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Stop Using The Word “Terrorism”| Culture As An Antidote To Bigotry And Fear

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Do Muslims perpetrate the vast majority of terrorist attacks around the globe?

Pull most people aside on the side of the road and they’ll either explicitly respond with a ‘yes’ to that question, or if they’re politically correct, will give some wishy-washy response to cover up the answer they consider to be true.

Whether you like it or not, that is the answer now ingrained as an indisputable fact in the collective Western psyche. How so? This is because in current colloquial use, the word terrorism has effectively been defined to be acts of violence committed by Muslims against non-Muslims. More generally, in Noam Chomsky’s words, it describes ‘their’ violence against ‘us’, not ‘ours’ against ‘them’. Ergo, by definition all terrorist acts are committed by Muslims.

I don’t mean to say this as a cynical remark; I am trying to point out a linguistic reality that we haven’t quite come to terms with yet. It’s time we stop constantly complaining about the hypocritical use of the term by media outlets; it’s a lost battle and we’re better off employing other strategies. For starters, that means to avoid using the term and replacing it more descriptive words such as ‘political violence’ or ‘indiscriminate killing’. ‘Terrorism’ is a propaganda term used with the intent of spreading fear and advancing political agendas; by simply using the term we are unintentionally helping advance those goals.

Is it conceivable in the current climate that a US drone strike or a shooting by a Christian radical will ever be described as a terror attack? Of course not.  The general public has been propagandized into believing that Muslims alone commit terrorism, and thus Muslims will continually be expected to condemn, apologize and assume responsibility for anything described in the media as a ‘terrorist attack’. The recent CNN interview of a French activist is just another ugly manifestation of this reality.

In the wake of any attack on Western soil, our default reaction has been one that is defensive. After going through the obligatory condemnation exercises, we wonder in awe why none of it works and we’re put in the spotlight again when another attack happens.

It doesn’t work.  You can keep saying terrorism has nothing to do with Islam for another 15 years and it won’t matter. It’s a lost battle because terrorism is a word now reserved for violence committed by Muslim criminals; its only used to perpetrate hysteria and a myopic understanding of a complex global problem. Just by using the term we are implicitly admitting we had something to do with the attack. The more we condemn, the more we’ll be asked to condemn.  It’s the media’s game, and we play right into its hands.

And here’s the kicker. Muslims too have internalized this de facto definition of terrorism.

That impulse and urge Muslims feel to be extra vocal about condemning any ‘terrorist attack’ stems from internalizing the popular narrative which has created a subconscious collective guilt; we feel we had something to do with it despite being completely innocent. Why aren’t we ever concerned about defending our faith when these extremist groups attack Muslims? Why does the media never bother asking for condemnations  when a suicide bomber blows up a mosque? Because attacks on Muslims, despite being perpetrated by the same militant groups, don’t qualify as terrorist attacks and by extension don’t have anything to do with Islam. Hence, Muslims never feel the need to need to apologize for it.

Us Vs. Them

Our failed public relations strategy over the past decade is predicated on not really understanding the root of the problem. No one’s actually interested in what Islam has to say about terrorism, no one cares about well written condemnations or conferences about peace; no one actually reads those boilerplate fatwa’s.

The root of the problem is the ‘Us Vs Them’ psyche. The public demands condemnations from Muslims not because they actually want a condemnation; they demand it because they fear us, they don’t know us and they want reassurance that we won’t harm them. We are presumed to be guilty until we declare ourselves to be innocent; the condemnation is the avenue through which that declaration takes place. The condemnation request is a litmus test – are they with ‘us’ or with ‘them’?

No matter how many times Muslims offer elaborate defenses of their faith, the expectation and persistence from the media, and public at large, to condemn will remain so as long as Muslims are viewed as ‘the other’. Muslims alone will be associated with ‘terrorism’ as long as there remains an active interest in dehumanizing this minority by selective use of the term. The suspicion we are under now is very much akin to that experienced by Japanese Americans during World War II. Much like their situation, there’s little that a declaration of innocence will accomplish unless the culture perpetrating the hysteria changes in the first place.

Most faith groups and minorities are not expected to apologize for the crimes of individuals from their community because they aren’t viewed as outsiders. When a bigot attacks another minority openly, the public calls them out and they are socially punished for their prejudices. There is a social policing that takes place which ensures abominable views are kept in the private sphere due to the repercussions of airing them publicly. However, bigots can openly air racist views about Islam with impunity because the general populace, a big chunk of it anyway, still sees Muslims as subjects that are alien to America and ought to be feared.

