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The False Promise Of Identitarianism

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identitarianism

In the name of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the Gracious, the Merciful

Contemporary Paradox of Postmodernist Identitarianism

Many sects in Islam are influenced by a foreign idea, in the form of a metaphysical ontology or worldview, through which they interpret Islam and change whatever disagrees with it. The most salient example from early Islamic history is the Mu’tazilah – the rationalists who “withdrew” (i’tizal) from the lessons of the great scholar among the Salaf, Hasan al-Basri (Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him). They were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, which was the framework they used to develop a number of heterodox beliefs, specifically the alleged createdness of the Quran.

The Mu’tazilah were “rationalists” in that they would prioritize philosophical reasoning over the texts of the Quran and Sunnah and the way these texts were understood by the Salaf (earlier generation) or Ahlu Sunnah. However, the most depraved among them exposes the flaw of human reasoning untethered by divine revelation. They instituted the first major inquisition (mihnah) in Islam in which they imprisoned, tortured, or even killed Imams who denied the false doctrine of the createdness of the Quran. They were stopped by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him), who patiently endured their persecution and emboldened other scholars around him to persevere until the inquisition was finally put to an end.

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Today, the ascendant trend in America, supported by politicians and corporations, is a collection of ideologies we might call Postmodernist Identitarianism. Postmodernism is a diffuse philosophical school of thought that rejected the Western Enlightenment’s focus on scientifically objective truth-claims. It spawned numerous off-shoots such as deconstructionism, anti-foundationalism, and critical theory (critical not in the sense of smart thinking, but rather relentless criticizing). It can be difficult to pin down and clearly define because its nature is amorphous by design. Perhaps the best characterization of their attitude was expressed by anti-foundationalist Stanley Fish, who wrote that deconstructionism “relieves me of the obligation to be right… and demands only that I be interesting.”1Stanley E. Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995), 180. When applied to politics, postmodernists assert that truth-claims are not objective realities but instead are social constructions designed to oppress others.

Identitarianism as a Political Movement

Identitarianism, on the other hand, is a political movement partly inspired by the Marxist oppressor-oppressed binary. Whereas Marx envisioned the eventual triumph of the proletariat (lower economic class) against the bourgeois (higher economic class), American Identitarians similarly divide the populace into warring factions based on race and gender. The fundamental problem of Identitarianism, or extreme identity politics, is the tendency of movement leaders to “essentialize their identities as a basis for making political claims.”2Karel Sima, From Identity Politics to the Identitarian Movement, National Stereotyping, Identity Politics, European Crises, Brill, 2021 p. 75-94 In other words, it claims a monopoly over its chosen identity and expels any dissenters not only from its ranks, but from the identity itself. Black people who reject their identity politics are not “politically black,” they say. These movements are not based on universal principles, even though such disingenuous appeals to common values like “fairness” color their rhetoric. It is not a vision for a more harmonious and just future; it is the weaponization of identity for political objectives.

Identitarians and Radical Mu’tazilisim

The historical parallels with the Mu’tazilah and today’s movements are obviously not exact analogies. The Mu’tazilah, after all, did believe in objective truth -unlike the postmodernists- and not all of them were extremists, even if they were theologically incorrect. Nevertheless, we can identify some commonalities between the Identitarians and the most radical Mu’tazilites. The most important parallel is that American Muslims who subscribe to Identitarianism have taken the foreign theories and ideologies of non-Muslim academics and activists as the criterion by which they judge Islam and seek to change it, whether they consciously do this or not.

For instance, Muslim academics in Islamic studies departments support gay marriage on behalf of LGBT-identity activism and spread their ideas to the youth, despite an utter lack of support for such opinions in the scriptural or legal traditions. Feminist Muslim leaders have attempted to introduce new rituals into Islamic worship on the assumption that men are natural and historical oppressors of women. Even the heretical Nation of Islam’s theology of innate black superiority over whites is making a comeback due to the influence of Critical Race Theory on left-wing activism; an old prejudice now given cover through a newer, more socially acceptable form of expression. In each case, a reductive postmodernist-inspired narrative (“men have always oppressed women”) is the foundation and justification of their deviation from the Sunnah.

