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Muslim Scholars—West’s Natural Allies in Fighting Scourge of Terrorism

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As the Director-General of Mercy Mission and AlKauthar Institute, which now has over 14 instructors and over 50 courses running in 10 countries in 5 continents, the safety and travel convenience of the Institute’s instructors are serious considerations for me. We can prepare proficiently for the classes, market them, fill the class with hundreds of registered students, but a simple visa or entry issue into a country for an instructor can destroy all this good, and can destroy dawah organizations in the eyes of the unforgiving Muslim communities. Recently a couple of extremely well known speakers, very popular in the dawah scene around the world, were not allowed to come to Australia because they were accused of being ‘wahhabi‘!

I am sure everyone realizes the systematic attempt by a variety of lobby groups these days to discredit Muslim speakers, daees and mashaikh in an attempt to close avenues of dawah by these people of knowledge. Scholars and speakers alike are being harmed and negatively portrayed in the media, wherein the underlying argument seems to be that Islam is the problem and so those who preach Islam are the main un-indicted co-conspirators in extremism and terrorism. Based on this, some categories of Muslims speakers and preachers are supported by anti-extremism programs and shown to be the more tolerant and acceptable versions of Islam and everyone else is portrayed as an aberrant wahhabi!

This dangerous escalation needs to be challenged.

An alternative argument that is the more logical and the more in conformity with reality must be presented, which is that Muslim scholars are natural allies of the West, specifically in fighting extremism and terrorism. Islam and its knowledge and education must be allowed to flourish if extremism is to be curtailed and removed.

Along these lines, I gave a talk at a dinner organized by the Muslim Council of Wales, which was attended by some of the nation’s top anti-terrorism chiefs and prevention of extremism experts. It was delivered in early December 2008 in the city of Cardiff, UK. My goal was to present the intellectual side of the argument that Muslim scholars should not be harmed in their work. Note that the lecture was delivered after the 26/11/08 incidents in Mumbai and before the recent Gaza events – so reference is only drawn to the Mumbai events.

As the Gaza events and decades of horror in Muslim lands have shown, terrorism is not an Islamic monopoly. However, what should be of concern to Muslims – is not that ‘islamic terrorism’ is a contradiction in terms, but rather that the term is and has been coined and is being used widely. So rather than use this opportunity to correct people’s understanding as to how broad based terrorism really is, I chose to focus on an achievable outcome that was more important given the limited opportunity and time. So before you read the below, remember the audience, the desired outcome, and the gravity of the problem and the danger that lies ahead for Islamic speakers and instructors.

And before some self-righteous individual paints my actions as being done in fear, know this: I did not deliver this lecture with nifaq and hypocrisy in my heart, rather with absolute izzah and honour and passion and conviction and arguing for our right to preach our pristine and pure religion.

I acknowledge the help of my friends Amir Butler, Dr Salman Qureshi and a couple of other unnamed close friends from UK, who gave me invaluable advice in preparing for this lecture:

__________________

[Opening: for 2 minutes, speak in Bengali or another language that the audience doesn’t understand]

Ladies and Gentlemen,Did you understand that? No?

Now you can understand the ineffectiveness of our prevention strategies if we do not speak the language of extremism and use the right people and the right vehicles to address its perverted ideology.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the recent incidents in Mumbai only a few days ago, are a testament to the fact that we have not been successful in our war on terror. We cannot with any degree of certainty say that we are safer today than we were yesterday. Terrorism continues to draw fresh recruits, more determined and well trained than before and unleashing a wave of fear and uncertainty in the hearts of all humanity.

