Short-Version: Reasons Why Muslims Must Stop With Their Terrorism Condemnation Ritual

Shaykh Ismail Ibrahim (Lawyer, Researcher, Translator, and Graduate from Darul Uloom and Madinah) wrote a a gem and long-awaited article called “75 Reasons Why Muslims Must Stop With Their Terrorism Condemnation Ritual.”

It’s long. So below is the short version and important excerpts.

The original article can be read here:

If you ask me do I condemn the attack, I would say no, not because I condone it or I justify it, but because I reject this discourse which puts the focus on disempowered individuals and let’s those in powerful institutions get away scot free. The entire Muslim community is [made out to be] responsible [by] asking them to condemn and apologize and distance [themselves] and ignores the greater injustice. I reject the discourse. It’s not the act that I justify, it’s not, but it’s the focus that is unfair and unjustified.

Online fatwas with multiple signatories from global Muslim leaders have appeared on numerous occasions.

It is time the Muslims grew a backbone, stopped condemning terrorist, and put the right-wing media through cold turkey. There is no need – in fact it is counterproductive – to pander to governments’ security crackdowns and the media’s sensationalist news headlines. Enough is enough.

To this end, Muslim organizations, leaders and activists should take an honest assessment on whether the race to condemning almost every act of terrorism in the past decade and a half has yielded any fruitful results for the western and global Muslim communities.

I was already firm in my conviction that Muslims must stop condemning terrorism. As I researched this matter, this belief was made absolute; instead, they should focus on making positive cases for the role and place of Muslims in the West. The unhealthy obsession of Muslim organizations and leaders with condemnations has snowballed into a type of self-flagellation.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) did condemn wrongdoing by some of his Companions and criticised the errant actions of his Companions, and that was part of their education. However, condemnations by Muslims nowadays that are issued in the media are purely political, designed to appease the non-Muslim media and political establishment are in no way analogous to prophetic criticisms of his Companions. The message that mainstream Muslims do not condone terrorism has undoubtedly reached non-Muslims at all levels. Unfortunately, it seems that the shelf life of politically-charged condemnations tends to reduce dramatically fast.

The Muslim community should not condemn terrorist crimes by Muslims, not because Muslims condone or justify the act of crime[11], but because of the disproportionate focus on their disempowered community at the expense of those in power who have the same, similar or even greater crimes to their name, which go either unreported or underreported.

Condemnations cannot be a healthy entry point into the ideological fight against terrorism and the discussion on its causes, which is where the focus of the debate should be.[13]

Condemning implies Muslims are in need to lift themselves as a faith community from sub-human barbarism to humanness – a negative by-product of the being in a state of perpetual condemnation. The killing of innocent civilians is a monstrosity. To be suspected of condoning something as monstrous and being asked or expected to disassociate oneself from it, simply because of one’s faith, is grossly unfair. Muslims are bearing the brunt of this.

Peoples of other religions and no religion are assumed to be innocent and outraged when one of their affiliates perpetrates acts of crime and terrorism. Until the same presumption of innocence is not afforded to Muslims, there would be no reason for Muslims to persist in condemnations when they could clearly be futile – the very assumption of guilt leveled at Muslims is destructive.

As per the prophetic tradition, Muslims believe in assisting Muslim criminals out of their criminality, not disassociating themselves from them or disowning them.

Muslims should not fall into the trap of become mouthpiece and tool of western governments, their agencies and right-wing ideologues that possess ulterior anti-Muslim motives through the medium of Muslims issuing such condemnations.[22] Those who have these ulterior motives tend to brandish words like ‘Islamism’[23] in response to Muslim terrorism. Just as anti-Zionism is sometimes used to disguise Judeophobia[24], attacks on ‘Islamism’ are used as a front to attack Islam itself, and by extension the Muslims. Condemnations perpetuate the exploitation of these ulterior motives.