Whether the fault line is gender or race, Muslims seeking to make changes to core Islamic beliefs and practices are happily supported by the elite Identitarian powers that be. Like the persecutors of Imam Ahmad (Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him), the elite Identitarians are ruthless and determined. They seek power, and when they have it, they use it to crush dissent by intimidation, defamation, and cancellation. Since they do not believe in absolute truth, they do not put too much effort into persuading the public or their opponents; they prefer to suppress them. They cannot allow any alternative belief system that might free people from the chains of identity-based tribalism, lest it threaten their grip on power.

Because elite Identitarians view all truth-claims as power plays, they are sloppy when it comes to the facts. This leads their politicians and activists down a path of extremely cynical dishonesty. Identitarianism is animated by a cosmic narrative of oppression and the narrative must be upheld at all costs, even to the truth. It assumes one essentialized identity is always oppressed and another essentialized identity is always oppressor; then it cherry-picks facts or even distorts them to reinforce this story. Not the Truth, but “their” truth. In the world of mainstream legacy journalism, you can observe that the narrative framing is already done before the facts of the story even come out. For this reason, a majority of American rightly believe that journalists are incapable of reporting the news “accurately and fairly”. Indeed, it was pointed out decades ago that the news is not the truth, and the situation only worsens as Identitarianism grows in popularity.

Identitarianism and Hypocrisy

A pernicious feature of Identitarianism is its transparent hypocrisy. It claims to be against racism even as it invents new forms of racism. It claims to fight for women even as it belittles femininity and motherhood. It claims to fight for minorities even as it essentializes their identities and exploits their plight for votes. It claims to fight for decolonization even as it colonizes and deconstructs traditional cultures. They raise the slogan of “social justice” even as they institute profound injustice. Identitarianism is a disgraceful betrayal of the genuinely oppressed, as they mix lies with the truth and obscure the actual wrongdoing in society that must be corrected. You have heard of the story of the boy who cried wolf, right? Today’s version is the activist who cried racist. He falsely cried racism one too many times and when the time came to actually confront racism, no one answered his call.

Identitarianism is ultimately a top-down movement promoted by elite politicians, academics, journalists, and professional activists. It has some grassroots support but these followers are not aware of the fraudulent theoretical underpinnings of the movement. They are more convinced by the manufactured talking points and carefully crafted euphemisms written by marketing strategists to obscure the goals of the movement leaders, which is only to maintain the power of the elites. Identitarianism serves the interests of the powerful because it fractures any popular, universal resistance to their rule in a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. Citizens are then fiercely fighting each other about the issue of Drag Queen Story Hour instead of the corrupt monetary policies that are looting their wealth, devaluing their currency, and draining their savings.

It should be clear by now that American Muslims politically allying with the Identitarians or Identitarianism was an enormous mistake. The error was not in the specific Muslim issues that the Identitarians pretended to care about, but instead it was the rotten metaphysics at the core of their movement. There was no way to work with this movement without acquiescing to at least some of their misguided assumptions and narratives about the nature of existence. American Muslims so fervently supported these apparent political allies to the point that a new generation of young Muslims is so thoroughly propagandized into the movement that traditional, orthodox Islam appears to them as just another racist, patriarchal system of oppression.

Identitarianism, Islamophobia, and the False Promise of Protection

There was intense Islamophobic pressure on American Muslims after the 9/11 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act. Those of us who lived through those frightening times know that the community was looking for refuge from open hostility coming mostly from the right-wing – a hostility that still exists to some degree today. Along came the Identitarians with promises to protect Muslim identity from the xenophobia of the right, to protect our religious rights in the face of this menacing threat. It was a lie. They never intended to protect traditional, orthodox Islam from anything; they intended to mold American Muslim identity into simply another submissive ethnicity, another permanent blue voting bloc.

We should not harshly blame Muslim scholars and leaders who fell for the false Identitarian promise. Hindsight is 20/20. Politics is messy cloak-and-dagger stuff. They were naive, perhaps. But we can no longer afford this alliance with the Identitarians. They want our children to grow up with their nebulous values and the indulgence of their whims, not our universal faith and principles. They will turn against us the moment it is politically convenient, as soon as the persecution of orthodox Muslims is no longer considered “Islamophobic” to their base. They will never be pleased with us until we are unbelievers exactly like them. It is time to reject their false promise.

Success comes from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows best.