Researcher Dalia Moghed’s recent interview is a rare instance of a thought provoking response to the standard condemnation request. Instead of responding affirmatively and giving the audience what they want to hear, she makes them ponder by effectively asking ‘why do you think that Muslims, or any people, would condone the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians’. In other words, think of Muslims as people like you and I – is it conceivable that millions of people living in the US consider mass killing to be acceptable? This strategy highlights the critical response needed when our leadership is bombarded with demands for those boilerplate condemnations. We need responses that challenges the status quo; not ones that further propagate simplistic and false narratives.

The Cultural Imperative

Racist stereotyping and xenophobic rhetoric will remain in the political and media sphere as long as there is an audience for it. As long as there is a significant enough population which holds Muslims to a different standard, so will the media. Television hosts can get away with repeatedly demanding ridiculous apologies and condemnations from us because that is what the public wants to hear. The only way to prevent future explosions of anti-Muslim bigotry is engagement at a grass roots level which focuses on normalizing Muslim presence in the US and other Western countries. We need to dismantle the ‘Us Vs Them’ mindset; we need to make it clear that we are ‘them’ and they are ‘us’ – we are in this together.

As a recent study published in the NY Times indicated, the primary way minimize anti-Muslim bigotry is to humanize Muslims in the public sphere. This is primary accomplished by making cultural contributions to the societies we live in. We need Muslims athletes, film makers, artists and novelists now more than ever. The positive image of Muslims in the 60’s and 70’s can be attributed to iconic individuals like Mohammad Ali who was looked up to as a hero by a generation of Americans.

Our public relations organizations need a new strategy; a strategy that actively invests in cultural institutions which are currently non-existent. We need fundraising not just for scholarships for Islamic studies, but also for those aspiring to attend film school or those wanting to study the dramatic arts. Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah has masterfully outlined the need for this cultural revolution in his paper, Islam and the Cultural Imperative. The recent eruption of widespread bigotry, despite the decade of PR exercises, clearly indicates the vitality of Muslims establishing a cultural presence in Western societies. Unless that presence is established, Muslims will continue to be vulnerable to these cycles of bigotry and hysteria.

The recent viral video of a Canadian school children singing Tala al-Badru Alayna is a prime example of power of culture. The video unintentionally accomplishes far more than the standard approaches we take of trying to educate people of what Islam says – it gives them a rare glimpse of what Islam is.  Muslims have a rich cultural heritage that extends back a millennium. Sharing this beautiful gift in the societies we live is a moral imperative; and withholding it is cultural injustice.

Waleed Ahmed writes on current affairs and politics for MuslimMatters. He focuses on Muslim minorities, human rights and the Middle-Eastern conflict. Based out of Montreal, he's currently pursuing a Ph.D. at McGill University in fundamental physics. Waleed also has a keen interest in studying Arabic and French. He spends his spare time reading, playing basketball and praying for Jon Stewart to run in the next presidential election.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kent Bayley

    December 15, 2015 at 11:42 PM

    The problem is the book you follow. It preaches hate and violence so that’s what happens so why are you surprised. Your so called scholars try and explain away the violence but really they can. NO.

    • Avatar

      naomi

      December 17, 2015 at 1:50 AM

      Have you read the bible?!

      • Avatar

        Nicholas Bodley

        December 17, 2015 at 6:55 PM

        Fine article.

        You can find some shameful, primitive, and very prejudiced text in the Christian Bible, notably in Leviticus. (See another message about this!)

        Point is that both Holy Books contain advocacy of barbaric violence, but neither Christians nor Muslims generally follow such advice.

        Remember Oklahoma City, and the Murrah building? Timothy McVeigh was, afaik, nominally a Christian. Many kids were killed suddenly…

        Deaths from such violent events are more rare than those from lightning.

        I’m fanatically “unpatriotic” — I refuse to be afraid of this certain category of public violence.

        The local masjid is concealed — that’s a real disgrace.

        I’ve known several Muslims personally, and have found them to be gentle, very decent, and civilized people.

        Go back about a century or more, and Catholic immigrants were despised.

        Bigotry is chronically part of our culture, and that’s a great shame. We seem not to learn.