Why I Won’t Condemn ISIS

Zaid Shakir:

‘Islamism’ and ‘Islamists’ are meaningless terms popularized by the much loathed and detested extremist think tank Quilliam. It has no correct rendition in the Arabic language other than إسلام سياسي, which does not carry the sinister undertones that are attached to its English counterpart. One of the contradictions of non-Muslim politicians and analysts is they reject the Islamic nature of ISIS, referring to them as ‘Daesh’ or ‘so-called Islamic State’, but have no qualms in utilizing the terms ‘Islamism’, ‘Islamists’ and ‘Islamist extremists’ for whomever they consider fit.

Muslims protest at how people of other ethnicities, religions and orientations are not implicated, or are asked to condemn crimes, when one of their affiliates perpetrates an act of criminality or terrorism. Nay, those acts are actively shielded by media many outlets and politicians from the label of terrorism, demonstrating the West’s selective application of the terrorism label, or the bar of terrorism being lowered in the case of Muslims. The case of the Chapel Hill shootings is an example of this[25], which can be contrasted with Francois Hollande’s hasty judgement on the Nice event as an act of terrorism even before investigations had started on the killer and his motives.[26]

In my job in the communications department at the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), I have witnessed the public reaction to many horrific crimes involving Muslims around the world. After the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, public demand forced CAIR representatives to make media appearances and release statements explaining that the criminals that murdered the 12 staffers were not representative of Islam. We live in an unfortunate media climate where this has become expected. Muslim leaders condemn terrorism only to be labeled apologists or spin doctors, yet still western dialog demands this ritual of condemnation each and every time some nutjob, who just so happens to be Muslim, commits a violent act. On Tuesday night it was Muslims who were killed by a white male atheist. I am white and male and my spiritual beliefs float somewhere between atheist and agnostic. When I woke up Wednesday morning, after the Chapel Hill story broke, my phone didn’t ring. CNN didn’t call asking me to explain how not all white atheists are murderers. Richard Dawkins didn’t have to draft a press release condemning atheist extremism and no one gives me nervous glances when they try to find parking near my house.- Renner Larson -CAIR Chicago [27]

Extant Muslim condemnations, as well as western media coverage of terrorist attacks across the world, are lopsided. Terrorism in Bangladesh, Burma, Central African Republic, Indian-administered Kashmir, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia etc., in which tens or even hundreds of people die at once, do not attract the same condemnations or media coverage as a police shooting incident in the United States, an airport attack in Western Europe or a hostage situation in Australia would do.[28] Even al-Azhar, the GCC, Egypt, the Arab League[29] and Turkey[30] publish their condemnations, most recently for the Nice attack. The level of condemnations from Muslim organizations, not only in the West but across the world, seems only to mirror the level media coverage in the western media for terrorism that occurs in the West, which – according to John Simpson of the BBC – is ‘grotesquely selective.'[31] The selective expression of outrage is antithetical to Muslim values, especially given that the first victims of terrorism are Muslims in Muslim countries; and many a time, Muslims have endangered their own lives in trying to stop terrorist acts in their tracks, but this does not as much coverage as the spilled blood of Americans and Europeans does.[32]

Outrage at Paris attacks masks our racism

Condemnations only work when facts remain the cornerstone of the media and society, when society is not bound by the shackles of despondence and fear. When facts no longer remain relevant and are substituted by irrational anti-Muslim bigotry, issuing condemnations is a luxury that Muslims – with their backs against the wall – can no longer afford, as there would be more immediate priorities than insisting on issuing condemnations whenever a terrorist crime is committed.[33]

There is a perception that those wanting Muslims to condemn are indirectly subjugating Muslims into accepting the particular values or lifestyles of victims that may run contrary to Islamic values. The attack on the LGBT community in Orlando is an example, having triggered an intense discussion on Islam’s stance on homosexuality, even though Islam’s position on homosexuality was irrelevant to the crime committed.[35] Another example was free speech and Charlie Hebdo: Muslims make no apologies for opposing for what the paper stands for and profoundly disagree with its xenophobic material that results in the demonization of entire Muslim underclass of France (and elsewhere) – and this is at a time when Muslims in the crosshairs of the corporate media and are the main victims of the western war on terror. Muslims do not have to agree with Charlie Hebdo’s material in order to be trusted when they say that a crime was perpetrated against its offices.