 

Related reading:

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

Identity Scholarship: Ideological Assabiya And Double Standards

 – A Critique Of Deism

A Critique Of Deism

 

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Justin Parrott has BAs in Physics and English from Otterbein University, an MLIS from Kent State University, and an MRes in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales. He is currently Research Librarian for Middle East Studies at New York University in Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), Research Fellow for Yaqeen Institute, and Instructor for Mishkah University. He served as a volunteer Imam for the Islamic Society of Greater Columbus until 2013. He is currently the faculty advisor and volunteer Imam for the Muslim Students Association at NYUAD.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Paul Williams

    July 29, 2022 at 5:37 AM

    An outstanding analysis and urgent wake-up call!

  2. MMReader

    July 29, 2022 at 1:50 PM

    As much as I agree with the sentiment the article and the author is trying to convey, I firmly believe that the manner this sentiment is expressed in, i.e. the article is part of the problem. Let me explain why:

    – The use of the term “identitarianism”. Why this made-up term when ‘identity politics’ is readily available and in far greater usage already? Is it because it’s mainly associated with the Democrats?
    – Why not cite specific purveyors of such identity politics like Democrat-aligned Muslim demagogues. The Linda Sarsours, the Ilhan Omars, the Yaqeen acolytes? Jordan Peterson is often singled out as a demagogue on the other side, why not name names here?
    – Much like how with respect to Monkeypox, it’s ‘bigoted’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘discriminatory’ to talk about the greatest single transmission vector of Monkeypox (gay sex, responsible for 98% of cases), here, it’s ‘partisanship’ and ‘zealotry’ to talk about specific purveyors and promoters of identitarianism and that Muslims must ‘rise above’ the fray and take the ‘higher road’.

    Let’s not insult your Muslim audience by patronizing them in this manner. You lose credibility if you can’t/don’t want to call things out as they are. You lose even more credibility if you call out one side and not the other. Muslims have a standard that’s far higher than any man-made standard so we can thankfully identify non-Islamic thoughts, ideologies, trends, no matter what side they’re on.

    But if the overwhelming pile of the garbage of postmodernism, liberalism, atheism, anti-God fervor, sexual degeneracy is to be found on one side of the political aisle, let’s call it out!

    Muslims rightly condemned Bush, Blair and co. during the 9/11 years and since. Let’s apply the same rigor and focus now and let’s stop trying to walk the middle when walking the middle is part of the problem. And no, we are never meant to be the Middle Nation in this manner.

  3. NOS

    July 30, 2022 at 1:38 AM

    MMReader

    Assalammualaikum

    I think he’s being deliberately vague in the manner of the sunnah which is generally to not call out names but say “what is the matter with fulaan”
    You are right in pointing out Muslim liberals have basically strangled our speech and made it impossible to point out obvious differences in males and females in fitrah and sharia

    Its unfortunate but I think the patient but firm pushback Justin is seeking is the way to go. May Allah forgive him and accept his effort

  4. Qari Saab

    July 31, 2022 at 6:20 PM

    Salams Shaikh. May Allah Swt reward you, give you strength and perseverance. Certainly a time of fitnah – ‏زمان صبر
    May He Swt keep us all steadfast. Ameen!

  5. Spirituality

    August 4, 2022 at 8:47 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran.

    Its very difficult, messy situation, which we may have brought upon ourselves. We Muslims do have problems with racism; there are issues with oppression of women (just see the articles recently in domestic violence in MuslimMatters – including murder). Thus, we are easy targets for someone holding such ideologies.

    Of course, American history also has an extreme history of racism, arising from chattel slavery. I do believe that much of the racist structures that were set in the past continue to haunt us today (ie, I believe that structural racism does exist today). This is very different, however, than solely limiting someone’s identity to being oppressed and only oppressed, all the time.

    I which there had been more references in the latter parts of the article. For example, the article mentions ‘elite Identitarians’ who are running this show. While I agree with other commentators that perhaps Muslims should not be called out, I see no reason why these elites (who most likely are not Muslim) should not be called out. By not doing so, the article can be dismissed as a conspiracy theory by “an oppressor.”

    Actually, it gets even worse: a key argument that Identitarians and those who support this ideology will point to is that Brother Justin appears to be a white, Caucasian male. In their world view, this is the only group that has never been oppressed, and has solely been oppressors. (Of course, this eliminates any nuance – ie, how the Irish were oppressed by the English, etc). As a member of the oppressor class, they think, he has no idea what it means to be oppressed, has benefited in all kinds of unfair ways from being an oppressor, and therefore, whatever he says on these topics holds no weight, and therefore should not say anything on these topics – in fact, anything he says of course will support upholding the status quo (ie, benefitting the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed).

    Sad situation all around.

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