        The downside of free speech is that it permits hate and bigotry to flourish.

        Why do we ignore what Geo. W. Bush said, much to his credit, quite soon after 9/11?

        (There’s an automatic spam filter here, which rejected my first text. It misinterprets irony…)

      • Avatar

        Nicholas Bodley

        December 17, 2015 at 6:57 PM

        Fine article.

        You can find some shameful, primitive, and very prejudiced text in the Christian Bible, notably in Leviticus. (See another message about this!)

        Point is that both Holy Books contain advocacy of barbaric violence, but neither Christians nor Muslims generally follow such advice.

        Remember Oklahoma City, and the Murrah building? Timothy McVeigh was surely no Muslim.

        Deaths from such violent events are more rare than those from lightning.

        I’m fanatically “unpatriotic” — I refuse to be afraid of this certain category of public violence.

        The local masjid is concealed — that’s a real disgrace.

        I’ve known several Muslims personally, and have found them to be gentle, very decent, and civilized people.

        Go back about a century or more, and Catholic immigrants were despised.

        Bigotry is chronically part of our culture, and that’s a great shame. We seem not to learn.

      • Avatar

        Nicholas Bodley

        December 17, 2015 at 7:02 PM

        Sorry about the duplicate post. Had to revise my text several times to avoid rejection as spam. I did not submit twice.

    • Avatar

      Aafia

      December 19, 2015 at 5:05 PM

      There is abolutely no problem with the Book we follow because you are Speaking this out of Ignorance.You have Simply heard about some cherry picked verses of Quran quoted without tafseer(discription) of the context in which the verse was revealed.Quran condemns killing and corruption.Take a look at these Verse:http://islamhashtag.com/why-islamic-terrorism-is-not-islamic-at-all/

      • Avatar

        Kent Bayley

        December 19, 2015 at 11:07 PM

        Thank goodness you cleared that up for me as I feel so much safer now.

      • Avatar

        M.Mahmud

        December 20, 2015 at 3:56 PM

        Thank goodness Kent is finally saw the light. We were all shaking in our shoes worried Kent and his buddies will think Islam is violent.

        Sarcasm aside, Islam IS the most peaceful religion in the world because

        1) It is the ONLY way to Paradise and thus, peace forever.

        2) It prescribes war for just ends, to help the wrong and oppressed

        3) It in fact has a stunning level of restrictions in war not found in the Old Testament(which claims God commanded the massacre of women and children. Since Christians believe Jesus Christ is God they believe Jesus Christ commanded those massacres of women and children. We Muslims are skeptical of the corrupted Old Testament in the first place.) Muslims are commanded to refrain from harming noncombatants, even trees should be avoided in war.

        Now compare that to the barbaric and savage Western slaughter in Vietnam where Napalm was spread onto forests and the Mai Lai massacre whose criminals were SUPPORTED by the American public!!!!!!!!!!!! And in Japan where they literally NUKED two cities despite having chance after chance to avoid it. When we compare the Muslim ideal to the Western ideal, those with sense see the Muslim ideal is far, far superior while the Western ideal seems to be inspired by Satan himself. That DAESH and Al Qaeda and other criminal groups exist is not an indictment on the only acceptable religion to God but to the weak faith of those who engage in crimes, following the sunnah of Western disbelievers and abandoning the sunnah of Rasulullah sallahalayhiwasalam and the imitation of the Sahaba RA. Al Qaeda and DAESH are probably not Western inventions but they are certainly closer to the ways of the West then the ways of the earliest Muslims. That is an indisputable fact.

        Polls show, Muslims are LESS LIKELY to justify killing civilians than others!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What group could reach the high standard of civility and nobility of Muslims let alone surpass them? No group at all and this poll is evidence. Muslims, in the worst condition they have ever been, are still an example to humanity.

        http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/08/surveys-show-muslims-in-every-country-less-likely-to-justify-killing-civilians-than-americans-and-israelis/

        • Avatar

          Kent Bayley

          December 21, 2015 at 2:04 PM

          Madness and this type of thinking is exactly what is wrong with Islam. If you people actually believe this type of nonsense then God help you. No proof, no peace and no hope.