It has reached the point where Muslims are expected to condemn their own sources of faith. It is disturbing that the culture of condemnation is now being used to attack Islam itself. It is even more concerning that gullible Muslims are falling into this trap or questioning the tenets of their faith.[36]. Given that every single major Muslim leader and organization in the West has repeatedly denounced terrorism – which is now demonstrably insufficient for governments and the media as they crave for more from Muslims – it is evident that this is less to do with terrorism and more to do with the position of the Muslims themselves. The Muslim community is in effect being told to accept responsibility for a problem that has been of the western governments’ own creation.

Answering the call to condemn is akin to answering the subliminally-posed question on the allegiances of Muslims in the countries they are citizens of.

Muslims need to be a transformative group that imbibes courage, commitment to justice both internal to themselves and externally with non-Muslims, character and principle, not for some positive publicity, self-interest, or to deflect some negative press. Making up for the present credibility deficit is key for Muslims in the West as that is the only way to enlist the respect and trust of non-Muslims, many of whom want to genuinely work with and help Muslims but feel there are barriers of the Muslims’ own making. If Muslims show they are being affected by Islamophobia by constantly condemning terrorism, the perception of Islam will have been further damaged in the eyes of non-Muslims who have to endure both Muslim terrorism and Muslims condemning. Islamophobia doubly affects them as it affects Muslims. There can be no real coalition building without respect and mutual trust. The condemnation ritual is a form of a subconsciously self-imposed colonialism in the post-colonial era, which strips Muslims of credibility and erodes trust.

Muslim criminals generally are not dealt with in a manner that non-Muslim criminals and terrorists are. Whereas the latter are afforded a light-touch mention after careful deliberation of their right-wing tendencies, or a sympathetic inquisition into their mental health, the former are heavily scrutinized and almost solely investigated for their religion, political motivation and Muslim ideology. The global media’s attention falls on their background, origins, and local Muslim community. The right-wing Britain First murderer of the British parliamentarian Jo Cox is a case in point, in which the mass media made brazen its hypocrisy by failing to label its perpetrator as a terrorist, even though the right-wing political motives and affiliation of her murderer, Thomas Mair, were evident. Neutral analysts have agreed that that the media discourse would have been radically different had the murderer been a Muslim, with the entire Batley Muslim community subject to intense global media scrutiny had the killer been a Muslim.[42]Other obvious examples are Dylan Roof, Robert Dear and Anders Breivik.[43] According to US statistics, between (and excluding) 9/11 and the June 2016 Orlando shooting, there were more incidents and deaths caused by right-wing extremists than by ‘violent jihadists.’[44]

Islam does not subscribe to the West’s notion of guilt by association or collective punishment; philosophy and international law is on their side of this argument.[46]Muslims, by their moral code and ethics, do not consider themselves responsible or accountable for unjustified acts of violence done in their name, as their faith itself rejects it. When Muslims do honestly condemn, it still comes off as somewhat unnatural due to this precise reason. Whereas clarifications on Islam’s stance on terrorism and crime are welcome, the condemnation game is inherently alien to the Islamic tradition. The western media, however, routinely concocts false links and connections that are simply non-existent, based on some views shared between mainstream Muslims and Muslim terrorists.[47] Regarding the Orlando killer, one respected news reporter and journalist in the UK, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, tweeted that Omar Mateen visited Saudi Arabia twice, from which he inferred that this had an influence on his criminality, and in turn implicated the entirety of Saudi Arabia in the process. Saudi Arabia happens to be visited by millions of Muslims annually from across the world and there was no justification for such a tweet.

The Islamophobic segments of western society will never accept Muslim condemnations[48], and even falsely accuse Muslims as liars, apologists and spin doctors when they condemn.[49] They are now so sophisticated and deeply advanced in their Islamophobia they now use Arabic terms like Taqiyyah as a slur.[50]

Condemnations have become reflex actions that seek to distance Muslims from negative press. Instead of achieving this goal, the opposite seems to be taking place: Keeping Muslims in the limelight through the medium of condemnation is effectively bad press. Routinely issuing condemnations does not make any Muslims safer than before. In fact, they make them more vulnerable to Islamophobia.