However, the greatest tragedy from this is not the loss of human life, but to the reality to which I wish to draw your attention to today. It is, that the war on terror has feathered the arrows of terrorists around the around, just like the eagle in Aesop’s Fables. Aesop, the slave and story teller of ancient Greece writes: An Eagle was soaring through the air when suddenly it heard the whiz of an Arrow, and felt itself wounded to death. Slowly it fluttered down to the earth, with its life-blood pouring out of it. Looking down upon the Arrow with which it had been pierced, it found that the shaft of the Arrow had been feathered with one of its own plumes. “Alas!” it cried, as it died, “We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is certainly true about the manner in which the west has waged its war on Terror. In the mistaken equation of terrorism with mainstream Islam and denigrating it with labels of radical or fundamental, the war on terror has sidelined and marginalized one of its greatest allies – Independent Islamic Scholarship. Worse still, the war on terror has failed to recognize that those that we have come to call fundamental Muslim scholars are precisely those that have long been fighting the war on terror – long before September 11 and long before the Gulf War. For example, the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia was of the opinion that hijacking airplanes was “an extremely great crime” and that it was obligatory on governments and scholars alike “to exert themselves as much as possible in ending this evil.” The Grand Mufti also condemned the ‘Jamaa’atul-Jihaad’, a terrorist group, saying “they are to be cut off from, and the people are to be warned against their evil since they are a tribulation and are harmful to the Muslims, and they are the brothers of Satan.” The present Grand Mufti was quoted to have said about the September 11 incidents: “It is nothing but oppression and tyranny.” There are also numerous such quotes from the Grand Muftis of various countries. These are not sophisticated PR campaigns – rather, they are verdicts spoken in the language that the people would understand, in those media channels that the right group would tune into and understand.

I ask you the question: Why alienate the message of such people? Why not use these Muslim scholars that are credible in the eyes of the Muslim masses to achieve the common goal of prevention?

Ladies and Gentlemen, hundreds of years before the anti-terrorism policies of the West, approximately 1400 years ago, Muslims were fighting the intellectual battles that terrorism presented in the battle between the Khawarij of the past and companions of the Prophet. This continued throughout the ages – where independent Muslim scholars presented the best defense against distorted terrorist ideologies. Today, this is also seen in the manner in which Saudi Arabia has tackled their terrorism problems by putting independent credible Muslim scholars at the forefront in the intellectual battle for disproving terrorism. By equating these Muslim scholars representing orthodox Islam with religious extremism, the war on terror will lose its greatest ally in this long drawn saga.

If we make a search for the causes of extremism and terrorism, some suggestions come to light, such as social injustice or terrorist ideation or political disenfranchisement. But not all people who suffer from these disillusionments become terrorists. The stronger argument is that these conditions are merely the fertile plain, but the common pathway or the motivating context for raising terrorists is through ideological persuasion. It is this ideological distortion that is the cause of extremism and violence perpetrated casino jameshallison in the name of Islam, and it is best tackled by those who are the most qualified to deal with it.

The best strategy for prevention is to dismantle terrorist ideologies using the same Quran and the same narrations of the prophet that are misunderstood by them. This is a task that can only be accomplished by established independent credible Muslim scholars. The war on terror therefore is as much a war on ignorance and misguidance, as much as it is a war against the terrorists themselves. Modern anti terrorism strategies need to do more to tackle the greatest draw card for extremism – that of the terrorist ideology. This is an intellectual academic war before it is a battle with bullets and bombs. Who better to fight the war than Muslim scholars who:

  • Speak the language and refer to the same evidences and jurisprudential sources
  • Those who understand the textual distortions that led to extremist ideology
  • Those who can dismantle the misunderstanding and the deviated logic
  • Who are themselves pinnacles of goodness and mercy to all men and women – whether Muslim or not.
  • Those who uphold the common shared values that both the Islamic and Western civilizations agree to.
  • Those who appreciate that we can all live together with understanding and tolerance.

To illustrate my point, allow me to share with you the example of 2 simple arguments frequently used by terrorists to justify their deviation:

  • For example, how would you respond to a young man who says – how can I be a good citizen of a country that is one of the very nations committing acts of violence in Muslim lands? They continue: Rather, their participation in the wars on Muslim lands is a testament to the fact that we are in a situation of war with them.
    • So how could we address this?
    • What could we do to refute this mistaken argument?
    • Who better to argue this than Muslim scholars who can tackle this on the same grounds?
  • Another example, how would you respond to an extremist that says – you want us to integrate, but how can I integrate with a society that has so many social ills?  Rather, the people of vices were destroyed by God, so should those of today.
    • So who better to address this argument than through Muslim scholars?
    • Who better to clarify the correct way to view this matter?

