremacy.  It is the dominant culture’s way of speaking for us, imposing its definition of  Muslims/Islam upon us, and implanting the idea that we are, indeed, inferior, inadequate, and subhuman.  Once we internalize the racist and hateful messages and start using them, the idea becomes normalized and spreads.  We have to unplug ourselves from the oppressive system and start defining ourselves.  Islamophobia, for instance, does not exist because a small number of Muslim extremist militants carried out attacks and atrocities.  Islamophobia exists because White supremacist culture does not make a distinction between the vast majority of Muslims and the small minority of violent extremists.  As I pointed out in this post, White Christians are not treated as spokespersons for their entire race or religion whenever members within their communities carry out acts of terrorism.

If others do not say “Christianity was hijacked,” or “Judaism was hijacked” or “Hinduism was hijacked,” then why are we, the 1.5 billion Muslims, expected to say that about our religion?  Like any religious group, Muslims need to challenge the problems within their community, but it doesn’t mean they have to conform to how others label us.  It doesn’t mean that we should ignore the double-standards of the dominant culture and never speak out against the demonization of Islam and Muslims.

The idea that a small group of people can take control of our religion is absurd and completely denies the voice that we as a majority have.  With that said, as the vast majority, let’s make it loud and clear:  No one hijacked Islam.

Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins Scapegoat Islam

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It seems that Bill Maher likes to change his opinions on US foreign policy depending on who he has on the guest panel.  Friday night (October 2nd, 2009) was a perfect example of his inconsistency when he started to engage in juvenile Bushspeak (clip embedded below).

Richard Dawkins appeared on the show to promote his new book, “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution,” and as usual, Maher and Dawkins took some playful jabs at the Christian Right and how “superstitious” the West is becoming.  This wasn’t a surprise to me because both Dawkins and Maher aren’t shy when it comes to ridiculing religion.

I don’t argue against their points simply because they’re offensive, but also because they fuel a false notion that “religion” and “science” are “incompatible.”  This is not to deny the fact that there is an actual debate between creationists and evolutionists.  Rather, the point is that both sides of the argument tend to isolate the many who don’t believe religion and science are antithetical to one another.  Instead, we see Dawkins and Maher use ad hominem fallacies to insult and discredit alternative arguments and perspectives.  For instance, labeling people who believe in God as “superstitious,” “schizophrenic,” and/or “delusional” only dodges opportunities to engage in productive dialogue.

But this post isn’t about evolution or Dawkins’ new book.  It’s about the discussion Maher, Dawkins, and the rest of the guest panel have about Muslims and Islam.  Maher initiates the discussion with a recent report of two young Muslim men who had serious intentions to attack locations in the United States, and then makes an absolutely ridiculous assertion that they “don’t hate America, they Love America and feel guilty about it, I think.”  During the day, he continues, “they’re eating at Chili’s, going to the titty bar, and then they get on the internet at night and want to atone for the guilt they feel for embracing the West in cyberspace.”

Um, what?!

Maher, who has argued many times on his show that violence against the West occurs because of US foreign policy, suddenly transformed into George W. Bush.  Like Bush, Maher is essentially arguing that “they hate us because of our values” or “because we’re a democracy”  Muslims feeling guilty about enjoying American culture?  What kind of “logic” is Maher using?

After Janeane Garofalo brilliantly exposed how irrational Maher was being and argued that US foreign policy was the main issue, Dawkins chimed in with a lazy and predictable remark, “Why don’t you just say it’s religion, it’s so obvious.”  Once again, Dawkins uses religion (in this case, Islam) as a convenient scapegoat to simplify complex realities.  Any honest scholar, especially historians who have dedicated their lives to studying so-called “religious wars” or “holy wars,” acknowledge the fact that religion is not the “one and only” cause of war.  The fact that Crusaders, for instance, slaughtered and subjugated other Christians (namely the Greek Orthodox Christians and Arab Christians) is one of many examples on how flawed the argument of “holy war” is.

Thomas Friedman, an American journalist who supported the invasion of Iraq, entered the discussion with his sheer arrogance and pompous pseudo-intellectualism, behaving as if he had full credibility to discuss Islam, its theology, its history, and its people.  His incredibly flawed and ethnocentric prejudices of Muslims reek in his colossally stupid remarks about the Muslim male psyche and how young Muslim men “hate America” because “their countries” (i.e. Muslim countries) are “behind” in economics and education. Shamelessly, Friedman relies on his own conjectures and then paints Muslims as the “Other.”

And that’s exactly what we get out of this episode:  Otherizing Muslims and Islamophobia.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, the panelists speak about Muslims as if Islam is not part of America.  Although Barack Obama has defended Islam and Muslims on many occasions (and even went as far as saying Islam is part of America), it seems that this message is not resonating with many people.  I get the feeling that Bill Maher was afraid to invite Reza Aslan, Naomi Klein, and Jeremy Scahill (who have all been on his show before) for this episode because either one of them would have blasted Maher, Friedman, and Dawkins on their ignorance and childish generalizations.

I’m hoping Reza Aslan appears on the show soon.  Maybe he can help correct Maher’s Bushspeak and elementary school logic.

