O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.
It's been just over a week since the Woolwich killing. If you hadn't heard about it until just now, you're probably not going to be interested in the rest of this post.
The British Muslim reaction to the killing started off well, with unanimous condemnation of the attacks, disowning of the attackers, and us making it pretty clear that we were as horrified by it as the rest of the country.
'Great!' I thought. 'We're finally starting to get it.'
That feeling didn't last.
It all started going downhill a couple of hours later, with the following quote, 'only savage fanatics use machetes; civilised people kill with drones and cruise missiles.' The little Internet research I did on this quote suggests it originated from Ben White who isn't Muslim, but it was widely posted by lots of Muslims on various social networks. Yes, the sentiment behind the statement may be true, but was it really necessary to post it everywhere? A lot of people reading it would have sighed and thought,
″Oh, there go the Muslims again. They've managed to spin even this story into a 'we are the victims' cry.″
Then you had the argument about semantics - "Why call it terrorism, when it's really murder / a hate crime?" Again, is arguing semantics really necessary? Does it being labelled a hate crime make it any less horrific? All this from the outside looks like desperate gesturing to detract attention from what happened.
Then finally, you got the complaints about Muslims being targeted; by the government who want to intervene more extensively in our activities (especially at universities), and by parts of the public who say they are sick of Muslims. Well, duh! These people claimed to carry out the attacks on behalf of the Muslim Ummah.
Yes, every religion has its fair share of extremists but there's no denying that we're over-represented in the crazy department, and we have almost a total monopoly on the violent types.
These attackers were converts to Islam, which means they were taught Islam by members of our own community. Terrorists don't wake up one day and decide they want to kill lots of non-Muslims - their journey to violence starts with the very way they (and we) are taught about Islam and the world around us.
Our whole world is split into Muslim and non-Muslim. We're quick to raise money for Muslim-majority countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but raising money for non-Muslim majority states? Meh - unless of course, something really bad happens like the Haiti earthquake.
Secondly, we (Muslims in the west) have become adept at tying everything wrong with the Muslim world back to Western colonialism / imperialism:
- Lack of democracy in the Middle East? Western-backed dictators
- Any crazy story from Saudi Arabia? American support for the regime
- Al-Qaeda / The Taliban? Funded by the CIA in the 1980s
- The Iraq body count? The Allied invasion of 2003
- Palestine? Western support for Israel
This world-view is the first step on a conveyor belt that quickly turns into hatred for Western governments, then anything Western, and before you know it, you've got a violent Jihadi on your hands. It's easy for people to think that way when we've been conditioned to see the world as them vs. us.
The idea that 'the West' is to blame for all the ills of the Ummah is convenient because it absolves Muslims around the world of any responsibility for it. We were quite happy with the authoritarian regimes in Iraq, Syria and Libya because they opposed the West and we only turned on them when they started killing their own people (how is that any better than what Western governments did with their own favoured dictators?). We like to point back to the 1980s but conveniently turn a blind eye to the implicit support the Taliban gets from our heroes like Imran Khan. We like to blame the US for Iraq but the vast majority of deaths were as a result of Muslims killing other Muslims. And whilst terrorism in the UK is bad, terrorism against Israelis is secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) supported.
'The West' is a convenient bogeyman but the reality is, WE are responsible for the bulk of the bad stuff that happens to 'the Ummah' we claim to care so much about. We indulge in this delusion even though it's resulting in so much harm on our community.
So back to the original point - YES, we are partly responsible for the likes of Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo.
Groups like the EDL enjoy more support than they should because a lot of people know this. We were able to fool people for a long time with meaningless statements like 'Islam means peace' or with a quote from the Qur'an. But that doesn't work any more.
People who dislike Islam and Muslims don't care what the Qur'an does or doesn't say - they see with their own eyes Muslims killing people around the world, including other Muslims. They see statements like 'behead those who insult Islam' and 'Islam will dominate the world' bandied about by their compatriots - pretty scary stuff I'm sure you'd agree. They see us going to mass rallies when Israel starts bombing Gaza but hear and see very little when it comes to violence from Muslims, beyond a few statements of condemnation. And even that doesn't last long - we soon bring out our excuses, arguments and distractions (as described above).
People in the EDL aren't idiots. They see right through our double standards. They know that we're all too willing to condemn others but not as much when bad actions are by people from our own community, even though we are better able to do something about the latter. They may not be able to articulate their message very well, but that doesn't mean theirs isn't a legitimate one.
It's our responsibility to ensure the country is comfortable with our presence here. If they're not, it's a failing of ours and not theirs. I've all too often heard complaints about the influx of Somalian asylum seekers in places like Leicester, or the increasing number of Eastern European migrants in Dewsbury. And these come from the very same people who expect white British people to be completely accepting of the large number of Muslims who now live in Britain. This is despite us having had a much bigger impact on the culture of the country than any other group of people - mainly due to the sheer number of us Muslims.
We're quick to go on the defensive when people protest the building of a new Mosque or call for the hijab to be banned, but are sheepishly silent when places of worship are attacked by Muslims.
And it's not just the stereotypical white, working class person who has issues with Muslims. There are lots of people up and down the country who are tired of what they see as our constant whining. Some of us are actively calling for the government to intervene in Syria whilst others are actively discouraging it. Some of us were happy we intervened in Libya but then changed our mind and decided it was all an imperialist plot to gain control of the country's oil supplies. Shiites support intervention in Bahrain but not Syria whereas for Sunnis it's the opposite. We can't agree between ourselves whether our government should intervene in these countries, but we do agree that somehow all of it is 'the West's' fault!
And why is it that we care about Muslim women getting raped in far flung places across the world, but care less so when it's white British girls getting raped in the UK by Muslims?
When people make this point, we're quick to shout 'Racist!' or 'intolerance'. But I've heard far more shocking things come out from the mouths of fellow Muslims, about Jews and gay people, than I've read on the pages of right-wing groups.
We're a bunch of hypocrites. We want all the benefits of living in a liberal democracy without any of the responsibilities or sacrifices. This couldn't have been illustrated any better than during the debate about gay marriage, where you had near universal condemnation of the bill from Muslims. We strongly condemn any government attempt to interfere in our private affairs by banning us from wearing a hijab or a niqab, but we have no problem telling the government to interfere in the private affairs of others by preventing them from getting married. Seriously, how does two gay people getting married negatively affect the rest of us in any way?
Now, the points I've mentioned above don't apply to every single Muslim I've met, but almost all of us are guilty of failing to deal with these issues amongst our family, friends and community.
Until we deal with our dual standards, the current animosity towards Muslims will be completely justified. So more of this please
These are my personal views and not those of Leeds ISoc (different people in ISoc will have different views). I published it here for three reasons:
- I've been asked for a long time to write a blog post and I've finally got round to writing one.
- During my time at Leeds ISoc, I tried hard to make it a more open society where anyone felt comfortable joining. What better way to help that process along than airing some pretty frank views here?
- I intend my post to be read by other Muslims. I'm not one of those who is simply writing in national newspapers what others want to hear, with the hope of getting a pat on the back (and maybe some money too).
Nor am I someone who says one thing in front of the camera or in one context, but completely different things in other contexts.
You can comment below or if you want to contact me by email, any sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will be forwarded to my personal email account.