So who are these independent Muslim scholars?

They are scholars from the broad spectrum of Muslims possessing authentic religious credentials that support the prevention of terror and extremism. They are not adherents to one specific brand of Islam, belonging to this or that group – rather any scholar and every scholar that supports the prevention of terror and is working towards defusing any such tension. For America, 7 years of fighting terror around the world and conflating orthodox Islam with fundamentalism and terrorism – with little progress – truly demonstrates that alienation of key allies in the ideological battle ground is a costly mistake. It is imperative that we avoid this mistake as we look for a fresh strategy to tackling terrorism and its challenges into the future. There should be an active attempt to identify scholars from the broad spectrum of Muslim groups that support the cause.

The US Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr in his address to the Pacific Council on International Diplomacy to the American Academy of Diplomacy on Oct 4, 2007 remarks in his speech entitled: “Diplomacy in the Age of Terror” says:

We must stop inadvertently undermining the efforts of mainstream Muslims to oppose our common enemies and to expose these enemies as the deranged and immoral fanatics they are. Our ignorant and blundering equation of terrorism with Islam has overshadowed and impeded their efforts to regain control of their own moral space. To help them do so, we must restore respectful relationships with Muslim scholars and the governments they advise. Only then can we work with them to discredit Al Qaeda’s aberrant doctrines.

In our natural preoccupation with American suffering on 9/11 or on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, we often forget that Al Qaeda’s aim is the overthrow of what it calls “the near enemy” – the Saudi monarchy and the Egyptian government – and that its attacks on us – “the far enemy” – are merely a means to that end. The successful vilification of Saudi Arabia and newly disparaging attitudes toward Egypt as well as the rise of “Islamophobia” in our politics represent major victories for Al Qaeda. They are defeats for our natural allies against the novel and perverted interpretations of Islam that Al Qaeda purveys. They are therefore setbacks for us. We need to rebuild key alliances in the Arab and Muslim worlds that the diplomatic reductionism of “either with us or against us” has destroyed.

Fourth, we need to work with these allies to intercept and rehabilitate those tempted onto the road to terrorism and to help them to return to the straight path of Islam. Saudi Arabia has created a very successful program to do this; it is now helping the United Kingdom apply its program of religious rectification in British prisons. Enabling the misguided to reject the perverted and immoral religious interpretations they have mistakenly accepted is the key to preventing would-be recruits to terrorism from actually engaging in it. Islam is not the problem. In this context, it is the answer.

If this is clear, then I propose a more proactive, collaborative strategy for dealing with extremist ideology.

Firstly:

I propose that Muslim scholars that are credible in the eyes of mainstream Muslim populations – and not only those scholars who come from a particular viewpoint – be used to educate the masses. Our anti terrorism strategy should be to build – theological resilience within the Muslim youth. Such a clear focused program would develop the necessary firmness in susceptible sections of the community towards distorted ideology. There is therefore a deep need for establishing a concerted medium for education that aims to build this inner resilience in our people.

My own attempts at educating young Muslims worldwide in 5 continents, has been through an organization that I started called: AlKauthar Institute. AlKauthar provides tertiary level weekend courses in 5 countries and 10 cities with a combined base of over 6500 students. We provide professional intensive courses on a wide variety of Islamic topics. My main aim is to educate and enrich people’s lives through knowledge. Such a comprehensive application of Islamic knowledge will build resilience in these students, inoculating them and achieving natural herd immunity against extremism and terrorism.

Secondly:

I suggest the countering of media hostilities against mainstream Muslim organizations, since it plays directly into the hands of extremists and makes the moral position of these same organizations that are proactive in fighting terrorism – all the more difficult. I suggest the formation of a concerted marketing campaign to help push out the key messages of independent Muslim scholars to the vulnerable sections of society. Since the war on terror has been a very visual and digitally laid campaign, the best way to counter this is with a profile based marketing campaign that gets the right message to the right person at the right time. A mass media campaign to general Muslim public would not be very successful since 99% of the Muslim population is not interested in terrorism and not directly drawn to it. It should be targeted at the most vulnerable sections of society. With modern technology at our disposal these days, we can ensure that proactive positive messages can reach the right people.