    • Avatar

      Zubayer

      February 10, 2016 at 9:14 AM

      You dont even know about our book that we are following so why mess around? If you know the actual meaning of our book than you wouldnt be rebelling now…..you should stop blaming our religion and view the terrorist in the perspective of an ordinary human……..a terrorist can be a christian or any other religion ,so why dont you blame theirs too?

  2. Avatar

    Sule

    December 17, 2015 at 3:50 AM

    The Qur’an experiment in Netherlands (where the Bible was disguised as the Qur’an):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnWw_lH4tQ

  3. Avatar

    M.Mahmud

    December 20, 2015 at 4:03 PM

    Allah alternates the days and makes the truthful and the liars known. Our day will come.

  4. Avatar

    mojo

    December 21, 2015 at 1:35 PM

    The bible is not believed to be the actual word of God, unlike the koran.
    Christians view the bible as some stories put together by obscure persons in history whose reliability is dubious.
    The koran is what you must obey as it is the actual word of God.

    • Avatar

      Kent Bayley

      December 21, 2015 at 2:03 PM

      Madness and this type of thinking is exactly what is wrong with Islam. If you people actually believe this type of nonsense then God help you. No proof, no peace and no hope.

  5. Avatar

    mojo

    December 21, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    Kent, you misunderstand me.
    As a Christian you can believe or not believe in what the Bible tells.
    As a Muslim you MUST believe the Koran is the word of God, no discussion, no doubts and certainly no questioning what the Korans tells you.
    To question the word of God (the Koran), is Apostasy and we all know what you get for that.

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#Current Affairs

Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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#Society

Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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#Current Affairs

Seyran Ates, A Sixty-Eighter In Islamic Camouflage

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seyran ates

By Dr Mohammad Usman Rana

In their orientalist enthusiasm to reform Islam, in the sense of reconciling Islam with the always changing ideas and goals of liberal values, Western European liberals and neo-atheists are searching high and low for persons who may serve as Muslim alibies for their project. For many years Ayaan Hirsi Ali was given this role but now the relay baton has been handed over to the German-Turkish activist Seyran Ates.

Does not believe in religion

Ates is of current interest in Norway because her book by the Norwegian title Islam trenger en seksuell revolusjon (Islam needs a sexual revolution, originally published in German in 2011)* was just released in Norwegian translation. Ates is well-known primarily because Western media have hailed her as a freedom fighter among Muslims since she opened a so-called liberal mosque in Berlin in 2017 and titled herself a female imam.

Obviously, Ates is part and parcel of an essential debate about the future of Muslims in Europe as it is a fact that a lot of traditional mosques in Western Europe have a big job to do in order to become more relevant to young Muslims, that is, more inclusive and adapted to a European context. Not least the issue of women’s rights is rightfully important to many people in the Muslim world, whether they are liberals or conservatives. In the midst of all the praise, Ates receives in Western media one essential question is however forgotten: What Islamic credibility does Ates have? In line with postmodern nihilism where concepts, ideas, and identities are emptied of meaning and content, the fact is ignored that Ates in her book points out that she believes in God but not in religions. She has no Islamic theological education and explains that she has recently started taking courses in Islamic studies and Arabic in order to be more credible among Muslims.

This is not only the case with Ates. It is a general weakness of so-called progressive and liberal Islam (reformers) that the movement lacks a foundation of religious and theological structure; it is rather founded on personalities with a political mission.

More journalists than worshippers

In her book about Islam needing a sexual revolution, Ates applauds European Christians’ dissociation from the church after 1968. Paradoxically, she later opened a mosque for Muslims. Further, she praises secularly thinking individuals as the most honourable people.

This is why the question should be raised whether the mosque, the imam title, and other religious references are just an Islamic camouflage for what can be understood as a political secularisation, assimilation and liberalisation project by Ates and her supporters. Due to the missing religious credibility and seriousness of this commitment, it should come as no surprise that it has little appeal to European and German Muslims.

When the New York Times visited the mosque, its journalists reported that there were more journalists than worshippers present. She has, on the other hand, a strong appeal among extreme right-wing anti-Muslim thinkers and movements in Europe. It is noteworthy that Ates received a solidarity claim from the extreme anti-Islam German AfD party, and has been praised by the infamous anti-Muslim blog of “Human Rights Service” in Norway.

The positive development aspect is missing

Why should German and European Muslims listen to an activist who attacks the fundamental principles of Islam and in her book paints a stereotypical image of the world’s Muslims?

