It goes without saying that the barbaric attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was a gross atrocity and an affront to the most cherished value of any liberal democracy: freedom of expression. As a human being, who happens to be Muslim, I reacted to the news of this massacre much like everybody else; with shock, dismay, and even anger. I found myself asking: who are these so-called Muslims carrying out such brutal acts in the name of Islam? How is it that their Islam is so different from the religion I was raised with, one that above all else, emphasized compassion, mercy, and a respect for human life?
When it comes to deciphering the roots of such violence, a problematic issue arises when certain individuals attempt to paint Islam and all its adherents with a broad brush. In recent days, such efforts have reached mind-numbing levels. We have seen everything from CNN anchor Don Lemon shamelessly asking a respected Muslim lawyer if he supports ISIS, to Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing media mogul who owns Fox News and a significant amount of the world’s media, casually tweeting: “maybe most Moslems peaceful but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” What exactly is Murdoch implying here? That most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are not peaceful? And how should we hold responsible this number of people, who comprise many nation-states and live in nearly every part of the globe? The thought that this man holds such influence, is as frightening as it is revealing of the hawkish, anti-Muslim tinge of many of his outlets.
The fact is that Islam is an incredibly diverse religion, encompassing a variety of sects, interpretations, and theologies. Furthermore, Islamic civilization goes back 1,400 years, and at its peak was a tolerant society which produced some of history’s greatest scientists, poets, mathematicians, and scholars. The hyper-violent groups claiming to be Muslim today, such as ISIS or al-Qaeda, are more indicative of a relatively modern school of thought known as Salafism, which has been boosted by the power vacuums left in the wake of the frequent foreign interventions in the Middle East and the radicalizing effect this has had on many, than Islam as a whole. To pin the blame on Muslims, or the religion of Islam, runs counter to not only the reality of the situation, but also harms U.S. national security interests and our aspirations to be an open, tolerant, and forward-thinking society.
The purveyors of Islamophobia in the United States, which the Center for American Progress first identified in its widely noted 2011 “Fear, Inc.” report, have based their whole careers on pushing this false and simplistic narrative of all Muslims being worthy of suspicion and Islam innately being an “evil” political ideology. In the Center for American Progress’ upcoming report, “Fear, Inc. 2.0,” we have aimed to detail the impact this network has had of pushing institutionalized discriminatory policies against Muslim Americans. It has become clear to me that in their attempts to alienate Muslim Americans and prevent them from partaking in American political life, these groups have clear malevolent motives which they in fact often openly state. These have to do with their fundamental desire for more aggressive U.S. foreign policies and providing the rationale for the ever-growing national security state.
As Muslims continue to speak up against the extremists hijacking their faith, and even fight and die every day against the onslaught of Salafist groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban or Boko Haram, it is more important than ever for us to ensure our actions and rhetoric do not empower extremists at the expense of ordinary Muslims. To engage in Islam-bashing and to ignore the constant and loud condemnations of terrorism by the vast majority of Muslims is wholly counter-productive and only serves to embolden those Islamophobes preaching daily a disastrous clash of civilizations discourse.
Yasmine Taeb is the Islamophobia project manager at the Center for American Progress and a co-author of the upcoming report, “Fear, Inc. 2.0.”