Because doing so only feeds the ubiquitous floating distrust of Muslims.
Because when you ask Muslims to condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups what you’re saying is that you don’t trust any Muslim. Because you’re saying that I can’t be trusted until and unless I vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity. Because no one asks where the moderates of anything else are but I need to constantly provide a Rolodex of names in a futile attempt to satiate not a sincere curiosity but, often, just a rhetorical question with a poor point.
If I condemn ISIS, I am – in essence – condemning myself: I am condemning myself and my communities to the continuation of the never-ending onslaught of suspicion, dehumanization and interrogation that is far from unique to us (especially when living as minorities) but is the most public.
And while I’m tired of people in my communities constantly partaking in and creating public campaigns to put up a good face of our religion, condemn this group or that action and issuing this statement and that letter – I can’t actually be angry with them. I can’t blame them for wanting, so badly, to not have to hear the same questions again and again, day in and day out. I can’t blame them for trying to show how they practice, envision and know Islam to an audience that only sees in black banners and white script.
But while I can’t be angry with them, I am angry. At something I can’t always articulate but it never leaves my mind.
What we need is not the pacification of Islam vis a vis campaigns and rhetoric that are antithetical to our tradition and propel Jihad as only and primarily an internal struggle. What we need are not hashtags, videos, social media campaigns and signs that make it clear that whatever the current Muslim boogeyman in the news is doing has nothing to do with the rest of us who share belief in the same religion. What we need is not an ever-changing litmus test of who is Muslim and who isn’t Muslim enough based on what makes our religion and us look bad. What we need are not open letters to questionable groups that serve maybe more as a public relations strategy than any actual engagement and debate meant to thwart unfettered violence.
What we do need are internal campaigns to fix the broken parts of our communities; to reach those who feel disenfranchised, angry and powerless when they see their kin in their cities and around the world under fire, under surveillance, under suspicion and under clouds of blood and bombs. This isn’t about so-called “counter-radicalism” but about making sure the particulars of our community are healthy so that the whole can be healthy. If one part hurts, the whole feels the pain.
And we need more than publicly, poorly slapped on bandages.
We may not find throngs of young Muslim men fleeing in the hundreds to fight in Syria and Iraq, but we will find many men and women in our communities who will sympathize with groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS – not for a love or propensity towards violence, but because they, too, are searching for answers they’re not getting in their mosques, in their homes and in their communities.
And aside from those who sympathize with such groups and ideologies, there are those remain conflicted: they see familiar verses and traditions used in a way that makes sense and they do not know how to respond. They don’t like the images they see nor agree with the rhetoric – but how do we respond when we don’t even know where to start to find an answer? How do we retrieve the lost worshippers who’ve seen their mosques go from communal places of worship to sectarian fronts for wars thousands of miles away?
Pushing entire groups of people outside the fold of Islam – in other words doing exactly what it is that forms the basis of the ideologies we want to reject – is not a productive foundation on which we can heal our faith and build ourselves. It is not how we deal with the problems we’ve yet to even diagnose despite their tangible presence. Aside from the legal conditions necessary to declare someone outside the fold of Islam – sorry, President Barack Obama does not suffice – we cannot deny that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are part of Islam.
Islam beyond just a religion, that is.
They may not be representative of the faith, its principles and creed but they are working within the framework of Islam as they understand it and interact with it. And they are also part of a long tradition of similar groups, ideologies and individuals who ultimately were met with defeat because they just were not sustainable because they were not representative of the principles, beliefs and spirit of Islam.
So, I will not condemn ISIS and I will not name, to whoever asks, the names of the moderates. I will not issue letters in the papers explaining this and lauding that and I will not sit at a table where the host with one hand praises my attendance and with the other denigrates my position in my society.
I will, however, speak on my own terms and not with the neatly placed talking points meant to pacify and remind me of where I should sit and where I should stand.