Every time an aggressor that identifies as Muslim carries out an attack — though the distinction between terrorist and hero is extremely clear — the world turns to 1.7 billion Muslims asking for an apology.
This situation is familiar to the many, many Muslims living in Western countries. We have apologized for, and condemned, such acts before. We should not need to do this. Personally, I am tired of apologizing and publicly dissociating myself from the actions of people who don’t represent me.
Every time we step up to apologize for “Muslim” terrorists, we are accepting some measure of responsibility for their horrendous actions. We condemn, and we condemn, and we apologize, and we brace ourselves for more Islamophobic backlash — but, in doing so, we share a claim to the blame. By condemning the actions of few, we are saying that because we share one minimal characteristic — a claim to Islam — we are therefore collectively responsible for one another’s actions.
In fact, I believe that it is actively harmful to always be vocalizing collective apologies as Muslims. Let’s take a look at the aftermath of the Paris attack. As a reaction to the terrorists, an Islamophobic hashtag started trending on Twitter: #KillAllMuslims. Thousands of people around the world took the Charlie Hebdo attack as reason to wish death on 1.7 billion of Muslims — none but an alleged 4 of whom had anything to do with the attack.
It is natural to look at the hashtag and think that the best thing to do to combat such hatred is to show the misguided denizens of Twitter that all Muslims aren’t terrorists and therefore not all Muslims should be killed. Here’s the problem: when we condemn terrorists, we are just reaffirming the stereotype. After all, if we have to state that we aren’t terrorists, that means that most Muslims are. Having to specify that you are a good guy because of some ridiculous generalization — that is something all Muslims face, and it is a tragedy.
The other main problem with this approach is that it just doesn’t work. A common criticism of Islamophobes is that “moderate” Muslims don’t condemn terrorism and so therefore must support it. That is to say, we are falling all over ourselves to say that no, we aren’t terrorists, and nobody is wanting to hear us. It doesn’t matter how many Muslims tweet that they condemn all violence.
Just look at how other demographics deal with violence coming from within their community. For example, the Colorado NAACP office was recently bombed. The suspect is a middle aged white male. Do you see prominent white American leaders rushing to disassociate themselves for the crime? Of course not, because the assumption given to white Americans is that their actions are theirs alone, and not necessarily representative of any group.
A few years ago, a Norwegian man, Anders Breivik, blew up buildings in Oslo, murdered 69 children on an island, and left behind a document declaring his allegiance to Christianity, all the while making anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim remarks. Not a single Christian had to condemn, apologize, or fear backlash like Muslims fear Islamophobia. What about Buddhist monks that have been and continue to carry out religiously-driven massacres against the Muslim inhabitants of Burma?
Keep in mind that this is absolutely not a call for Christians or Buddhists to apologize for acts they didn’t commit. Why? Because there are extremists across every spectrum, in every religion, in every race, in every country. There just are.
I do not plan to make anymore condemnations or apologies on behalf of terrorists that have nothing to do with me. I deny the kinship implied by having to disassociate myself from them. I demand to be considered an individual, one with her own characteristics and flaws, and, most importantly, one who is incapable of controlling the actions of people she’s never even met.
Muslims never asked for anyone to represent us or Islam as a whole. Stop asking us to apologize for an anti-Islamic, unwanted misrepresentation of a peaceful religion. And, Muslims, let us liberate ourselves from the internalized racism of offering it.
May peace be upon all of us.