Thirdly:

I suggest that a strategy be developed to engage the average Muslim towards becoming proactive participants in their community. This can be achieved through an emphasis on knowledge followed by a focus on engaging them in their local problems. A person that has ownership of their society and community will never act in contravention of that trust. I call for the support of grass roots Muslim organizations that are proactively working to build ownership of community issues.

My own attempts at establishing such a program is through a grass roots community development organization which I founded in Australia, UK and now in Canada and is hoping to open elsewhere. This organization is called Mercy Mission. The vision is to achieve a world whereby Muslims can live faithfully to their religion and where by their beautiful example, humanity appreciates the beauty of Islam. Our intention is to create Muslims that are pious, confident, self sufficient and self less back to their greater community. The strategy is to channel the thousands of students of AlKauthar worldwide, into a proactive program of helping develop their community. Our central projects are “MyNeighbours” project which aim to achieve social cohesion by energizing the average Muslim, Water conservation projects, Energy efficient Mosques projects, Health awareness projects, Islamic awareness programs for training police and security personnel in Muslim sensitivity training, Muslim scouts, Muslim community financial cooperatives – the aim being to engage Muslims in all walks of life into those projects that build ownership of their community – the aim being to defuse any attempts at disturbing the peace and harmony that such projects will create and turn the average Muslim into a contributing citizen of their religious fraternity as well as country.

Fourthly:

Muslims have a long history in Wales and Cardiff where Muslim migrants settled in previously. Utilizing the principles that we have put forward tonight, this is yet another opportunity to make Cardiff the centre of excellence in addressing the problems of extremism. Both London and Glasgow have experienced terrorist incidents – let us use every avenue and every opportunity to reduce any possibility of violent extremism in Cardiff.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Islam is a religion of peace and enough is history – world history over the past 1000 years a proof of this fact. Terrorism and extremism is not a result of attachment to Islam, rather it is entirely due to a long seated detachment from it! The earlier that we realize this point, the better we can all prepare to cooperate and collaborate in making this world a safer place for us and our children.

I thank God for this opportunity to share these words with you and my deepest regrets for any inconveniences for the delay in my arrival.

Tawfique Chowdhury
Director General
AlKauthar Institute and Mercy Mission
3rd December 2008

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Sh. Tawfique Chowdhury is the founder of AlKauthar Institute, the unrelated Australian twin of AlMaghrib. A graduate of Islamic University of Madinah, he has also excelled in secular fields: An IT Project Manager, and soon to be a doctor as well (he is completing his medicine degree). He is very active in working with many Islamic organizations around the world and is also an international media contributor appearing on numerous TV and radio stations. The most notable are his appearances on ABC Asia Pacific, AlMajd Channel and the Islam Channel in the UK, where his lectures are frequently shown.

#Current Affairs

What We Should Know About The Slaying Of An Imam 10 Years Ago In Dearborn

informant jibril imam Luqman
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October 28, 2019 marks 10 years since the tragic homicide of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah who was shot 20 times in Dearborn, Michigan by a special FBI tactical squad. The homicide of Imam Abdullah was the culmination of the FBI spending over a million dollars in a so-called counterterrorism investigation which included rental of a commercial warehouse and freight trucks, the purchase of expensive electronic items and payment to at least 3 confidential informants. The raid on that fateful day in which Abdullah was killed and some of his congregants were arrested had nothing to do with terrorism-related charges, yet the imam and by extension the Detroit Muslim community was smeared in the process.

The FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed that agents were compelled to kill Abdullah because he purportedly shot a law enforcement canine during the arrest raid. CAIR-Michigan filed a lawsuit against the FBI for wrongful death and fraud in this matter because there was no forensic evidence that corroborated that Abdullah had a firearm much less shot an FBI dog, which the bureau considered a law enforcement officer. There were no proofs provided that any gunpowder was on Abdullah’s hand or fingertips which would have existed if he had fired a gun, and none of his DNA nor fingerprints were found on the alleged gun. In fact, there was not even a picture of a gun at the scene nor did the Dearborn Police see any gun. The FBI blocked the Dearborn Police from entering the scene of the homicide for over an hour after the shooting which allowed the FBI special tactical team to leave with the purported firearm. In other words, the shooters of Abdullah, who headed back to DC without even being questioned by the Dearborn Police, are the only source that he had a gun. We believe that the FBI used what is known as a throwaway gun in a coverup when they killed the imam.

To add insult to injury that tragic day when Abdullah was shot 20 times including in the back and groin, law enforcement used their helicopter to fly the injured FBI dog, which was most likely shot by friendly fire, to a veterinarian hospital instead of using it to fly the imam to a close-by hospital. When the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan and the Acting US Attorney held a press conference about the incident, it was followed up later with special recognition for “Freddy” the FBI dog while the imam was painted as a type of extremist who wanted to establish sharia in the Westside of Detroit.

To add insult to injury that tragic day when Abdullah was shot 20 times including in the back and groin, law enforcement used their helicopter to fly the injured FBI dog, which was most likely shot by friendly fire, to a veterinarian hospital instead of using it to fly the imam to a close-by hospital.Click To Tweet

The lawsuit which we filed against the FBI was dismissed not because of the merits of our arguments but due to the federal government during the Obama administration suppressing information. The FBI would not release the names of their shooting squad which forced us to name them as John Does. The DOJ countered that we did not have standing on behalf of the family because we did not name actual persons. When we refiled using the names of the Special Agent in Charge and the head of the tactical team, neither who were actual shooters, the DOJ argued that the statute of limitations ran out in our complaint. We submitted an appeal to the US Supreme Court regarding the coordinated suppression of evidence; however, our appeal was denied. We still hold to this day that the FBI wrongfully killed the imam which was followed up by a systematic coverup.

Since the homicide of Abdullah, we now know that government surveillance against the Muslim community and the suspected terrorist watchlists grew tremendously during the Obama years in comparison to the Bush era. Also, the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) which further targeted the community began under the Obama administration. Government spying and the broad usage of confidential informants, some who act as agent provocateurs, in our community are still concerns of ours. Where Americans pray or who we associate with that may have unpopular political views should not be predicates for FBI surveillance. In many cases, this has led to young American Muslims being criminalized. For Imam Abdullah, it led to his demise.

During the 10th anniversary of this tragedy, I ask us all to recommit ourselves to standing for the civil liberties of all Americans to not be mass surveilled and for none of us to aid and abet any governmental programs that facilitate of the violation of our 1st Amendment rights falsely in the name of public safety and national security. Click To Tweet

As my mentor, the late Ron Scott with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality said when he stood with us in this case, “We are not anti-police; we are anti-law enforcement misconduct.” It is not our position that law enforcement be completely abolished. We are, however, against the unethical usage of informants which is part and parcel of the prolific history of the FBI in targeting prominent Americans such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, whose religious and political views were viewed as threatening by the status quo. During the 10th anniversary of this tragedy, I ask us all to recommit ourselves to standing for the civil liberties of all Americans to not be mass surveilled and for none of us to aid and abet any governmental programs that facilitate of the violation of our 1st Amendment rights falsely in the name of public safety and national security. We never want to see another homicide such as what took place to Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah due to overzealous actions predicated upon misguided FBI policy.

Photo: Luqman Abdullah, second from left. FBI informant “Jibril,” third from left. Credit: Intercept

21 Shots and the Pursuit of Justice: An Imam (Luqman Ameen Abdullah) Dies in Michigan

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#Current Affairs

Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians

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On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.

It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.

Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.

In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.

Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.

Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.

Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead

Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.

Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.

However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.

Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.  Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.

Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.

It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.

I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.

I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.

I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah

Raashid Riza is a Sri Lankan Muslim, the Politics & Society Editor of The Platform. He blogs here and tweets on @aufidius.

