On Friday the UK announced its intention to list Hamas as a terrorist group, a move Canada, the US, and EU had already done. In fact, the Canada public safety website indicates Hamas list date as 2002 and review date as 6/2021. On Sunday a Hamas terrorist killed one man and injured 4 others in Jerusalem’s Old City. Reasonable people agree with the designation of terrorist for Hamas. It’s entirely possible to support a resolution for the Palestinian people and also to condemn terrorism and anti Jewish hatred and the use of violence to promote any political messages. It’s possible to support a resolution for the Palestinian people and condemn any calls for the destruction of Israel. Violence cannot bring a peaceful resolution. Yet the right to self determination of any one group does not override the basic human rights of any others not in that group.
Behaviour is a response, and we forget that when it comes to sh1tty behaviour because we want to stew in our rage. Understanding serves as an antidote for rage, so we make an effort to obscure understanding. Rage feels good and that’s what counts. This means extremism is a response. To what? A multitude of factors, suffering and disenfranchisement often among them. Remember—we are all human beings, even those who commit the most heinous of acts, who think the most vile outrageous things—all human like you and I. Maybe you need to disagree to distance yourself from that. They remain human. There are no monsters. That’s seems monstrous maybe. Fanatics need a serious recalibration—their moral compass has glitched out.
Obviously not all Muslims are fanatics, however many remain silent about what’s happening. The community remained eerily silent about Khashoggi, as it does about Saudi Arabia’s egregious human rights violations. Practically, in term of principle, how does one support and promote BDS whilst throwing money at KSA for hajj or umrah? How do Muslims reckon the keepers of Islam’s two holiest sights also being the world leader in executions? How does anyone think Islam will be perceived when it’s presented like this—this is what a western non Muslim sees—how do we change that?
Aside from that, many have trouble condemning Hamas whenever a discussion of Palestinians arises. Facts—Palestinians did vote for Hamas and Hamas is a known terrorist group around the world. That’s reality. It’s also a response. Also facts—many Afghans on the ground, many more than the imperial west wants you to believe, support the Taliban. This is a response, as well. What do we do about this?
The west is an imperialist hyper masculine asshole and these groups of Islamist fanatics which have formed in response and as freedom or resistance fighters are hyper masculine extremist assholes too. The Afghan people really are served by neither, and similarly for the Palestinian people. Do we know how the BDS campaign actually affects Palestinians? Is anyone cutting through the rage farming to answer questions like these in a genuine grown up manner?
I wonder to what degree western political forces benefit from the existence and machinations of extremist Muslim groups and the continuing plague of both fundamentalism and identitarianism in the community. What conditions led to the creation of these extremist groups? The more I observe the players in and focus of the discourse taking place about Islam and Muslims, the more I’m inclined to think it all serves a specific purpose—to feed western hegemony.
The Muslim community seems stuck in a negative feedback loop with an external locus of control. It’s fuelling much dysfunction and it’s an impediment to progress and even peace. So, this essay is the beginning of my attempt as a Muslim to understand the community, the issues facing it, and it’s response.
First of all, I’m gonna get real about the elephant in the room—fanaticism. The thing we never want to talk about, and when the topic does arise we get out our favourite word—Islamophobia—and hope to make the uncomfortable discussion disappear. I’m being a bit facetious, only a bit though. We do have a pervasive fragility problem in the Muslim community, and the negative feedback loop entrapping the Muslim community obscures our ability to grapple with the problem of fanaticism and rigid thinking.
Second, I’m going to be that one who points out that extremism fuels the right wing polemics which has inspired recent anti Muslim violence in Canada. So, a major part of the solution to pushing back against anti Muslim hate needs to involve challenging the polemicists, on the ground. Debunking the rhetoric that drives hate seems like a powerfully non violent and also Muslim means of resistance.
The landscape of the Muslim mind seems like a logical starting point.
Muslim Minds are Closed
In his book Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance, Mustafa Akyol writes about ahlaksis dindarlik, in English immoral piety, which he describes as follows: “… the problem was not that the religious conservatives were not pious enough, it was that theirs was a piety that did not make them moral people,” (p. 45). A religious conservative ruling elite with a decidedly Machiavellian flair had taken a repressive and authoritarian tact to governing by silencing dissidents and promoting fear, intimidation, and kleptocracy.
Former mufti of Istanbul Mustafa Çagrici had argued, “There should be no religion without morality.” The Muslim community has shut out the world, immersing itself in a culture of divine command—the state, being the purveyor of God, sets the law, and whatever the state makes illegal becomes immoral and whatever the state makes legal becomes moral. Such a Fatwa culture legislates every moment of existence, “… the average Muslim projects the burden of morality onto the law,” (p.50). Conscience, which requires independent thinking, or as Rūmi would say, consulting one’s own heart, is discouraged. How does a person develop a moral compass if s/he lives in a repressive authoritarian world ruled by immorally pious leaders, ie tyrants, and never has the opportunity to choose freely? Islamic regimes produce many many atheists—facts.
The Muslim mind has become stuck in culturally cultivated negative feedback loop.
