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The ‘Islam is responsible’ mantra

Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer, Near Eastern studies and Ethnic studies | June 16, 2016

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.

billboard message

A billboard on the Detroit-Toledo I-75 expressway (Matt57 via Wikimedia Commons)

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.)

Trump tweet

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.

Comments to “The ‘Islam is responsible’ mantra

  1. Thank you for nice article share with us. We all are the human being and we should not so rude to others. Islam does not support a war in the world. Be that as it may, there is an interesting absence of worry among the US the scholarly community with respect to concealment of minority factions, liberals, and secularists in Muslim-dominant part nations.

  2. Points well taken.

    However, there is a strange lack of concern among US academia regarding suppression of minority sects, liberals and secularists in Muslim-majority countries.

    Pakistan, for example, is a self-declared Islamic republic where there are increasing calls for declaring the Shia as apostates in analogy with the proscribed Ahmedi sect. Four ‘liberal’ intellectuals who criticized the country’s blasphemy laws got abducted by unknown actors just in the last week.

    Many in immigrant communities are naturally tuned in to the ‘normal’ back home unless academia take on the challenge of engaging them with civil society in their countries of adoption.

  3. Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, with over 1 billion followers. It is a monotheistic faith based on revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad in 7th-century Saudi Arabia. The Arabic word Islam means “submission,” reflecting the faith’s central tenet of submitting to the will of God. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. http://www.dawateislami.net/radio/quran-internet-radio

  4. “Superinfection is the process by which a cell that has previously been infected by one virus gets co-infected with a different strain of the virus, or another virus, at a later point in time.
    Viral superinfections may be resistant to the antiviral drug or drugs that were being used to treat the original infection. Viral superinfections may also be less susceptible to the host’s immune response.”

  5. Dear Dr. Bazian,

    Thank you for the mild tone and clear expression of this important viewpoint — it helps us to see issues more clearly at a time when there is so much pain and emotion, and propaganda trying to take advantage of a bad situation.

    Two broad comments:

    • A beloved professor from our Rhetoric Department, Arthur Quinn (may his memory be a blessing), always mentioned with a sly smile that his book on Genesis had been condemned by Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, so therefore you know there must be something good in it. Prof. Quinn was well aware that he was engaging in fallacious reasoning — just because someone we don’t like says something is bad, it doesn’t follow that the something is therefore good.

    Just so, to say that Donald Trump and other ignorant and foolish people are spreading a particular idea, it does not follow that the idea is therefore wrong. Many knowledgeable and wise people are also critical of Islam, in much more nuanced and balanced ways, for instance Maajid Nawaz, and it does not follow that because Trump and many others are idiots that therefore all critics (or criticism) of Islam are wrong.

    • There seems to be broad agreement in contemporary academia that it is possible to be opposed to Israel’s ruling government and the policies and practices of the Israeli state without being antisemitic. Thoughtful adults can distinguish between prejudice and stereotyping and scapegoating on the one hand, and passionately reasoned opposition on the other.

    Just so, aren’t we obliged to recognize that it is possible to be opposed to basic tenets of Islam and/or to historically embedded realizations of Islam in contemporary nations without therefore being tarred with the label of Islamophobe?

    If criticism of Muslims is Islamophobia, then every imam speaking before every congregation throughout the world is being Islamophobic. Clearly, it’s not criticism itself that earns the label, but the preparations (education, etc.) and intentions of the persons doing the criticizing.

    My concern is that in an effort to defend ourselves from idiots like Trump, we will prevent ourselves from being able to hear and take in the reasoned calls for reform of others (including yourself).

    One last parallel is on my mind as well: many Arab and African nations (New World places, too) retain long cultural practices that vilify and punish homosexuality. Does that make it okay to call all Arabs homophobic? Certainly not. Where does the West get the temerity to try and tell other cultures that their practices are wrong, when there isn’t even consensus among Westerners about what counts as moral behavior?

    Just so, the insistence on putting the scarlet letter “I” for Islamophobic on the chest of everyone in Christendom might be similarly insensitive to the cultural practices of several continents.

    I also want to clearly recognize and highlight that prejudice towards and mistreatment of Muslims in America is an evil that is made worse by trumped up emotions in the mass media, and I applaud your own and everyone else’s efforts to counteract it. But to echo your own conclusion concerning violence above, to assign no responsibility at all to Islam is wrong, and does not lead to solving the problem of violence in the world. Instead, it helps obfuscate the real causes.

    Ramada Mubarak!

  6. Islam is homophobic. (See this Wall Street Journal article.)

    Orlando represents a psychotic breakdown by a bisexual because he could not reconcile his sexuality with his religion.

    All the tangents in this post about Latinos and whites and workplace violence and Trump and Hillary and so on and so forth are a smokescreen by Hatem Bazian to avoid the core issue of the scriptural, intense, widespread homophobia in Islam that puts its followers in serious conflict with the modern world.

    Hatem Bazian needs to honestly address the specific issue of LGBT and Islam.

    • My response is: So?

      The smarter we are about the roots of violence the faster and more thoroughly we subdue it. I think you have a correlation/causation problem.

      Religious wars are not winnable. I understand how anger and binaries may appeal to our base instincts, but indulging them seems significantly maladaptive in today’s world. I’m for focusing on the actual causes of religious fundamentalism – or at least addressing issues that may serve to diminish it. I’m not so enthusiastic about giving terrorists the ammunition they need to justify their hatred and expand the scale and scope of their violence.

      I’m not for degrading ourselves out of fear. That is the only real threat to this country. Terrorists know this. Why don’t we? Are we cowards? We fancy ourselves “the home of the brave”. It’s part of our national identity. We tell ourselves this is how we got to where we are.

      I think acting against our interests out of fear shows cowardice, and I think demagoguery has the power to destroy us like terrorists never could and never will.

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