Newspeak: “Terrorist” Means “Muslim”

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After I parked on campus, a bumper sticker on the car next to me caught my attention:  “Support Israel! Fight Terrorism!”  Nice way to start off my day, right?  I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t the sticker just say ‘Fight Muslims/Palestinians’ because that’s what it really means anyway?”  If I had seen the owner of the car, I seriously would have confronted him/her with this question.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the word “terrorist” is synonymous with “Muslim.”  It is a term that evokes stereotypical images of non-White, oriental garbed, angry, and irrational Muslims who have absolutely no motive other than to kill and conquer (White Muslims are seen as brainwashed “terrorists”).  Even Muslim women cannot escape the stereotype, regardless if they wear hijaab or not.  This is Orwellian Newspeak at best, courtesy of the George W. Bush administration, where language is restricted according to the aims of the totalitarian government.  Amusingly, critics of President Obama accuse him of implementing Newspeak because he refuses to use the word “terrorism” when addressing conflicts in the Muslim world, but this is quite ironic since the Bush administration used the term (and other invented words like “Islamofascism”) to simplify complex realities.  In other words, the word “terrorist” limits freedom of thought and speech because it completely vilifies and dehumanizes the opposition — it generates no sympathy or empathy and brainwashes the masses into thinking “Muslim terrorists” hate the West because “we’re free” and “democratic.”  It is restrictive vocabulary because alternative perspectives on “terrorism” result in criminalizing the individual who criticizes the government.   Besides, Bush’s “Patriot Act” has more disturbing parallels with “Big Brother” in Nineteen Eighty Four than Obama’s alleged “Newspeak.”

Onward, I can guarantee that if you asked non-Muslims in your local town/city what comes first in their mind when they hear the word “terrorist,” most will respond with either “Muslim” or “Arab” (or “Osama bin Laden”).  Just a run an image search on google for “terrorist” and you’ll see the results are associated with Islam and/or Muslims.

Later in the day, I attended my “International Studies” class where we began our lesson on Spain.  The professor had to bring up the attacks on Madrid.  I knew it was coming.  She said, “Do you all remember when those terrorists attacked those poor people in Madrid?”  All I can think about was how the word “terrorist” means “Muslim.”  Everyone in the room knows exactly what group of people the term refers to.  No one needs to ask, “Who were the terrorists?” or “Where were the terrorists from?”

When my professor mentioned King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, her choice of words were quite interesting.  “They finally got rid of all those Arabs.”  Did she really just say that in an “International Studies” class?  I suppose “Christian” and “Jew” is equated with democracy and “good,” while “Arab” and “Muslim” are “dictators” and “evil.”  I raised my hand and told her, “You forgot that they got rid of the Jews too.”  She replied, “What?”  I added, “The Spanish Inquisition.  They didn’t just expel the Muslims, but they kicked all of the Jews out too.  They killed a lot of Muslims and Jews.”  Students in the class started to laugh for some reason.  My professor simply replied, “Oh yeah, you’re right.  And we’re going to get to that, I’m just saying that the Arabs got there around 711 and it took a while to get them out.”  I didn’t take that response too well.  I said, “Wow, that sounded biased.  First of all, they weren’t all Arabs.  Second, the Muslims were actually integrated in the country and they coexisted with the Jews and Christians.”  I heard a girl on the other side of the room say, “Shut up.”   Figures.

Yes, I will shut up so that the professor can brainwash us into otherizing the Muslims, but then again, the brainwashing isn’t really necessary because we’re already conditioned by the media to think that Muslims are “misogynistic terrorists” who want to destroy Western civilization as we know it, right?  How convenient for my professor.

About a week ago, a friend and I were speaking about Pakistan.  Then, the inevitable question came, “Are there terrorists in Pakistan?”  There’s that word again.  But what does “terrorism” mean?  Let’s do a quick exercise in semantics.  According to Dictionary.com, “terrorism” means:

(1)  The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.  (2)  The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.  (3)  A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Ok, let’s look at what happened last Winter when the State of Israel launched relentless airstrike attacks on Gaza which not only bombed homes and two UN schools, but also killed over 1,400 Palestinians.  Yes, that is a lot of people!  Is this not “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce” aka “terrorism?”  Yet, you would never hear someone ask the question, “Are there terrorists in Israel?”  (unless, of course, they’re asking about the Arab and Muslim citizens in Israel).  Why?  Because we’re conditioned to perceive Israel and the West as the “good guys” and “upholders of democracy.”  It’s all about reinforcing “us versus them.”  As Bush said, “You are either with us or against us.”  There is good and evil.  There is no gray area.

If the shooter of the Virginia Tech school was Muslim, the headlines would have been screaming “Terrorist Attacks Virginia Tech,” and everyone would know what it meant.  Recently, a radical White man opened fire in a Holocaust museum.  He was called a neo-Nazi, and rightfully so, but we all know that if the man was Muslim, he would have been called a “terrorist.”  When certain US soldiers tortured prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, why wasn’t that called “terrorism?”  Or what about the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the US invasion — why is that not called “terrorism”?  What about the recent murder of Marwa El-Sherbini — was her non-Muslim killer called a “terrorist”?

To elaborate more, I must cite myself from a previous post I wrote:

In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?”

Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.”

When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” [I]f the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

The reality is that the meaning of the word “terrorism” should not be restricted or assigned to a particular group of people — that is sheer propaganda.  Terrorism exists all over the world, it happens every day, and we’re all victims of it.  Since Republican Newspeak has conditioned us into thinking “terrorist” means “Muslim,” I believe it’s time we either stop using this word or we use it accurately.  When Israeli soldiers oppress Palestinians, that must be condemned as an act of terror.  The more we use “terrorism” for Muslims and Arabs, the less progress we make.  Worst of all, liberals, democrats, anti-war activists, and even Muslims and people of color engage in Newspeak without even realizing it.

It is time to reflect on the words we say and understand their meanings otherwise the propaganda of “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” will only continue.  Only through understanding can we generate solutions that make the world a better place.

(Photo Credit: Obey)