 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism

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The vicious terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 were a punch to the gut for peace-loving people all over the world.  Only the most heartless of individuals could feel nonchalant about 70 innocent children, women, and men being killed or maimed mercilessly as they prayed. However, even a brief glimpse at comments on social media confirms that among the outpouring of sadness and shock, there are, indeed, numerous sick individuals who glory in Brenton Tarrant’s deliberately evil actions. White supremacy, in all its horrific manifestations, is clearly alive and well.

In an enlightening article in The Washington Post, R. Joseph Parrott explains,  “Recently, global white supremacy has been making a comeback, attracting adherents by stoking a new unease with changing demographics, using an expanded rhetoric of deluge and cultivating nostalgia for a time when various white governments ruled the world (and local cities). At the fringes, longing for lost white regimes forged a new global iconography of supremacy.”

“Modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world. Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.” (link)

Many people want to sweep this terrifying reality under the rug, among them the U.S. President.  Asked by a reporter if he saw an increase globally in the threat of white nationalism, Trump replied, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

However, experts in his own country disagree. A March 17 article in NBC News claims that, “The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned in a 2017 intelligence bulletin that white supremacist groups had carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years. And officials believe they are likely to carry out more.”

Although they may be unaware of — or in denial about –the growing influence of white supremacist ideology, the vast majority of white people do not support violent acts of terrorism.  However, many of them are surprisingly, hurtfully silent when acts of terrorism are committed by non-Muslims, with Muslims as the victims.

When a shooter yells “Allahu akbar” before killing innocent people, public furor is obvious and palpable.  “Terror attacks by Muslims receive 375% more press attention,” states a headline in The Guardian, citing a study by the University of Alabama. The perpetrator is often portrayed as a “maniac” and a representative of an inherently violent faith. In the wake of an attack committed by a Muslim, everyone from politicians to religious leaders to news anchors calls on Muslim individuals and organizations to disavow terrorism.  However, when white men kill Muslims en masse, there is significantly less outrage.  People try to make sense of the shooters’ vile actions, looking into their past for trauma, mental illness, or addiction that will somehow explain why they did what they did.  Various news outlets humanized Brenton Tarrant with bold headlines that labeled him an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer,” an “ordinary white man,” “obsessed with video games,” and even “badly picked on as a child because he was chubby.”  Those descriptions, which evoke sympathy rather than revulsion, are reserved for white mass murderers.

The media’s spin on terrorist acts shapes public reaction.  Six days after the Christchurch attacks, millions were not currently taking to the streets to protest right-wing extremism.  World leaders are not linking arms in a dramatic march against white supremacist terrorism.  And no one is demanding that white men, in general, disavow terrorism.

But that would be unreasonable, right? To expect all white men to condemn the vile actions of an individual they don’t even know?  Unreasonable though it may be, such expectations are placed on Muslims all the time.

As a white woman, I am here to argue that white people — and most of all white-led institutions — are exactly the ones who need to speak up now, loudly and clearly condemning right-wing terrorism, disavowing white supremacy, and showing support of Muslims generally.  We need to do this even if we firmly believe we’re not part of the problem. We need to do this even if our first reaction is to feel defensive (“But I’m not a bigot!”), or if discussing race is uncomfortable to us. We need to do it even if we are Muslims who fully comprehend that our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,  “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”

While we might not hold hatred in our hearts individually, we do hold the power, institutionally.  If we truly care about people of color, peace, and justice, we must put our fragile egos aside and avoid “not me-ism.”  The fact is, if we have white skin, we have grown up in a world that favors us in innumerable ways, both big and small. Those of us with privilege, position, and authority are the very ones who have the greatest responsibility to make major changes to society. Sadly, sometimes it takes a white person to make other white people listen and change.

White religious leaders, politicians, and other people with influence and power need to speak up and condemn the New Zealand attacks publically and unequivocally, even if we do not consider ourselves remotely affiliated with right-wing extremists or murderous bigots.  Living our comfortable lives, refusing to discuss or challenge institutionalized racism, xenophobia, and rampant Islamophobia, and accepting the status quo are all a tacit approval of the toxic reality that we live in.