When I became a Muslim a few years ago I noticed that Muslims have a strange fixation with rules, down to the mundane minutiae of daily life—does swallowing toothpaste break my fast, is one of my all time favourites I have seen on a Facebook scroll. New Muslims can find a plethora of instructional videos outlining the various rules for just about anything. For example, thousands of how to wrap your hijab videos exist, hundreds of why hijab is mandatory videos, too, and of course most have heard of the free in hijab movement, an identitarian movement which ignores the grim reality that many Muslim women are anything but “free in hijab”.
Now try to find a video about hijab for men, about what the Quran actually says about hijab, or that dives into the spiritual value underlying hijab, or how to assess your commitment to hijab, ask yourself why you are doing it, or how to deal with the inevitable struggles women face who cover their hair and dress modestly, particularly in western hyper-sexualised culture and a social atmosphere inclined to see hijab either as symbolising misogyny or purity. Such videos don’t exist—ego work of resilience building, a fundamental guiding principle of classical Islamic literature and a strong recurring theme throughout the Qur’an, does not feature heavily in contemporary teachings given to the Muslim faithful.
Can We Talk About Fragility?
Put bluntly, I find the Muslim community on the whole quite self absorbed, insular, and lacking vision—emotionally and spiritually stunted, and intellectually intolerant. As a Muslim scholar mentioned in a recent zoom meeting on Islamic values, we have a problem of fragility in the Muslim community. To give you an example, when Lars Vilks died recently many Muslims celebrated his death and I made a public Facebook post which said that his life mattered and that celebrating the death of anyone seemed wrong to me—nothing profound or radical, I thought. Within 19 hours I had received 176 comments from extremist Muslims, all men, many cheering the death of Vilks and chastising me for daring to say that a so-called blasphemer’s life mattered and they wished him hellfire, etc. It all seemed quite disproportionate, and this shocked me—the intensity, derangement, extremism, and explosive speed of the response.
These same attention-seeking fanatical types get their shorts in a bunch when they see young Muslim women leading a diverse group of people in prayer at a peaceful protest—such actions earned the women in question the titles Diva Mafia and Hijabista. This same flavour of fanatics troll around social media sites with their takfiri fundamentalism, antagonising liberal Muslims and promoting divisive othering rhetoric about kuffar, disbelievers, and generally, anti-western hatred. Many will unapologetically express anti-gay rhetoric—no, gay lives don’t matter, one hardline Muslim told me in a Facebook comment several months ago, and he absolutely believed it. These behaviours go far beyond the norm and into the radical territory. Also I’m going to say it—this behaviour screams hyper masculinity. It is fragile as fcuk. We need to stop tiptoeing around this, and push it back. It is not anti Muslim to call out fanatical pockets in the Muslim community and root out that behaviour in a constructive and compassionate fashion.
Earlier this year, one fanatical personality uploaded a video of himself declaring popular British cleric and online personality Abu Layth worst than an apostate and making defamatory statements about him. Abu Layth’s home was attacked and his daughter terrorised—tafkiring a Muslim can put that Muslim in grave danger. Takfiri fundamentalists take it upon themselves to gate-keep Islam and judge others, they expend considerable effort fixating on everything and everyone haram. The haram police. They cannot tolerate disagreement, they cannot tolerate any other interpretations, they cannot tolerate other religions, they simply cannot face pluralism. Many extremists express anti-Jewish sentiments, even deny the holocaust. Such fanatical hardliners often think the west is evil. We talk about orientalism yet we don’t talk about occidentalism.
I see an unhealthy fixation on Islamophobia, defining it, recognizing it, rehashing it, glorifying it. Why do we need to call it Islamophobia? Islamophobia may give an impression that criticising or mocking the religion of Islam constitutes hate. Not true though—hate laws seek to protect human beings and not the ideas they espouse. Do Muslims honestly expect to receive a pass from all criticism and satirising of their religion and Prophet? That’s an unreasonable expectation in a free thinking society. So I don’t see why we need to use the word islamophobia rather than the more accurate term, anti-Muslim.
To be clear, I do acknowledge the existence of anti Muslim hatred, I’m simply not prepared to worship it by unduly glorifying it, and I’m not prepared to stew in any victimhood narrative for any length of time. Ruminating on the very worst things that happen to us works against us—poison never made anyone well. Remember that external locus of control I mentioned above? Individuals with an external locus of control act from a perception of powerlessness, everything is happening to them, instead of them happening to everything. This influences their response, of course!
“Muslim women are not accepted they are tolerated,” the Canadian Council of Muslim Women website tells me, and that sounds a bit self absorbed to me. Also, at the risk of sounding insensitive, I don’t see how it’s helpful to Muslim women to receive that narrative. Maybe teach us self-defense before you teach us we do not belong or are not welcomed. I don’t see how it’s helpful to Muslim girls, either, to hear about how they’re not accepted. I think we do need to create some kind of initiative aimed at pushing back at anti Muslim hatred and xenophobia in general—how do we collectively reach out to those polemicists and sh1t talkers who stoke the anti Muslim rhetoric and rage farm for haters, as well as those haters—how do we move those people?