There is no denying that Ates addresses a number of important challenges for Muslim women. Still, her arguments become oversimplified when she confuses female-hostile habits in the East with Islam and completely forgets the positive development today’s Muslim women in Europe experience where they, as opposed to their mothers’ generation, receive a university education, have a career, and choose whom they want to marry.

Seyran Ates’ project is not about a necessary contextualisation of Islam’s holy texts in a European reality, maintaining the characterisations of the region. The project is rather about a total change of Islam. In her book, Ates justifies such a change by creating strawmen with sweeping generalisations about Muslims. She, for instance, writes that ‘it is a fact that Muslim men have a considerable problem with our free world’, and that ‘Islamic politicians do not distinguish between religion and politics’ – without mentioning the widespread authoritarian secular tradition in Muslim countries in modern times such as in Turkey and Baathism in Syria and Iraq.

Less sexual restraint

Ates’ main argument in Islam needs a sexual revolution is that Muslim men and women are sexually oppressed because sexuality is defined as a blessing and source of love only within – and not outside of – the frames of marriage. The rule of intimate relationships being reserved for marriage meets with unison agreement from Muslims from different schools of thought; Ates, however, absurdly calls it an expression of “fundamentalist” Islam. In this view, Seyran Ates disagrees with the well-known American feminist Naomi Wolf who, after having travelled in Muslim countries, believes that this marital channelling of intimacy, in fact, strengthens sexuality and family ties at the same time.

The German-Turkish author wants less sexual restraint, more promiscuity and a liberal attitude to nakedness, in line with the ideals of the sixty-eighters. Seyran Ates praises the sixty-eighters’ revolution as an ideal for Muslims. Although the #metoo campaign, which can be said to have brought to light the negative consequences of the sexual revolution, was released after Ates’ book was published, it makes her attitudes to this revolution seem somewhat doubtful. The heritage of the sixty-eighters is not only freedom and equality but also the breaking up of the family as well as selfishness and decadence. It is also ironical that someone like Ates, who claims religious credibility, calls attention to Alfred Kinsey, the atheist sexologist who believed in open relationships, as a model for Muslims.

Public pillory

Ates’ book is mainly about freedom, a personal freedom in the name of value liberalism and sixtyeighters. A well-known American intellectual, Patrick Deenen from the University of Notre Dame, however, criticises such a perception of the concept of freedom believing we should ask ourselves if freedom can really be defined as human beings pursuing their instincts more or less uncritically. Deenen maintains that human beings are then in effect unfree and slaves of their instincts, while real freedom is achieved if we manage to free ourselves from being governed by human appetites.

Seyran Ates and her non-Muslim supporters seem to have no understanding at all of such a definition of the concept of freedom. Even more problematic is that they want to make their sixty-eighters’ liberal values absolute, believing Muslims must adhere to them if they wish to belong to modern society. Harvard professor Adrian Vermeule calls this form of liberalism aggressive because it only tolerates itself and no differences of opinion. It maintains its rituals in the form of checkpoints of ‘correct’ opinions in particular about sexuality, gender, and identity. Disagreeing with this can result in reprisals in the form of public pillory or even legal steps.

Obsessed with removing the hijab

When Muslims are met with such absolute-making of liberal values it is like an extension of colonial cultural imperialism when French and British colonial masters wanted to westernise Muslim populations, believing it was the only way of making them civilised. Some of them were obsessed with removing Muslim women’s hijabs, just as Seyran Ates is. The British consul general in Egypt, Lord Cromer, was a representative of this view. He wanted to free Muslim women from the hijab while at home in the UK he was ardently against feminism and women’s suffrage (source: Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press).

Worth noting is also that extensive surveys by Gallup Coexist Index among West-European Muslims show that they are far more religious than the majority population. Similar findings in relation to Norwegian Muslims were made by Bushra Ishaq in her book Hvem snakker for oss? (Who speaks for us?) from 2017. Considering these figures, it would be utopian as well as illiberal to expect Muslims to opt for a liberal values morality. On the contrary, it should be expected that religious European Muslims understand their religious practice as belonging to a Western context, that they value equality and that they support the liberal state governed by rule of law that actually allows people to live according to liberal as well as conservative norms of value.

*The original German-language version of the book, Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution: Eine Streitschrift, was published in 2011

Dr Mohammad Usman Rana is a Norwegian columnist, author and a commentator on Islam

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