Islamophobia is stupid: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” – (Qur’an 5:8)
As established in Part 1, Muslims are not monolithic at all. To further evaluate the term Islamophobia we must look to the concepts of race, ethnicity and culture.
Using the label Islamophobe in politically correct or in activist terms is calling out bigotry. However, many non-Muslims, often see it as something else, something unjust. To see this from their perspective we have to digress for a moment.
Before we do, consider the words of one of the most successful political communication strategist of modern campaigning, Dr. Frank Luntz. In his book “Words that Work: It’s not what you say it’s what people hear,” Dr. Luntz stated that, ”the act of speaking is not a conquest, but a surrender.”
BIGOTRY AGAINST A ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE IS UNPOPULAR, BUT A PERCEIVED THREAT SUPERSEDES POPULARITY
In the modern age, to be against a whole group of people is against nearly all accepted understandings of human morality. However it is and will always be acceptable to be against an ideology, political system, theory and/or belief. It is socially accepted to say ‘I fear Communism’ or to be anti-communist, but it is bigotry to be anti-Russian, anti-Cuban or anti-Chinese.
This is why Islamophobia is so grossly inadequate when compared to the terms used to combat bigotry against of other groups. The dehumanization of Muslims is so strong because we have failed not only to communicate what the vast majority of Muslims believe, but perhaps more importantly we have failed to communicate the distinction between Islam and Muslims. This failure encourages the ridiculous view that all Muslims are mindless automatons, waiting for the next “Islamic” order that we will blindly follow.
ISLAM IS AGAINST THE CONCEPT OF RACIAL TENSION & BIGOTRY
Selected quotes from Islamic sources:
“And among His signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: truly in that are signs for those who know.” (Qur’an 30:22)
“O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the Sight of Allah is the believer who has the most piety. Verily, Allah is All Knowing, All Aware.” – (Qur’an 49:13)
“People descend from Adam, and Adam was made out of dust. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, neither for a white man over a black man, except the superiority gained through taqwa” – (Tirmidhi, Sunan, Bab ai-Tafsir, Hadith 49; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, vol. 5, p.41 1. )
AS A SOCIETY AMERICANS ARE AVERSE TO RACISM BUT NOT NECESSARILY TO ETHNOCENTRISM
On May 17, 1998 The American Anthropological Association produced a “Statement on ‘Race“:
“In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.”
The terms “ethnicity” and “ethnic group” are derived from the Greek word ethnos, normally translated as “nation” or commonly said people of the same race that share a distinctive culture. The term “ethnic” and related forms were used in English in the meaning of “pagan/ heathen” from the 14th century through the middle of the 19th century. ThiE. Tonkin, M. McDonald and M. Chapman, History and Ethnicity (London 1989), pp. 11–17 (quoted in J. Hutchinson & A.D. Smith (eds.), Oxford readers: Ethnicity (Oxford 1996), pp. 18–24.
The key here is in the ending of the definition, it uses two judgmental words “pagan and heathen.” As Americans we are a patriotic people. However, extreme nationalists go beyond pride and often end up throwing the baby out with the bath water in their desire to preserve the good qualities of our nation while obfuscating a fictional racial and ethnic superiority.
A brief anthropological definition of culture is – “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” The word is also defined as – a “particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period.”
SO WHO ARE AMERICAN MUSLIMS?
American Muslims are identified as a “blended identity” in the 12th edition of Racial and Ethnic Groups. The same text defines blended identities as “the self-image and worldview that is a combination of religious faith, cultural background based on nationality, and the status of being a resident of the United States.” A key message that must be made clear to non-Muslims is that Islam is not incompatible with the positive aspects of American culture, the virtues that we all want to preserve. In fact that Islam encourages these same values.
We give a lot of lip service to the value of our community’s diversity; however it is painfully obvious that we are not a race or even one ethnic group. The tie that binds us is faith, not ethnicity. Culture however is a larger concept. We can and we are creating and defining American Muslim cultures. A key to understanding if the term Islamophobia is a good term that our community should embrace or not is in examining if its usage is consistent with Islamic values and the type of culture that we wish to craft for our next generations.