Constantly condemning leads to the immunization of non-Muslims from empathizing with Muslims, which in turn normalizes bigotry against Muslims. Normalized, systemic, institutionalized bigotry is worse than sporadic violence. The UK Conservative peer Baroness Warsi stated that prejudice against Muslims is so normal that it has now “passed the dinner-table test.”[51] Keeping Muslims in the spotlight through the medium of condemnation is partly responsible for this.

Constant condemnations against Muslim terrorists contribute to the climate manufactured by Islamophobic zealots and feral anti-Muslim think tanks such as Quilliam[53]and neoconservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society[54], among others, who thrive off and profiteer from fear-mongering and hate generated by demonizing the entire Muslim faith community.

There is no empirical evidence that condemning or government-sanctioned programs like Prevent has had any impact on the ground with Muslim criminals who are already radicalized or Muslims who would potentially be radicalized.

There is no empirical evidence that condemning or government-sanctioned programs like Prevent has had any impact on the ground with Muslim criminals who are already radicalized or Muslims who would potentially be radicalized.

Islam encourages pre-emptive education, and high standards in general in which honesty and integrity and vital. Condemnations by nature are PR stunts, not education, and represent a very low standard that does not assist in building integrity. Radicalized or potential radical Muslims are not foolish to pay heed to condemnations. Condemning is not a card that saves the Muslim from radicalization.[57]

Condemnations are part of the ‘politics of respectability’, whereby minorities try to show they are compatible with the existing order of things. The problem with this is it places the focus on the minority, rather than the conditions which create the imbalance and unfairness in society.

Condemnations tend to be issued by Muslims in authority. Radicals are by nature rebellious to such authorities. Statements of condemnation are bound to exacerbate their radicalism further than quell it. In essence, those condemning are in effect preaching to the choir.

No number of condemnations can prevent terrorism that is rooted in alienation caused by governments, such as the cases of Jihadi John[59] and structural Islamophobia in France causing radicalization in the local Muslim population. Muslims believe that radicalization rooted in unjust foreign policy[60], acts of political expediency and double standards of governments has not been sufficiently addressed in media discourse, or by Muslims perpetually condemning terrorist acts for that matter.[61] Condemnations of these terrorists are merely a distraction from the real debate that needs to take place.

Part of the distraction that the condemnation culture brings is the lack of discussion on the erosion of civil liberties, not only against Muslims (who are disproportionately affected), but all of society. Muslims should use the attention to highlight this, instead of wasting the opportunity by condemning acts they are not responsible for and making scapegoats out of themselves.

Condemning has become a synonym for apology. Denunciation of terrorism is a form of apology – for Islam itself and for being Muslim. Muslims must refuse to apologize for the crimes of others, even though they may be their co-religionists who are associated with them through shared, universally-recognized aspects of the faith. Muslims have apologized far too often for a cancer they are victims of. Muslims do not need to disavow or apologize for what is killing them.[62]

Being constantly on the defensive by pretending to accept one’s status as a pilloried and psychologically battered community turns away Muslim prospects, which is against one of the objectives of the faith. Condemnations by nature are not statements of positivity. If condemnations are going to be face of Islam, then it is the faith that will invariably be associated with the very crime of terrorism that Islam has disassociated itself from. Not every truth needs spelling out. There is a reason why believers in God do not say “God is the creator of apes, dogs and pigs.” There is a reason why Islam’s laws on capital punishment are not the first thing presented to persons interested in Islam but happen to disagree with the concept of capital punishment. There is a reason why Muslim dietary laws on meat, game and slaughter are not the first items that are presented to a vegetarian interested in the religion.

In zones of conflict, more Muslims have died than anybody else at both the hands of Muslim terrorist organizations and the military/sanction interventions of western governments in Muslim countries, which have destabilized an entire region. Likewise, Muslims in the West are bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim rhetoric of politicians, draconian legislation disproportionately targeted at them, and a security apparatus in which Muslims are considered guilty before proven innocent.[63]

It therefore makes no sense for Muslims to condemn global terrorism when they are the primary target of terrorism – both vigilante and state-backed. Examples of ‘collateral damage’ – a euphemism for state-backed acts of violence and terrorism, which in turn breed vigilante terrorism – are too numerous to mention.

