Muslims are loudly condemning terror, but is the world listening?

Siddiq Bazarwala asks why the burden of denouncing extremist violence is time and again placed only on Muslims, when the voices against terrorism from ordinary followers of the Islamic faith tend to be drowned out

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 10:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 6:46pm

Despite an avalanche of condemnation from Islamic countries, leaders and scholars after nearly every terrorist attack, the entire Muslim world continues to be the scapegoat for the actions of individuals and groups that commit morally repugnant acts in the name of Islam.

In 2014, more than 120 Muslim scholars issued an open letter to Islamic State, meticulously deconstructing the group’s theology. It was not the first time that their ideology has been challenged. Multiple fatwa have been issued against extremism and yet, every time IS, al-Qaeda or any of their ilk commit an act of violence in the name of Islam, a tragically familiar refrain arises: where is the condemnation from the Muslim world?

Last November, 19-year old Heraa Hashmi, a University of Colorado student, decided to put the entire notion to the test. Using Google spreadsheets, she compiled a “712-page list of Muslims condemning things with sources”, which she tweeted. The list included everything from acts of domestic violence to 9/11. “I wanted to show people how weak the argument that Muslims don’t care about terrorism is,” she explained. Within a few weeks, her spreadsheet was turned into an interactive website, muslimscondemn.com.

Yet, every time an act of terrorism occurs, public denouncements and formal condemnations by leading Muslim figures and countries are not given as much due coverage as the vehement demand for such by the very same media and its opinionated readers.

Worse still, the public is continuously misinformed with the same xenophobic implications about Islam and ordinary Muslims, over and over again.

We ‘condemn these inhuman acts’

Buddhist countries are never expected to condemn Myanmese monk Ashin Wirathu or Jewish leaders told to speak up against mosque attacker Baruch Goldstein, the Israel defence forces for extrajudicial killings or incursions by illegal settlers in the West Bank.

The average atheist is also never asked to denounce the actions of deranged killers like avowed “anti-theist” Craig Stephen Hicks.

Christian leaders are never repeatedly asked to condemn Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, or the white Christian supremacist shootings in America, when over 90 per cent of mass shootings (read “domestic terrorism”) in the US originates with alt-right groups and individuals. The spotlight is always on Islam and Muslims.

Why do loud, ruthless Muslim voices grab the headlines when they issue death threats over YouTube, complain and scream vitriol, while words and acts of compassion, tolerance and pluralism by Muslims fall on deaf ears?

Hong Kong Muslim community critical of police report warning of Islamic State-inspired attack

Unevenly expecting only Muslims to keep condemning is nothing short of Islamophobic. The voice of condemnation is deafening and, if you don’t hear it, you are not listening.

The vast majority of Muslims are as peaceable as the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists. Yet ordinary Muslim voices are drowned out by the very same people who keep making the call for them to speak up.

Stigmatising all Muslims for the actions of those who commit acts of violence will never help to tackle the growing menace of terrorism

This endless cycle of demanding Muslim communities to “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject” acts of terrorism, as Barack Obama told the UN, needs to be thoroughly thought through. To paraphrase leading Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, stigmatising all Muslims for the actions of those who commit acts of violence will never help to tackle the growing menace of terrorism.

Islam has been around for 1,500 years, while acts of terrorism by individuals with Muslim names – motivated by misguided Western foreign policies and greed for natural resource – has been a problem for 30 years. If terrorism did have something to do with Islam, “Islamic” terrorism would be a centuries-old problem, which it clearly isn’t.

‘When are you going back to Arabia?’: How Chinese Muslims became the target of online hate

But Muslims could be faulted as well. The fact that they condemn these acts in front of a bank of cameras has also inadvertently created a dangerous confirmation bias – reinforcing the false but common stereotype of some kind of a relationship, however weak, between Islam and violence.

The whole point of condemning these acts should be to clarify how they have nothing to do with Islam or ordinary Muslims – a reaction borne out of a key Islamic religious conviction that instructs believers to speak out against injustice – instead of attaching guilt and shame to Muslims and Islam.

Unless the underlying dark reasons for what motivates individuals and groups to turn to terrorism today are clearly acknowledged, we may be light years away from overcoming this problem, to the detriment of ordinary Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Siddiq Bazarwala is the author of a forthcoming book, Q&A with an Islamophobe