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.