The “blame Islam” mantra, a favorite pastime for the media and political talking heads, has gotten a new lease on life in the aftermath of the recent horrific attack at the Pulse Club in Orlando, Florida. Immediately after news of the attack spread, pundits and politicians began to pontificate on Islam’s alleged responsibility and the homophobic nature of the religion.
According to this convenient narrative, Islam — supposedly rooted in a refusal to conform to the precepts of the modern world — is uniquely identified as the source of the problem. Whenever a Muslim individual commits a violent or illegal action, Islam stands accused and is assigned responsibility.
Is Islam responsible? How do we assign responsibility to a set of texts or to a faith practiced by some 1.4 billion people?
The “Islam is responsible” mantra is always ready and is deployed to explain a myriad of issues, problems and circumstances. Knowing nothing about Islam is not deemed a handicap. Nor is the inability to read or use the primary Islamic texts, since no such careful examination is deemed necessary when Islam is determined to be responsible.
Crucially, whether to blame Islam in the context of attacks reflects a different vision of America and the West in general. The “clash of civilization” thesis plays a prominent role in the framing and prescribes a fundamental difference between Islam, Muslims and the West in general and America in particular.
In addition, the same “clash of civilization” thesis is applied to the Latino population in the U.S. and the demographic threat they pose to white America moving forward. At its core, those who employ such rhetoric mean to draw a clear distinction between the imagined white America and all those who fall outside its constructed racial and cultural walls.
Insisting on using the word “Islamic” when talking about violent extremism is an important ideological construct for those who champion the “clash of civilization” thesis. There are fundamental and unresolvable differences, civilizational in nature, between Islam and the West, according to Trump and his ilk. Islam is supposedly responsible for acts of violence, because it is on a collision course with the modern and progressive West. (No further analysis is needed to understand the perpetrator’s motives.)
After the Orlando attack, Trump demanded that we use the terms “radical Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic radicalism” to point at those responsible. He also implied that President Obama is soft or possibly secretly involved with the terrorist. In a Sunday Twitter post, Trump demanded that Obama “mention the words radical Islamic terrorism” in reference to the Orlando attacks or “immediately resign in disgrace.”
The presumptive Republican nominee waded quickly into the “blame Islam” terrain, again calling for restrictions on Muslims entering the country. Trump then attacked his Democratic counterpart by stating: “The bottom line is that Hillary supports the policies that bring the threat of radical Islam into America, and allow it to grow overseas.”
According to Trump, “Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country. They enslave women and murder gays.”
In a CNN interview, Hilary Clinton inched closer in Trump’s direction by stating: “Whether you call it radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing.” Clinton clarified, “I’m happy to say either. But what I won’t do, because I think it is dangerous for our efforts to defeat this threat, is to demonize and demagogue and, you know, declare war on an entire religion. That plays right into ISIS’ hands.
Trump’s insistence on the terminology comes directly from the Islamophobic and “clash of civilizational” cookbook, whose recipes fit perfectly into this distorted ideological box. There’s no need to look for factors that motivated a violent act or ascertain the intent behind it. The reason is always simple: Islam is responsible, and there’s a mad dash to ascertain the level of Islamic adherence by the perpetrators (even when none is found). Here, we are not saying that they are not Muslim or that they lack adherence to Islam; on the contrary, that is to be accounted for, but the real motivation is glossed over.
Examining the intent behind violent actions is the first step toward beginning to decipher the source of the problem. Assigning responsibility to Islam is wrong, and does not lead to solving the problem of violence in the world. Instead, it only helps obfuscate the real causes.