Collective Guilt and the Expectations of A Community

Like many, both Muslim and non-Muslim, I have paid attention to the events that have unfolded abroad – the UK incidents and the Lal Mosque standoff. My sentiments were inline with many readers I came across: bewilderment at the UK incident [doctors killing people?] and disappointment mixed with confusion of the Lal Mosque siege. But perhaps what caught my attention even more was the reaction of Muslims, predominantly from America, more specifically in the American-Muslim blogosphere, a reaction that seemed to revolve around apologizing for the attacks. The root of this apology seems to be rooted more in the embarrassment that these heinous acts have had upon the public lives of many American-Muslims. I found this embarrassment to be somewhat concerning. Were American-Muslims more concerned with how they were viewed at work than with the crimes themselves? If so, then why is there not an equal outcry of embarrassment over, say, the Dar Fur atrocities or, if we want to keep it simply humanistic and go beyond religion as a signifying factor, why has not inner-city gun violence [especially for the many Blackamericans who are also Muslims!] garnered the same rosy-cheeked blush? Perhaps this embarrassment has more to do with “who’s watching us” than it really has to do with any moral outcry. It is this latter part here that I shall address in a moment, but first things first. What gets our deserving attention and what sets us off?

The pressure that Muslims are under in this part of the world is mounting. Increasingly, Muslims feel compelled by the dominant culture to author an Islam that is wholly sympathetic to it. That which the dominant culture deems as either excessive, outdated, backwards or barbaric, it demands Muslims to replace or expunge it or face banishment to the margins of the morally deprived or the insane. Yet, at the same time, Muslims here, and by here I specifically mean America, have rights conferred upon them that allow them to practice their religion with more freedom than they would back in the fertile crescent, the heartlands of the traditional, ethnic Muslim world. This dual psychology has lead many Muslims to embrace an extreme to either the left or the right and in my opinion, neither one serving their best needs nor allowing themselves to best serve their society [how can any group earnestly service its society if it does so in the role of a “yes man”?].

If you are Muslim and you live in America, you are no stranger to not-so-subtle questions, tacitly or otherwise, implicating Islam and by osmosis, you!, as a harbinger of death, destruction and extremism. I myself have left a post or two here describing such encounters. But perhaps because of my experience as a Blackamerican, I am fully aware and prepared for such slight-of-hand discrimination. To me, such questions are no different than when whites and other non-Blackamericans ask me to “explain ‘black behavior’”. Simply by being black, in the eyes of the dominant culture, I am expected to be fully cognizant of any such behavior, trials and tribulations, and provide suitable commentary on it. But in addition, and perhaps more importantly, I am assumed to have a responsibility towards it and some means of preventing it! It is here that my experiences as a Blackamerican and as an American-Muslim cross paths, or more poignantly, by being black, I am in a sense, “tipped off” as to what lies beneath the surface of such inquisitions.

Despite the outcry of Muslims worldwide concerning violence and other such acts [as to why these outcries have not been given “screen time” is the topic for another discussion] many in the West still seek to incriminate Muslims collectively, based on the actions of a relative few when compared to the global community of Muslims. What is it that Muslims can do to stop or prevent such actions or attacks from occurring in the future? This is the question that many non-Muslims ask their Western-Muslim counterparts. It is also the same question many Muslims here have asked themselves. My question to all of this is: is this a responsible or realistic request? Is it the collective responsibility of all Muslims to fight radical strains of Islam? How would they accomplish such a goal? If this type of question holds value then it must hold across the board, yet, upon examination, this would play out to be false. Racism against blacks and other non-whites in America and abroad has been a systemic problem from the hand of many whites, and yet, many would not contend that racism [be it institutional, social, or physical] by whites against blacks rests fully upon the shoulders of whites to “cut it out”. When a white supremacist fanatic murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, did the nation as a whole come out and tell all whites to stamp out this kind of violent, intolerable racism? If so, then how can we explain the continued, systemic abuse of blacks at the hands of whites [Rodney King, Amadou Dialo, James Byrd Jr.]? I believe it is unrealistic to lay such a task upon Muslims, as if they have the ability to prevent it. A caveat to this line of thinking is that it is a self-unfulfilling prophecy, leading non-Muslims to further condemn Muslims as well as Muslims continuing to spiral downward in an apology syndrome.

