Foreign Policy Blogs

Smearing Lenses and Distorting Islam

In the past two decades, both the West and the Islamic world have been living through destabilizing traumatic experiences. The former’s trauma resulted from random acts of terrorism often carried by violent extremists or deranged Muslims.

These atrocious acts routinely trigger excessive and jingoistic media coverages that paint them as an existential threat; hence the continuous flow of funding for the booming global fear industry that only creates more problems than solutions. This state of psychological tyranny creates helpless dependency and compels the public and policy-makers to submissively outsource their political and intellectual will to scrutinize results and respond accordingly—a phenomenon known as “overblown”.

The latter is a synchrony of manipulation, death, and destruction. It is executed by domestic and foreign actors ranching from corrupt tyrants who are determined to never let go their seats of power, to extremely violent militants whose rhetoric and actions are at odds with the faith they claim to promote, and more sophisticated foreign predators who mastered the art of camouflage.

Against this backdrop, we are compelled to ask one of the most urgent questions facing humanity today: are Islamic values compatible with Western values?

Though the two value systems seem dichotomous, I believe they are more compatible than many believe. And since the Western values are universally known, I will focus mainly on arguments used by Islamophobes to alienate Muslims and highlight Islamic values that support my answer.

The Smearing Process

In the ultra-conservative and extreme evangelical propaganda apparatus, anti-Muslim rant sessions are not just daily occurrences, they are program and gathering rituals. Listening to their hate-seething hosts and so-called terrorism experts leaves credulous minds with a paranoiac impression that Muslims have infiltrated all U.S. institutions, and that sword-wielding Muslim armies are about to take over the U.S. and replace the constitution with “Sharia law.”

In that paranoid tradition, recently, Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Apparently the Senator is in agreement with el-Sisi, Egypt’s dictator, who overthrew a democratically-elected President and handed him a life-sentence, and massacred thousands of unarmed protesters in a broad daylight, Cruz alleges that the organization espouses “a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West.” With a name like that, the brotherhood perfectly fits the stereotype, though evidence and historical facts indicate the opposite.

Among the most vociferous advocates pushing this de-Islamization campaign are David Horowitz of Front Page Magazine, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch. These fear merchants who receive tons of monies are part of myth-making groups who use the ill-famed unindicted co-conspirator list concocted to smear almost all Islamic organizations and active leaders on one big political paintbrush. This same group insists that Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton’s senior staff, was a Muslim Brotherhood Trojan Horse positioned to infiltrate the White House. A decade ago, this author was one of their targets. Today, ironically, these hate-mongers have access to the White House and the National Security Agency in Steve Bannon and Gen. Michael Flynn. In that context it is hardly shocking to learn that Donald Trump is overhauling the current counter-terrorism program to exclude militant white supremacists and zoom solely on Muslims.

The ‘Othering’ Process

“(The) West perpetrates two kinds of sins about the Muslim world and Muslim history- sins of omission and sins of commission,” wrote the late intellectual giant, Ali Mazrui. After the demise of the Ottoman empire, some historians—mainly Western—have deliberately left out historical facts underscoring Muslim contributions in various disciplines….while misrepresenting Islamic teachings and adding commentaries that distort the historical application of the Islamic teaching.

When the Ottoman era came to an end, almost the entire Muslim population around the world was living under the subjugation of Western colonial powers. During that period, Muslims have experienced a profound spiritual and intellectual stagnation.

It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s when liberated Muslim nations started to emerge. Alas, with mostly kleptocratic dictators eager to imitate their exclusively privileged colonial masters.

The Divine Blueprint

The Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s deeds, attitudes and illustrations) teach that the ideal society is one that gravitates toward the Divine Will and establishes social, political and economic justice for all. Both underscore the importance of order, systematic process, and negotiating consensus based on mutual interest, even with people of other faiths or no faith. And both Islam identifies the best qualities expected of the leader. It emphasizes the importance of trustworthiness, sense of justice, and the wisdom to serve. These three leadership qualities are considered the most crucial in establishing human relationships beyond trivialities and political facades.

Islam emphasizes the importance of cultivating ethical and spiritually centered citizenry that could become the solid foundation necessary for establishing a good and sustainable society. However, neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah provides specific details on building a modern state with its internal institutions and membership to multilateral institutions with global mandates. This matter falls in the realm of ‘mu’amalat’ or human relations. Unlike matters pertaining on how best to worship God, matters related to human or state to state relationships are left widely open for negotiation, collaboration, and adaptation. In the heyday of the Islamic civilization, Muslims advanced by trial and error, by adopting from other cultures, and by rewarding research, development, and ingenuity.

Facts Trump Stereotypes

The average contemporary Muslim thinker inclines to the conviction that Islam is compatible with building a modern state. Muslims do not have to sacrifice the core values of their faith in order to participate or be part of that process. Many thinkers and activists believe this very fact is one of the reasons that Islamophobes and white supremacists rely on stereotypes and on the ‘we’re under siege’ fear campaign to sideline Muslims.

Let us forget for a moment all those Muslims who were elected to the U.S. Congress and various state, county and city positions, or as UK Members of Parliament and the Mayor of London, or as Canada MPs or appointed as a Minister. Let’s see what young Muslim scholars and community organizers are doing to make America a better place for all.

Here are two examples: Linda Sarsour who was one of the organizers of the Million Women March. As a tireless advocate for inclusive justice, she is now leading a class action lawsuit challenging Donald Trump’s anti-Islamic policies. Sheikh Omar Suleiman who has been an inspirational model of Prophet Muhammad’s message and an active participant in building bridges of understanding between faith communities. Ironically, both of these Muslim leaders are routinely accused of being the torch-bearers of the Muslim Brotherhood by the same Islamophobes.

Contrary to the common misconception, the Islamic faith is anchored on the principle of inclusiveness and collectiveness. Muslims are not commanded to worship God of the Muslims, but God of the Worlds or the physical and spiritual creations—something that practicing Muslims repeat in their prayers at least 17 times a day. Now you may wonder why is it that these facts about Islam are not part of the public discourse. Well, on the one hand, Muslims by and large, have been poor representatives of their own faith. On the other hand, there is a clearly coordinated effort in the West, especially the current White House, to keep Muslims outside the political apparatus by any means necessary.

Throughout the Middle East and beyond, wherever Muslims organized under an Islamic banner and participated in a democratic process, they have won. Though this has routinely outraged many of the losers and their Western backers, democracy does not need political desperadoes, or violent demagogues, or paranoid religious interest groups to reverse outcomes through unlawful and unethical means, it must be done peacefully and through the ballot box.

Stakes are too higher for these kinds of suicidal politicking.