The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual

Haron MonisMy big takeaway from Tim Rice’s White Like Me is that the ultimate sense of white privilege is not being defined as a category. It is like when I was a child, I thought that vanilla had no flavor — just sugary deliciousness. This isn’t to say that this is all that white privilege is. Given my anti-authoritarian tendencies and the way I’ve lived my life, had I been born black, I would probably be doing 20 to life in some prison somewhere. I would not be able to refer wryly to my “colorful” past. But I think it is much more fundamental to know that anything I do — go or bad — reflects on me alone and is not “typical of those people” or “the exception that proves the rule about those people.”

This occurs to me all the time. Whenever there is murder, I hope it is a white guy. It’s not that I care about the individual case. But when it is anyone but a white guy, it becomes categorized. The issue is not the explicit bigots — they already “know” whatever it is they know. But for the rest of us, it pushes buttons that have been created by living in a racist society our entire lives. In fact, it is doubtless deeper than that — with evolutionary and pattern recognition aspects of biology.

It is in this context that I came upon Max Fisher’s fantastic article, Stop Asking Muslims to Condemn Terrorism. It’s Bigoted and Islamophobic. With a headline that great, you hardly need to read the article. I feel like getting it tattooed to my forehead. The truth is, it is everywhere in the United States (and the west, as Fisher discussed). It is more blatantly bigoted than anything Paula Deen ever said. Yet it is not only allowed on television — it is celebrated.

Imagine if the same thing were applied to African Americans. Imagine that every time a black man committed a murder, the NAACP had to issue a statement, “The African American community does not condone murder…” As racist a society as we are, no one thinks that would be reasonable because we all know that the act of one black man does not reflect the arbitrary category we place him in — at least when we manage to think about it explicitly. But somehow, requiring the same from Muslims seems just peachy. Fisher noted, “Otherwise, we wouldn’t expect Muslims to condemn [Sydney cafe gunman] Haron Monis — who is clearly a crazy person who has no affiliations with formal religious groups — any more than we would expect Christians to condemn Timothy McVeigh.”

But there’s a kicker. Every event where a Muslim does something terrible causes every mainstream Muslim group to issues statements designed to pacify the non-Muslim community, who are at that point quite dangerous. But they get no credit for it. Throughout the media, there will still be pundits calling for such statements. On conservative media, there is a genre: the Muslim Lament, “Why don’t regular Muslims stand up against horrific acts?!” Of course, they do. They just never get noticed by these people.

I know the standard reply to all of this, “But Muslims are unique in their use of terror!” I have much to say about this, because it shows a real disconnect where high-tech killing is somehow okay but low-tech killing is not. But let me leave all that aside. Muslims are not unique in their use of terror. And regardless, when the IRA bombed some place, no one went around whining that the Catholic Church didn’t stand up against those terrorists.

Fisher said what ought to be obvious, but isn’t, and bears repeating:

[W]e should treat the assumptions that compel this ritual — that Muslims bear collective responsibility, that they are presumed terrorist-sympathizers until proven otherwise — as flatly bigoted ideas with no place in our society.

This really isn’t asking very much.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

9 thoughts on “The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual

  1. If you want to know what it’s like to be a ‘moderate muslim’, go ask a liberal christian. Ask them, as you suggest, about the IRA, or the protestant terrorist groups on the other side. Ask them about the Phinneas Priesthood. Ask them about everybody’s favorite christian terrorist organization, the Klu Klux Klan. But…but…but… Okay, what can one person do. I understand. How about you (my hypothetical liberal christian, not you, Frank) march into church on Sunday and demand to know what is being done about all this. And Bryan Fischer, and, well, all of them. These assholes are Legion. And we all know the answer. Nothing is being done. Nothing that would seem rude or confrontational or would upset the sympathizers in our midst who would leave and take their money with them. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk up to a TV camera and hold forth on how the religious practices of tens of millions of Americans who identify as christian in fact have no relation to what the Nazzerene supposedly said. And furthermore, the civic behavior of this perverted cult is likely to cause the end of human civilization if they are not stopped. You didn’t stop me. Because it didn’t happen. And won’t. And to the bishops of the American episcopal church, you’re a bunch of Good Germans and I don’t miss you. Yours in Christ. Well, not anymore.

    • Lawrence — There are such Christian groups as you ask for; some Catholic nuns-led groups, the Soujourners, certain Lutheran synods, Unitarians, etc. Just like the mosque nearest me has an Imam who preaches against financial exploitation of others (Islam bars usury, as does Judaism, although many have found theological loopholes.) But you’re right, not nearly the majority of churches behave so progressively!

      • I wasn’t too clear regarding this part of his comment. I think he was mixing two ideas. But I don’t know. It’s late. I tend to like Unitarians, myself. If I were a Christian, I would be one. I don’t see any non-universalist theology as being theologically cogent.

    • I think that is a correct analogy. There is another point: because we all know so many Christians, we know the ridiculous level of diversity there is among them. It reminds me of an old Woody Allen joke, “We were married by a reform rabbi; a very reformed rabbi; a Nazi.” And in the case of Islam, there is great diversity, but I don’t know much about it.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t stop believing something, just because others who claim to believe it acted badly. But I don’t have to worry about that, because I never really feel like I fit in. I’m always pretty pissed off at whatever group I’m part of.

      • I was already a deist when I left, which I now understand to be a subset of atheism. And once I left I really did lose all belief. My conversion was really something I did to please my parents. It lasted for about twelve years.

        • I suppose there are different kinds of deism, but in its broadest sense, it is atheism with an ontological understanding. This last part is what I find so wanting in the atheist community. As Denys Turner has noted: it’s fine to say that the existence question is off the table. But one must say that. One can’t go around claiming that the question doesn’t exist. So I would include myself as a deist, although I think it would give people the wrong idea.

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