Muslims are witnesses to similar atrocities against people of other faiths, geography and race, yet privileged elite in Parliament are not seen to issue a condemnation against such regular terrorism – as a matter of principle, why should public and vocal condemnation be forcibly extracted on certain violence as the state eye is rendered blind when the violence is born from Western policy? I am yet to see mass condemnatory statements for Palestinian babies being burned to death by Jewish settler terrorism, or Palestinian civilians shot to death “intentionally and unlawfully” by IDF terrorists (who also happen to run over two year old toddlers), from the Cameron government or the various state-authorized counter extremism organizations for that matter. And indeed, I do not see the Jewish community being asked to condemn or apologize. This suggests such calls are ideologically and politically driven rather than rooted in humanity. Only white/Westernized power-structures are worthy of solidarity. –The Coolness of Hind [64]

Being expected to condemn constitutes othering, which Muslims in the West must reject for themselves. Muslims are being increasingly treated in a similar way as European Jews were in the early-to-mid-20th century, and how Bosnian Muslims were treated in the run up to the war and genocide there during the 1990s. Expecting disenfranchised segments of the population to condemn criminal acts carried out by a few individuals in their midst is no doubt based on the rejection of Muslims being citizens of western nations equal to their non-Muslim neighbors.

We are told that Muslims are equal citizens in this country but the reality is something very different. If we say we don’t drink, we are labelled anti-social or not willing to integrate, if we drink we are labelled moderate, if a Muslim wears a hijab, she is oppressed, if she doesn’t she is liberated, if we express an opinion outside of the mainstream narrative, we are angry, if we join a mainstream political party we are passionate, if we sing the praises of the British establishment we are liberals, if we object to foreign policy we are extremists or Islamists.- Assed Baig [65]

Muslims as a faith community do not believe in faith-based ideology being the only factor in radicalization and extremism. There are mental health issues[66], societal alienation, economic difficulties, grievances based on unethical foreign policy and political motivations at play as well. These factors must always be properly and satisfactorily explored and investigated before the Muslims community is singled out and expected to continue issuing statements of condemnation ad nauseum.

Condemnations of terrorism are only a result of the authorities’ failure of establishing pragmatic and practical intelligence measures, and of government promoting community cohesion and economic prosperity in the underclass that is lacking in these aspects, especially in Europe. The condemnation culture in effect covers up those failures by diverting attention to the Muslim community to own up to the crime and condemn the ideological drivers behind the terrorist. In the aftermath of the November 2015 bombings in Paris, CNN anchors interviewing French activist Yasser Louati effectively demanded French Muslims to assume the responsibility of spy agencies, and blamed French Muslims for not doing anything about the attacks.

Muslims must refuse to condemn because they should not allow extremists to define the Muslim mainstream.

Malcolm X hit a turning point when he stopped seeing himself as a member of a maligned minority. He took his dignity into his own hands and refused to be at the mercy of the opinion of others – ‘ni–er’ became a slur too small and meaningless for him. Western Muslims need to collectively do the same. We need to get over our insecurities, stop pandering to the double standards others have constructed for us and demand our place as full-fledged citizens of this society.[68]

Condemnations are a form of self-imposed indignation, and a self-deprecation that perpetuates the psychology of guilt in Muslims. Western Muslims must demonstrate a sincere drive – similar to that of the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself – for a dignified and permanent existence in lands they are citizens of, no matter what difficulties may lie ahead. The condemnation fetish is an indignity that detaches Muslims from their responsibilities as citizens of their respective countries.

