One of the many paradoxes in the modern age is that there is an overabundance of knowledge and information available to the masses, yet, easy access to information has created a space for exaggerated views and uninformed opinions to proliferate. As such, we have more knowledge available to us, yet many of us remain misinformed. With a plethora of uncritical and un-nuanced information bites easily available, a Muslim terrorist dialectic has emerged, reinforcing a narrative that Muslim men are dangerous, violent, and prone to acts of terrorism. This most often occurs when radicalized Muslim individuals engage in random acts of violence, in which civilians are murdered and/or injured, as recently occurred in Edmonton, Alberta. When these acts of violence occur in North America and Europe, there’s a concerted effort in the media to portray such random ‘lone wolf’ acts of violence as being linked to some global Muslim terrorist infrastructure, and in doing so asserting that Islam is the root cause for these actions. However, deep and detailed analysis, of the possible psychological, emotional, or social states of the perpetrators to help understand these actions, beyond terrorism inspired by Islam, is completely absent.
For example, in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, ruthlessly murdered 49 and injured 58 men at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Immediately, this was labeled as an act of terrorism. However, mainstream media outlets engaged in very little analysis of why Mateen committed this crime. Mateen was a closeted gay man, who according to friends and family, was ashamed and struggling with his homosexuality. The perception of Mateen being a self-hating, psychologically damaged individual was elusive in media portrayals of the story. Such a narrative, would be essential in trying probe the motivations for his actions. Similarly, in Europe hundreds of young men and women have joined terrorist organizations, and a handful have committed acts of violence and terrorism locally. These events are given widespread media attention and have become instrumental in shaping the political narratives in a number of European nations. There is no shortage of discussions describing what is happening when it comes to Muslims and terrorism, however there is a lack of explanation as to why it is happening. Muslims in a number of these countries are less educated, face higher rates of unemployment, and have been socially and economically marginalized through discrimination and identity politics. However, these issues are rarely discussed when trying to understand the motives of these criminals.
It would seem that many Muslims have also internalized the Muslim terrorist dialectic, as they are always in a rush to condemn acts of violence and terrorism committed by fringe elements of Muslim society. However, are such acts necessary? Why do Muslims feel they need to condemn the acts of radicalized extremists? Muslims who possess extremist and radical views represent a miniscule minority, as multiple studies have shown. Muslims who actually commit acts of violence represent an even smaller fraction of Muslims globally. Yet, Muslims are constantly obliged to shore up their ‘good Muslim’ credentials, by constantly condemning these acts of violence, even when there’s little to suggest they are acts of terrorism inspired by Islam. When similar acts of violence are committed by Christian fundamentalists, do Christians feel they need to condemn such actions? When radicalized Buddhist monks indiscriminately slaughter Muslim families in Myanmar, do peaceful Buddhists around the world feel they need to condemn these actions?
The Muslims terrorist dialectic, which presumes that all random acts of violence committed by Muslims are acts of terrorism inspired by Islam is fraught with logical fallacies. Muslims who commit acts of violence, like members of other faith-based communities, are complex actors, who have a multiplicity of motivations and reasons for committing such acts. Religion may play a role, however, their views cannot be conflated with those of mainstream Muslims, as their beliefs represent a radical divergence from traditional Islamic teachings and beliefs. Muslims themselves need to come to terms with this reality, and stop feeling the need to apologize for their extremist co-religionists. Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and members of other faith-based communities are unapologetic for their extremist co-religionists. It’s time for Muslims to be unapologetically Muslim.
Naved Bakali is the author of Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism Through the Experience of Muslim Youth.