In the aftermath of the horrific, mind-numbing attack in Westminster this week some have taken to expressing views about why Muslims shouldn’t condemn acts of terrorism. In one case, up to 75 reasons have been cited (article published last year), even suggesting that condemning terrorism has in some places become something of a sixth pillar of Islam. Others have claimed that right wing media and Islamophobes have created a climate of social pressure for Muslims to automatically go on a hyper-ventilating spree of condemnation so that it reinforces in the public’s minds the association between terrorism and Muslims and Islam as a religion. There is yet, it is argued, a moral equivalence drawn with Christian groups, the media and politicians, who are seen unmoved to condemn the near daily occurrence of acts of mass killings by terrorists in places like Syria, Yemen and Iraq etc. Others cite how some face backlash from Muslim congregations when the perception is that they never talk about issues related to the global ‘ummah’ yet are quick to condemn acts of terrorism nearer to home.
However, reading all of this, it really pains to say the shocking lack of basic human fraternity and emotional intelligence (empathy, expressing sadness etc.), amongst those who make such claims. For whom, the relevance of social perception in the ebb and flow of being sensitive to, and winning, the hearts and minds of people in wider society seems completely blocked out. Yet, being compassionate is a real sign of ‘doing Islam,’ simply.
There is also the context of ‘who’ is doing the condemning. Organisations which seek to represent Muslims are duty-bound to publicly and emphatically condemn terrorist atrocities, to be seen as decent, empathetic and in solidarity with the wider society. Thankfully, Muslim organisations have generally become much more efficient at this over the years, which has helped signal our ‘in group’ identity tuned into, belonging to, the wider society’s conversations and feelings, especially at times that are momentous. Acts of politically-motivated malice are designed to draw a wedge between people. And hence, in the immediate aftermath it becomes incumbent to step up in symbolic shows of genuine concern, love and solidarity. The human heart is programmed by God to desire harmony and to recognise when good is done to us and in momentous times this is more so than ever.
As human beings we’re always more likely to be moved by things happening closer to home. This is just the reality of how consequences unfold, and how human nature and societies work. So when we do see the media or politicians not giving enough attention for daily occurrences of terrorism in other parts of the world, it isn’t in itself a statement of disregard. It might be more important to us as Muslims to take an interest but to expect everyone else seems somewhat egoistic, arrogant even.
Admittedly, in a globalised and economically interconnected world, we are increasingly exposed to things that happen away from the day-to-day realities of our lives. What mass media often does is create false consciousness, opening our eyes to problems ‘out there,’ without giving us the necessary skills, capacity and competence to do something productive about it. So, for many it then becomes a distraction and creates the sense of looming crises and instability always round the corner. Not to mention, how some of those who argue against condemning try to apply a ‘Chaos theory’-like approach to make everything wrong in the world the responsibility of any Muslim to not just be aware of but to fix. Yet, looking at the plight of Muslim communities around the world, you’d think a little humility won’t go amiss. Wasn’t it God who said that the ‘soul isn’t burdened beyond what it can bear’ and that we will not be judged on something that we’re not responsible for.
There is of course a time, place and manner to have mature debates about things. Not that the drench of anger-filled populist sentiments of many today can be expected to deal with anything appropriately, least of all, be an example of virtue. Firebrand rhetoric – whether from the mosque minbar or on social media, is something that certainly appears strong, yet it is utterly inert to its core. It lacks deeper thought, agency, self-awareness, competence and proper organisation. And, perhaps, it is a subtle hypocrisy (nifaq) in religious culture that has been normalised.
In some sections, condemnation apathy has set in based on the argument that the culture of condemnation since 9/11, apparently, hasn’t won Muslims any friends, citing the hardening of Counter Terrorism laws. But to correlate the two as causally linked you’d have to assume that Counter Terrorism laws (as problematic in their application in places as they might be) exist only because of the Muslim community’s failure to condemn terrorism and not about actually protecting society from terrorism itself. Yet we know this is not the case as the threat of terrorism is real.
Condemning terrorism is also not about apologising for something done in the name of Islam (as some interpret it as), but about showing solidarity against destructive forces and ensuring that the distinction between what Islam is versus its perversion by perverted individuals and groups is continually reinforced in public. This becomes even more important given that the British public haven’t had a sustained and fruitful interaction with Islam in the UK which is partly a reflection of Muslims not doing enough to convey and demonstrate the value of their faith. And of course showing solidarity against terrorism can be expressed in so many ways – in vigils, peace walks, stand-up events, seminars, talks, songs, poems, official statements, articles, tweets, interfaith work, documentaries, plays, giving charity etc.
The costs of not condemning terrorism are simply too great. It would give strength to terrorists and the far right will claim to be vindicated. Many Muslims, too, will be more deeply entrenched into a vicious cycle of post-colonial imaginings, in turn, feeling yet more marginalised and perpetuating victim mentality.
Thankfully, though, we do have diverse Muslim organisations and individuals who can pick up the baton.