We have to be very, very careful about being psychologically bullied into this position where we feel that all we can do as Muslims is apologise, is adjust, is accept our status as a ‘problem people’ – a ‘problem people’ is people about whom it is said – and I know little a bit about being considered a ‘problem people’, I know a little bit about that – a ‘problem people’ about whom it is said, “Something is wrong with you, and if you would just change that something everything would be alright.” And you know what happens, typically? That something is changed, and then what happens? The goalpost moves. And what you end up as is a modern slave. You end up dominated. You have had your story taken away from you, and you have been given a supporting role in somebody else’s story. And yet you turn around and say, “This is my country.” If this is my country, then I have a right to my story, and let our stories come together, and let us produce a symphony, let us produce some harmony, not a single voice, many voices, but mine a certainly identifiable part…

Condemnations tend to be on platforms not in control of the Muslims. In essence, Muslim condemnations are at the mercy of how they are spun by the corporate media. Muslims (and other minorities) need to come together to establish their own media platforms to provide a comprehensive narrative about the role of Islam and Muslims in the West, instead of giving the right-wing media the attention it demands only when it is to put already beleaguered and embattled Muslim community in a weaker position…

My experiences lead me to believe that the key is the media. It possesses the power to both humanize and demonize minority groups. Plus, it enables smaller minority groups to share their own story on their own terms with millions of people across the country.

Being asked to apologize for and condemn violence that has orphaned and victimized a generation of Muslims has the perverse effect of re-victimizing Muslims by dehumanizing them and stripping them of their own experiences and history.[72] The dehumanization process renders the human condemnations an aberration. Every patronizing demand for a fresh condemnation is equal to a demand to prove humanness.[73] Until Muslims do not feel they are worthy of being treated as fully human by all institutional segments of society, it will give rise to a generation of Muslims harboring a siege mentality, which will be totally apathetic to all but themselves.[74]

Never-ending condemnations validate the dangerous trend and false notion that unless Muslims do not publicly condemn every event perpetrated by a co-religionist, the default assumption should be that they must endorse it, and that any silence from Muslims automatically denotes support and agreement.[76] When that is assumed to be the default, the condemnation is assumed to be the exception to what may be construed as the Muslim evil standard.[77]

It is inherently Islamophobic to be expected to condemn only when a Muslim commits a crime. Muslims appearing on the media are never asked when a non-Muslim commits an act of violence. An example of blatant Islamophobic questioning was on CNN, when Don Lemon asked American Muslim human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar whether he supports ISIS.[78] Another example of an atrociously Islamophobic interview was Kay Burley speaking to human rights campaigner Cerie Bullivant on Sky News.

Condemnations against terrorism and disclaimers such as “Islam is a religion of peace” to prove Muslims’ commitment to non-violence are puerile. The right-wing corporate media tends to give a disproportionate amount of airtime and coverage to so-called ‘moderate’ Muslim voices that have zero grassroots support among observant Muslims[80], Islamophobes[81], and extremists are on the fringes of extremism[82] – all of which ostracize the already suffocated mainstream Muslim community. In doing so, the media unnecessarily prolongs the fight of combating the destructive hype surrounding the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

Muslims believe the bar of scrutiny is set artificially high for them, and the bar for accusing a Muslim with extremism is set low. Furthermore, the margin of error for Muslims appearing on the media to defend their community is very thin, where any error or problematic statement is single out to highlight the problematic nature of Muslims. In this climate, highlighting and exposing the causes that incubate radicalism in disenfranchised Muslims, rather than merely staying safe by disassociating oneself from Muslim terrorism, is a discussion only the brave will be willing to undertake. As the saying goes: “It is better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knees”; or, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The best form of Jihad is a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.”[88]

Muslims do not need to demonstrate their law-abidingness via condemnations, nor should they feel that patriotic flag-waving or nationalistic loyalty is a manner in which a Muslim should behave. Muslims should not need to prove they can condemn in the sternest language possible.[89]

Condemning is a tacit admission of guilt by indirectly conceding that terror is borne from Muslims, and therefore Muslims should atone by condoning policies that criminalize them. As such, Muslims are forced to go out of their way to prove they have nothing to hide, as they would be considered guilty until proven innocent.

