An oddity of communal discourse in the post 9/11 world is the subversive tinge of conspiratorial rhetoric, not just from social media trolls, but from respected religious leaders and advocacy organizations racing to be on top of the latest crisis. To what extent does this discourse pervade and inform our view of reality? Is it a product of perceived victimization and blame, a coping mechanism to deflect that we are at an utter loss to process and understand the latest lowest ebb of our existence? Is hatred and violence of the “other” a bi-product of exclusivist Truth by the most devout? Does being conservative in thought and appearance equate to being a “real Muslim”? More questions than answers, this short piece hopes to create a space for self-reflection in a time like no other where Muslim Americans are the subject of national conversation.
The latest tragedy in San Bernardino has undoubtedly reverberated more than any other tragedy in recent memory since 9/11, and likewise has succumbed to a plethora of False Flag theories. Islamist attacks have been a constant on news feeds for years, as well as the rising spectacle of lone-wolf self-radicalization of Western Millennial Muslims. Coming off the heels of the shocking violence in Paris and other western cities, and years of conflict in Muslim lands do we still claim these acts as isolated? Isolated would be a convenient truth, except for the fact that no social or economic trend exists across perpetrators with the exception of a declared shared zeal for Islam. Rather than deal with the alarming frequency of such events perpetrated from within open liberal societies, fellow adherents find refuge in these grandiose plots. Conspiracies chiefly serve segments of the population who feel disenfranchised, assuming that the powers that be have malicious intents or design. Actual scandals in the U.S. and colonial designs then cement our proclivity to believe in any such plot. Theorists will often irrigate more power to entities, then to the Divine Reality, forgetting, “but they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners” (8:30). The Muslim world is fraught with theories that serve as the “the ultimate refuge of the powerless”1 in the wake of Colonialism, Zionism, and the War on Terror.
In an age where social media and the 24-hour cycle of coverage trump well-sifted facts, theories spread at a rapid pace. These then “keep us not only from the truth but also from confronting our faults and problems"2, moreover scripture then becomes subservient to such theories, easily malleable in the hands and minds of servile proponents of an alternative reality. Marxist inspired Critical theory plays a huge role in that it maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation3. We often see tropes in the media such as the effort to allocate individual or group responsibility for negative events; “Why Do They Hate Us?” becomes a mantra of sorts following each grotesque act that often ignores the role of family and mental health of individual Muslim suspects, alternatively being the raison d'etre for violence committed by white males. When tragedy strikes we start to seek culprits in the immediate aftermath, negating the pure accident of tragedy. Muslim apologists on the other side recently came out after the Paris attack, following a wave of violence and coverage of DAISH, to question the premise that Muslims need to condemn attacks done in the name of their faith by co-religionists. However, at the end of the day Muslim Americans must be proactive, not retroactive, in combatting social media propaganda from extremist elements and in community building. We have yet to see concerted efforts for educating community leaders, parents, and youth for whom the unsuspecting allure of DAISH leads a few to take unthinkable steps toward radicalization and violence.
We seldom see the coordination of our national organizations or partnerships with mental health professionals to tackle this existential issue. Instead more often we see defensive posturing and hollow condemnations. Activists and leaders seem more interested in pandering to their audience, critiquing community partnerships with government entities towards de-radicalization efforts. Few communities in the West have even installed credible and holistic approaches, instead seemingly paralyzed in stasis until the next inevitable tragedy. According to the 2011 Pew Research study, roughly half of Muslim American feel that their leadership has not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremism, highlighting communal frustration and dissatisfaction. In the President’s December 6th speech he challenged the community by stating:
“That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. It's a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda promote, to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”4
How are we going to confront interpretations when religious leaders are seen as either political pawns, or treated with suspicion? Moreover, why don’t we demand more from our civic and religious leadership? Organizations operating in America for over twenty years should know how to conduct a professional news conference seen by millions of Americans, and be able to mobilize and coordinate national efforts.
Where was our leadership and organizations during the course of the past 15 years with programming and initiatives to root out and combat literalist interpretations that lead to intolerance and possibly violence? Salafism alone is not to blame, but begs the question of the role of literalist and isolationist approaches to Islam in perpetuating attitudes that too closely resemble the thought of terror actors that negate “values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.” As we see waves of young Muslims growing indifferent, we also see increasing siege mentality taking hold, with the most conservative and obscure views on dress and behavior seemingly given absolutist interpretative power as “the most correct”. These are difficult times for our leadership and laity alike, with many living in fear or apprehension about living their faith openly. Understanding the Modern Muslim psyche is complex, and yet an imperative. The only way to reconstitute a faith that long ago succumbed to suspicion over erudition, replacing its theological proofs for idealized ideological truths, is by confronting theories and absurdities head on: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives” (4:135). We must demand of ourselves and our leadership to take mature actions with clarity of purpose to rebuild intra and extra communal trust. Spiritually we need to cultivate trust in God rather than the false constructs that for too long have allowed us to abdicate our responsibility to stand up for justice. Finally, we need to implement proactive measures to gain and restore confidence of peers not out of fear of the other, but to live up to the moniker of our Prophet ﷺ, “The Trustworthy One” (Al-Amin) in heeding the Divine call to live by higher ethical precepts.
3. Geuss, R. The Idea of a Critical Theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
4.Transcript of President Obama's Sunday night speech on terrorism 12/06/15 [Last modified: Sunday, December 6, 2015 9:00pm]