During the 29th International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran on Dec. 27, 2015, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated, “[Muslims] must remove Islam’s negative image from today’s cyber and real space.”
Aired on live television, the Rouhani’s speech emphasized the role that Muslims must play in condemning and combatting terrorism; “It is our greatest duty today to correct the image of Islam in world public opinion,” he said.
I don’t know about all of you, but my to-do list includes calling my grandma, finishing up history readings and doing laundry, not changing the negative perceptions bigots and Islamophobes have about Islam.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m open to fruitful and respectful discussions about Islam and Muslims. Let’s talk about what the Quran says about war, the nature and origin of Jihad — and let’s talk about Muslim individuals and our communities.
These conversations are not what a lot of Muslims, including myself, are refusing to engage in. We just refuse to be told by anyone, including the Iranian president, the American president, the media or any keyboard crusader that somehow it is the duty of the billions of average Muslims who live around the globe to confront and unceasingly condemn terrorist acts committed by groups and individuals who claim to slaughter in the name of Islam.
Further, if simply condemning extremism and working to “remove Islam’s negative image” were to solve this global problem, terrorism would have been eradicated years ago. The reality is that Muslim organizations, as well as individuals, have been condemning violence committed in the name of their religion for years.
As this Media Matters article notes, a number of top Islamic leaders and groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have denounced extremist groups for perverting Islam for political aims.
Muslim citizens have also taken it upon themselves to clarify how contradictory Daesh ideology is to their religion through online campaigns such as the viral #NotInMyName hashtag, and in recent weeks, Muslim-American youths have responded to calls for recruits through a hilarious campaign to ridicule Al-Baghdadi:
We are made to believe that as “moderate Moslems,” it is our responsibility to challenge terrorism, tackle it head on and to somehow fix it. However, anything and everything Muslims do to condemn terrorism seems inadequate; we are still criticized for “not doing enough.”
Leaving the ridiculous question of what comprises a “moderate” Muslim aside, perhaps the greatest paradox that arises out of this whole situation is that the community suspected by many to be sympathetic to extremists is, in fact, their greatest victim. In the last two decades, the majority of terror attacks have occurred in Muslim-majority countries; in fact, 90 percent of Daesh’s victims are Muslims.
As the Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Rana Elmir, explained in the Washington Post, “Muslims across the globe are not threats. They are threatened.”
“Muslim vulnerability is not just contained abroad,” she wrote. “The pernicious disease that is Islamophobia is spreading at home, thanks to a steady diet of repugnant rhetoric and equally misguided policies.”
While large populations of Muslims in the Middle East are either living under the yoke of repressive regimes or fleeing from terrorists like Daesh, Muslims in the West are constantly battling against Islamophobia and hateful rhetoric that has led to many violent attacks and deaths.
The truth is, making Muslims and their apologetics the focus of the conversation on terrorism is far more politically convenient than acknowledging the role state actors have played in creating and fueling terrorist groups like Daesh.
American arms, funds and supplies have — in fact — indirectly made their way to Daesh through Syrian “rebel groups” that have been directly supported and funded by the U.S. government. Furthermore, an American prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca, was likely the birthplace of Daesh, where at least nine of the terrorist group’s top commanders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, served time and had the opportunity to interact and mobilize.
When the Iranian president calls on Muslims to step up and wash off the stains left on Islam’s image by Daesh, he smoothly erases state accountability and instead places responsibility and blame on the larger Muslim population.
The U.S. is not the only state actor that contributed to the formation and strengthening of Daesh, however. Gulf States, most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, also fuel terrorism by funding and arming any Sunni mercenary or group willing to help the Sunni heavyweights in the Middle East topple Bashar al-Assad, and therefore weaken Shia powerhouses like Iran and Hezbollah.
On the other hand, the Iranians, who are pro-Assad, greatly assisted the Syrian dictator’s efforts against the moderate rebels, creating such massive devastation across Syria that Daesh easily captured Syrian territory in the power vacuum created in war-ravaged communities.
So, when the Iranian president calls on Muslims to step up and wash off the stains left on Islam’s image by Daesh, he smoothly erases state accountability and instead places responsibility and blame on the larger Muslim population, which has only suffered due to disastrous state policies.
As a Muslim, I unequivocally reject any demands to do so. I will not play into the hands of leaders who cover up their own political blunders by projecting their own culpability onto average citizens.
I will not entertain media that only invites Muslims to the table to overtly condemn terrorism, thereby focusing the lens of the conversation solely on the Muslim community as the crux of the issue, which just exonerates their own governments from responsibility for foreign policy decisions that destroy socio-political infrastructures that normally protect societies from homegrown cults.
In addition, the disastrous “War on Terror” has also provided funding and supplies that have ironically strengthened — rather than defeated — radical groups. I definitely will not have someone tell me that simply posting a Facebook status that reads “Islam is a religion of peace” will solve the global epidemic of extremism, as well as the growing problem of Islamophobia.
Image: Screengrab from Euronews Facebook page.