Islam requires Muslims to speak the truth with strength and courage to those in power. They are also responsible for bringing peace and security among communities both locally and abroad. This means they must reject politically-motivated violence, whether that may be that of ISIS or of the governments that rule over them. If Muslims do not feel the need to condemn the government’s acts of violence against civilian population…then likewise with ISIS. Muslims are not responsible for either, nor do they encourage or endorse it. These acts condemn themselves. If Muslims are required to condemn, they must condemn governments as much as ISIS is condemned.[96] By the same token of consistency, if Muslims are obligated to condemn terrorists, it should be because they oppose their abuses as human beings, not because they are Muslim. In that sense, they have no more of an obligation to do so than any other community. Muslims may denounce attacks on civilians, but only as citizens of a diverse integrated populace, not as a suspicious ‘other’ trying to prove their place in western society.

It is patronizing for Muslims to be told to reject those who target their own communities. Imagine the reaction you would receive if you told someone that they should condemn the murder of a family member. It is insulting to be told of the need to condemn something that should be a given. If people do not “explicitly, forcefully and consistently” condemn murder, rape, child abuse, racism etc, are they suspected of condoning these acts? Of course not. Sharif Nashashibi [97]

Token condemnations strike of a selfish, myopic self-preservation attempt that is done more out fear than conviction, usually at the expense of Muslims who refuse to do so out of the principle of trying to underscore more pressing issues, such as throwing light on the proper context of crimes committed by some Muslims. Muslims need to be united in the message they send to the western media, governments and their agencies. Continuing to feed into the cycle of denouncements unabated is thus a disservice to Islam and the Muslims in the West and globally. Furthermore, crimes at which condemnations are targeted at are carefully curated by those who practice condemning.[98]This leads to self-division within Muslims, even before being divided, conquered and rendered subservient by external forces, as certain acts of violence are overlooked. Proportionate to the amount of condemnations that are issued, there are relatively a very few number of attempts by many Muslim organizations to discuss the root causes of attacks, and little effort is invested to question the mainstream media narrative that imposes generic labels on Muslims.[99] Whereas there are many other Muslims who refuse to participate in the condemnation game, the disunity of strategy in tackling how terrorism needs to be addressed is harming Muslims. Western countries, not where the forefathers emigrated from, are the homes of its Muslims citizens. They thus need to assert not only their rights but also their responsibilities as citizens. They cannot treat themselves as immigrants and second-class citizens who speak up only when it is convenient for them to do so (i.e. condemning only when required to do so), remaining silent the rest of the time.

Because doing so only feeds the ubiquitous floating distrust of Muslims. Because when you ask Muslims to condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups what you’re saying is that you don’t trust any Muslim. Because you’re saying that I can’t be trusted until and unless I vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity. Sana Saeed [100]

For starters, we need to stop thinking like immigrant minorities and demand that people treat us like we belong here. On a day following some national tragedy, or any day for that matter, we must firmly stand up to anything that falls short of dignified treatment—instead of bracing up for hate speech or snide remarks at the office. When we do encounter hate crimes, we too have to be strong and recognize that the perpetrators represent a fringe minority – instead of becoming disillusioned with society at large. We must start holding others to a higher standard and assume they’re also intelligent enough to distinguish fringe Muslim extremists from the normative majority. If they fail to do so, we need to strongly point out their lunacy – instead of getting into apologetics. We can no longer entertain ludicrous questions about whether we condone honor killings, FGM or domestic violence – would a catholic ever be asked whether they condone pedophilia and child molestation?… We need stop issuing condemnations of terrorism and declarations of heresy when our fanatical brethren have run-ins with the law. Like other faith groups, we should instead offer public prayers, statements of condolences and expressions of solidarity. We must express equal outrage when people outside our community commit heinous crimes – not doing so hints at our disingenuousness and self-interest.Waleed Ahmed [101]

Sensible Christians realize that condemnations by Muslims in the West mask Christendom’s own violent history and present. Muslim condemnations enable the Christian world to project their faults onto the “Muslim Other” so that they do not take seriously their own complicity in a violent world order.[105]

