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 That which the dominant culture deems as either excessive, outdated, backwards or barbaric, it demands Muslims to replace or expunge it or face banishment to the margins of the morally deprived or the insane.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.