We have a serious problem within the Muslim world of hatred and extremism harming Muslims, extremists directly harming Muslims, especially women and children, and provoking negative responses from non Muslims, ie driving animosity towards Muslim people—it is the elephant in the room in several ways. Globally, in the human village, we face a problem with male extremism and violence. How much of fanatical violence happens because humans have failed to effectively address the three-headed problem of hyper masculinity, male extremism, and male violence? In every culture and every corner of the globe communities face this same problem with boys and men. Women suffer as a direct and indirect result. In some cases children suffer as well. How could Muslims, in particular Muslim women’s groups, play a role in brokering remedial action for this issue, and in resilience building generally?
I think there’s a balance to strike, and when we wrap ourselves in a cloak of victimhood and steep ourselves in stories and narratives of hate to the exclusion of all else, we lose that balance and our vision fails. That’s the negative feedback loop. What we focus on grows, so if the community focuses entirely on hate, doesn’t that grow? Victimhood without limits lends itself to extremism. How much of seeing hate in others really represents a projection? Where does that line exist? Rather than promote fragility, why don’t we promote resilience? We do, in small pockets of the community Muslims work quietly and do good work—we need to amplify this. Being a Muslim is really all about cultivating resilience, and we have become disconnected from that part of Islam as fundamentalism took hold and went viral. We need to choose growth over victimhood.
How Do We Address Anti-Muslim Hatred?
The recent CBC opinion piece in which a Muslim woman wrote about white conservative voters hating her as a Muslim illustrates the projection of hate existing within the Muslim community. The writer provides no solid evidence and makes some sweeping assumptions about people based on skin colour, culture and voting preference in a very lazy piece of writing published by our national broadcaster. The piece subsequently had edits which quietly removed the reference to skin colour. Imagine stereotyping everyone of a particular skin colour and culture whilst complaining that others do that same thing to you! I read this piece as an adult version of the old children’s rhyme nobody loves me everybody hates me and found it insufferably self absorbed, expressing a near persecution complex, and contributing nothing meaningful to the discourse on hatred and tolerance building in Canada.
I personally find the Daryl Davis approach more constructive and hopeful than the doomsayer and fear mongering everyone hates us the whole world hates us narrative. I now find it pointless to label people with some othering label when they behave in a way I don’t like or insult me or say asinine things about my religion or The Prophet, or whatever. I try to understand, I want to know why because then when we understand why maybe we can remedy the situation by addressing the underlying reason. Or at the very least, understanding why people do hurtful things helps me not to waste energy hating them or feeling animosity toward them. Any discussion of internal versus external locus of control boils down to this right here.
When it comes to hate, specifically dislike of the other, we face the human condition, xenophobia exists across all cultures and regions of the world. How do we address this very human response? The current woke culture of anti hate and anti racism doesn’t ever answer this question. These problem-focussed visions promote fragility, not resilience. They obliterate understanding. We’d much rather wrap ourselves in the problem than work toward constructive solutions. Ultimately how we behave, how we respond to situations and people, represents our character. Islam even has a word for this—adab.
Hate and resentment take work and cost energy because they mean I am carrying someone else’s baggage. Damn, I’ve got enough of my own, I’m not prepared to carry yours or anyone else’s on top of that. Besides, it seems quite fragile and powerless to give everyone else all the power, which is what wearing their hatred and disapproval does. In the world of fitness, weight training is building strength through resistance. In life, we build resistance when we carry our own sh1t. Also in life, those who struggle to maintain subsistence because of physical and social dis-ease face challenges building resilience.
Religion must remedy dis-ease and not increase and intensify it. Weaponising hate to protect a social identity doesn’t seem like a wise or compassionate political move, it strikes me as fragile-minded and authoritarian. We need to remember hatred means against people, not any particular ideas. Social identity culture and its enforcement promotes othering and disunity, it begs for a caste or hierarchy, and it begs for thought policing.
I also have to ask the question—is being a Muslim an identity or a way of life? The answer you give depends on your locus of control.
Can We Reopen Muslim Minds?
All of this to say that the problems lies not with Islam, or the Qur’an, it lies with human beings. The problem is a Muslim community cultivated in an authoritarian culture which—
promotes blind obedience to and enforcement of rules,
cannot put down the antiquated ideas and vision of parents and families of origin,
discourages independent thinking and tapping into one’s conscience or relying on one’s own inner moral compass, and
essentially goes through the motions of performing empty rituals without paying any heed to underlying values in operation
Steeps itself in sectarianism and tribal thinking
For many Muslims, their religion is an identity. Identities need constant external validation, and refusing to validate an identity threatens its existence. The hypersensitivity around cartoons or insults of The Prophet and the fact that we call anti-Muslim hate Islamophobia leads me to wonder whether the Muslim community wants to protect identity more than people. When will we stop battling for the spotlight and start focussing on how we can live and promote and protect Muslim values?
What are Muslim values—do we as a community even know? How could we, when fatwa culture and identity politics dominate the community and neither have a values grounding? Muslims as a collective of humans need to talk about values, we need to break free from the negative feedback loop, from the unhealthy rumination, from the powerlessness, and reach for growth.