Institutional power is the backbone of racism.  Throughout history, governments and religious institutions have enforced racist legislation, segregation, xenophobic policies, and the notion that white people are inherently superior to people of color.  These institutions continue to be controlled by white people, and if white leaders and white individuals truly believe in justice for all, we must do much more than “be a nice person.” We must use our influence to change the system and to challenge injustice.

White ministers need to decry racial violence and anti-immigrant sentiment from their pulpits, making it abundantly clear that their religion does not advocate racism, xenophobia, or Islamophobia. They must condemn Brenton Tarrant’s abhorrent actions in clear terms, in case any member of their flock sees him as some sort of hero.  Politicians and other leaders need to humanize and defend Muslims while expressing zero tolerance for extremists who threaten the lives or peace of their fellow citizens — all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, immigration status, or ethnicity.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent role model for world leaders; she has handled her nation’s tragedy with beautiful compassion, wisdom, and crystal clear condemnation of the attacker and his motives.  Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated superb leadership and a humane, loving response to the victims in Christchurch (and Muslims in general) in his recent address to the House of Commons.

Indeed, when they put their mind to it, people can make quite an impactful statement against extremist violence.  In January 2015 when Muslim gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, there was an immediate global reaction. The phrase “Je suis Charlie” trended on social media and in fact became one of the most popular hashtags in the history of Twitter.  Approximately 3.4 million people marched in anti-terrorism rallies throughout France, and 40 world leaders — most of whom were white — marched alongside a crowd of over 1 million in Paris.

While several political and religious leaders have made public statements condemning the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, there is much less activism on the streets and even on social media following this particular atrocity.  Many Muslims who expected words of solidarity, unity, or comfort from non-Muslim family or friends were disappointed by the general lack of interest, even after a mosque was burned in California with a note left in homage to New Zealand.

In a public Facebook post, Shibli Zaman of Texas echoed many Muslims’ feelings when he wrote, “One of the most astonishing things to me that I did not expect — but, in hindsight, realize that I probably should have — is how few of my non-Muslim friends have reached out to me to express condolences and sorrow.” His post concluded, “But I have learned that practically none of my non-Muslim friends care.”

Ladan Rashidi of California posted, simply, “The Silence.  Your silence is deafening. And hurtful.” Although her words were brief and potentially enigmatic, her Muslim Facebook friends instantly understood what she was talking about and commiserated with her.

Why do words and actions matter so much in the wake of a tragedy?

Because they have the power to heal and to unite. Muslims feel shattered right now, and the lack of widespread compassion or global activism only heightens the feeling that we are unwanted and “other.”  If 50 innocent Muslims die from terrorism, and the incident does not spark universal outrage, but one Muslim pulls the trigger and the whole world erupts in indignation, then what is that saying about society’s perception of the value of Muslim lives?

To the compassionate non-Muslims who have delivered flowers, supportive messages, and condolences to the Muslim community in New Zealand and elsewhere, I thank you sincerely. You renew our hope in humanity.

To the white people who care enough to acknowledge their privilege and use it to the best of their ability to bring about justice and peace, I salute you.  Please persevere in your noble goals. Please continue to learn about institutionalized racism and attempt to make positive changes. Do not shy away from discussions about race and do not doubt or silence people of color when they explain their feelings.  Our discomfort, our defensiveness, and our professed “colorblindness” should not dominate the conversation every time we hear the word “racism.” We should listen more than speak and put our egos to the side. I am still learning to do this, and while it is not easy, it is crucial to true understanding and transformation.

To the rest of you who have remained silent, for whatever reason:  I ask you to look inside yourself and think about whether you are really satisfied with a system that values some human lives so highly over others.  If you are not a white supremacist, nor a bigot, nor a racist — if you truly oppose these ideologies — then you must do more than remain in your comfortable bubble.  Speak up. Spread love. Fix problems on whatever level you can, to the best of your ability. If you are in a leadership position, the weight on your shoulders is heavy; do not shirk your duty.  To be passive, selfish, apathetic, or lazy is to enable hatred to thrive, and then, whether you intended to or not, you are on the side of the extremists. Which side are you on? Decide and act.

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for their injury.”  — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.  

For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam.  Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism.  A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.

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