The Muslim world community is in a state of upheaval. It goes beyond laying all problems at the feet of Post-Colonialism. Like Christianity and its bloody history and reformation, Muslims are also going through upheavals. What must be remembered in this day and age of globalization is that while we, as Muslims may belong to a worldwide religious body, we are all living vastly different histories and interpreting our religious understandings through those histories. More effort must be made to remember this fact. We must also study the affects that globalized media and what it could mean for Muslims – in other words, I ain’t Palestinian so don’t ask me about Israel! My opinion of that conflict is not necessarily any more informed than that of a non-Muslim’s. And above all, Muslims in this part of the world must fight against the psychological pressure that are being exerted against them – for if we give up our right to speak freely, to dissent, then we have failed as American citizens and as Muslims.

And God knows best.

3 Replies to “Collective Guilt and the Expectations of A Community”

  1. Tryme,

    If I am guilty of the same-song, “rationalisation arguments [is that a word?] that a million other ‘Muslim’ blogs” have been through, I would say you’ve fallen into the pitfall of: despite centuries of brutal behavior on the part of whites towards almost all other races/ethnic groups on the planet, what ever ill-mannered actions that are performed on the part of some whites, they are some how accidental and do not reflect the “true” nature of the rest of whites – or as you put it, “many exemplars of good behavior”. This is rationalized racism at its worst. I say worst because unlike me, your words are not very eloquent.

    Examining the case that you make for whites and against Muslims reveals your stripes as a bigot. How is it, when we catalog the atrocities that whites have committed throughout history [and still continue to commit, whether actively or tacitly] that whites remain innocent by nature whereas Muslim are guilty by default? You have stacked your deck, but your slight of hand is a bit slow.

    And what community is it that you speak of that exonerates whites? If you are speaking to the ability of whites to exonerate themselves this can hardly be taken seriously in terms of its reliability. Any community that has dominion and control over critique and judgment will seldom hear a dissenting voice. To say that, “the rest of the world knows about this and hence is not willing to stereotype” not only shows that you’re bought into myth of “many exemplars of good behavior” but that the reverse does not exist in the Muslim world [and in addition to the fact that whites are so obviously great that they are recognized for it worldwide]. This is bigotry, plain and simple. Because you do not like Muslims, either from a pre-existing condition or you have been molded by the dominant hype to hate Muslims, you will now use this as a clarion call to demonize any and all Muslims by the actions of a few.

    When you say, “the world looks for Muslims who beat the stereotype and …guess what …find none”, again, who’s doing the looking? It would seem to me that most of the people who have issues with Muslims are coming from a specific place – mostly whites, be they American or European. Is this to say that other groups around the world have not had issue with Muslims? Most certainly not. But to make Muslims the scapegoat for all that is wrong with Modernity you have truly fooled yourself.

    As for our “Book”, since you have proven yourself to be a lay scholar there’s no need for me to engage you in a conversation on that level. If you have the audacity to tell me, as a Muslim, as one who has spent the better part of fifteen years studying the Qur’an, its language, its nuances, what it really means that we have no dialog. I won’t attempt to confuse you with facts as your mind seems to be already made up.

    I mean if people you consider normal and upright citizens go about kiling people then who really can we trust?

    Where did I consider anyone [or for that matter, any one that I’ve spoke of] who tried to “go about killing people” upright citizens? You may repeat a thing until people believe it to be true, but this Jedi mind trick will not work on me. I know what I’ve said and have never justified the actions of anyone who’s engaged in violent behavior. I just won’t apologize for it either – nor will I feel “embarrassed”.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    As smoking is bad for your health, I will have to decline. And by judging from your rhetoric, it would seem you’re the one smoking: crack. Though however unlikely my advice will be taken, I would encourage you to look in the mirror deeply and think about how and what you think. But alas, the meaning of this might be lost in my eloquent speech.

  2. Marc,
    While you have been eloquent in this post as usual, you have gone thru the same rationalisation arguments that a million other ‘Muslim’ blogs go thru.
    let me pose you a thought:
    When Whites act in teh manner that you have outlined, the whole community is not tarred simply because no one believes that all White people behave in the same way. if there are nutjobs as Whites there have been many many exemplars of good behaviour amongst these. Simply said the rest of the world knows about this and hence is not willing to stereotype.
    On the other hand, when Muslims do it, the rest of the world looks for Muslims who beat the stereotype and …guess what …find none. Add to that the Muslims speak about Jihad ad nauseum and that they follow ‘The Book’ that quite clearly talks about killing unbelievers well…thats pretty heavy to digest.
    Look at the number of Muslim blogs/comments that till date talk about this with a hanging ‘but’ at the end. Frankly it is very difficult to trust you guys. I mean if people you consider normal and upright citizens go about kiling people then who really can we trust?
    the nly common thread in this is that they are all Muslim.
    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  3. Pingback: The Manrilla Blog | Life. Art. Religion. Culture. » Olivier Roy at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

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