THE TACTIC THAT ISLAMOPHOBIA REQUIRES IS DIVISIVE
Using this tactic often sweeps entire groups of our neighbors and countrymen under the label of bigotry. Whether a specific incident may be accurate or not does not matter. Calling an entire demographic a derogatory term normally intensifies opposition and acts as a lightning rod that rallies people. Why encourage people who may have been on the sidelines of our issues to join with those that they are already close to or whom they already identify with by making them feel like their ethnicity, their values and their beliefs are being broad-brushed by Muslims?
This is the mirror image of the sweeping indictment style of treatment that we oppose when it is used on our community. This is a race-card tactic and it is seen as extortion. (Extortion as defined as obtaining from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power.) We must confront hate and injustice, however confrontation alone does not bring people together.
Furthermore without a massive sense of collective guilt, that is acknowledged by the vast majority of the society — like the tragedies of the Holocaust or a vivid awareness of our nation’s history of slavery — it becomes clear American Muslims are at a severe disadvantage in using these types of techniques.
Contrast what most Americans know about Islam and Muslims with that of what we know about other minority communities.
It is clear that many non-Muslim Americans know very little about us. Even more of our neighbors know much less about how our nation’s policies effect our brothers and sisters in Islam from the ancestral homelands that many of you may have a connection to. It is also true that many anti-Muslim activists KNOW these and other issues and/or are just bottom feeders whose careers depend on purposefully misguiding our fellow citizens toward fear and contempt for our communities. They key is to find ways to discredit those individuals while not to rallying more support for them.
Muslims make up less than 2% of the U.S. population.
We simply can’t on our own rally enough people for an effective confrontation against fear based xenophobia; especially with a concurrently active terrorist threat.
Combine the need for education and the lack of exposure to Muslims and it should be very clear that fear is a easy outcome to manufacture and sustain. What we may not have also realized is that how we are responding to this fear may actually reinforce it.
EXAMPLES FROM OTHER COMMUNITIES DO NOT FIT AMERICAN MUSLIMS’ NEEDS
Anti-Semitism for example linguistically means against Semites. NOTE: as used by our society the term is focused on a grouping of people and on a religion.
Anti-Semitic works because at its core it is about humans (true it used with reference to Jewish religion, culture and ethnicity but not at the expense of losing focus on the people).
The labels racist or bigot work similarly because they are also focused on members of a human grouping.
PROBLEMS IN HOW WE ARE DEALING WITH ANTI-MUSLIM BIAS AND HATE
Our community needs to use terms that humanize Muslims. We need to embrace more sophisticated methods of communication that will separate bigoted leadership from the masses. Our efforts and tactics should include education, outreach, de-escalation of tensions and relationship building. We certainly do not need more or deeper confrontation.
What I am asserting is that Islamophobia is already defined in the public mind as a lame version of “racist” or “anti-Semite.”
The shock value of the term as an undesirable label is now lost.
Many opinion leaders view it as a technique to dodge criticism or issues that they are concerned about and believe are valid concerns.
In other words the term is ineffective and politicized.
The civil rights movements, Jewish activism and other minority groups’ successes have a lot to teach us. However as American Muslims with all our unique attributes including; our multicultural, multi-ethnic population along with our various internal religious groupings, it is evident that we need custom tailored approaches. To refine these approaches we have to focus on listening to others. We need to spend time getting to know non-Muslims, dissipating hate, discrediting at a substantive level the misinformation about us and allowing non-Muslims to easily recognize fear-mongering.
All the trends, polls and news demonstrate that our current strategy of mimicking tactics from non-similar communities has proven to be ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive.
In part 3 we will look at how the term and the strategy its use requires actually feeds into many negative narratives against Islam and Muslims. We will explore on deeper level how correct usage of and distinction between the termsIslam and Muslim can help foster a more productive dialogue with our neighbors. Please sound off in the comments section and stay tuned!
In part one I did not articulate a comment policy. It is still my hope to include non-Muslim voices. American Muslims need to learn from the constructive criticism of others. I invite all sincere people to join the conversation. The easiest way I can articulate the comment policy is as follows:
Comments not related to the subject of this piece will be edited or deleted. Apologetics and any other forms of ‘my religion is better than yours’ will be moderated. NOTE: Telling Muslims what we believe or debating us about how to understand our religious texts can and should be done on other forums.