We routinely and rightly condemn the terrorism that kills civilians in the name of God but we cannot claim the high moral ground if we dismiss the suffering and death of the many thousands of civilians who die in our wars as ‘collateral damage’. Ancient religious mythologies helped people to face up to the dilemma of state violence, but our current nationalist ideologies seem by contrast to promote a retreat into denial or hardening of our hearts. Nothing shows this more clearly than a remark of Madeleine Albright when she was still Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations. Later she retracted it, but among people around the world it has never been forgotten. In 1996, in CBS’s 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl asked her whether the cost of international sanctions against Iraq was justified: ‘We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean that’s more children than died in Hiroshima … Is the price worth it?’ ‘I think this is a very hard choice,’ Albright replied ‘but the price, we think the price is worth it.- Karen Armstrong[106]

It appears that many of those Muslims at the forefront in promoting condemnation rituals are those in positions of power, are relatively privileged, and fear jeopardizing their precarious position and fragile legitimacy in the eyes of western governments.[107]

The trade-off mentality – Muslim leaders as a minority sacrificing speaking their mind in the pursuit of societal inclusion and belonging – leads to a conflicting strategy when dealing with terrorism. A conflict in strategy in this vital issue leads to a sense of self-division within Muslims.[108]

Muslim leaders have been scared into silence. Prevent officers visiting mosques and community leaders frighten them. They are told that if Muslims display any political opinions outside the mainstream then they are extremists, that if they do not inform on them, that their bank accounts can be frozen, mosques closed and they could face prison. Muslims are afraid. Muslim organizations and leaders are subservient to the state, scared to mention foreign policy as a radicalizing factor just in case they are harangued for justifying the murder. It has got to such a state that we do not even realize that our minds have been conditioned through years of media misrepresentation and widespread Islamophobia. Questioning the reason for a murder does not mean condoning or justifying it. Condemning something that has nothing to do with you feeds into the narrative that this is a Muslim problem, that this is something that the Muslim community are responsible for, at least in part. In turn so-called Muslim leaders stifled debate and discussion in mosques, too afraid to discuss anything political. For too long they have played a subservient role to the state, asking for a seat at the table and hoping for crumbs to be passed to them.-Assed Baig [109]

Instead of condemning, Muslims should learn how to reverse the question of condemnation back at those who patronisingly demand it from Muslims.[110] If anything, then Muslims should spare their condemnations for when Muslims are under attack at home and across the world, and for when non-Muslims are unfairly targeted by governments and security forces, in solidarity with those victims.[111]

Obama cannot be blamed for his predecessor’s actions, but his own actions in the region have only made the issue worse. Therefore, Obama has far more explaining to do in regard to ISIL than almost any individual Muslim. This is especially true since ISIL’s victims are largely Muslim. Muslims don’t need non-Muslims to tell them that a group primarily killing Muslims deserves to be condemned. But they do deserve an explanation from figures involved in fostering the conditions for this group’s emergence. As such, I call on Muslims to ignore Obama’s request for further condemnation. Muslims have already made their stance on ISIL clear, and those who don’t believe it likely never will. If any attention is to be given to those who demand condemnation from Muslims, it should be in order to turn the tables. To point out that supporting foreign policy like Obama’s creates more complicity in ISIL’s emergence than simply calling oneself Muslim. This is the conversation that needs to be had, and Muslims should insist that it takes place.[112]

However, this is not something thrust upon other communities when extremists commit abuses in their name. For example, I do not assume that my English friends support far-right groups such as the English Defence League, the UK Independence Party or the British National Party, just because they do not constantly condemn them. I do not demand it, nor should I. Doing so with Muslims often has the opposite from the intended effect. While many will acknowledge among themselves that certain community issues require attention, a wall comes up when calls are made by those who are hostile to Muslims, or by politicians whose countries have caused a great deal of death and destruction in the Muslim world, or in countries where Muslims face discrimination as a minority. As such, American presidents, British prime ministers and Islamophobic media commentators are not the best-placed figures to tell Muslims what they should and should not reject- Shareef Nashabishi.[113]

As a Muslim American, living in a post 9-11 United States, I have continuously asked myself why I should be responsible for condemning such acts when I, like the majority of Muslims around the globe am in no way, shape or form involved with and/or privy to any of the acts of violence that have been committed by other Muslims. As a Muslim, can I explain the acts of violence by other Muslims based on our shared identity? NO. But can I work to explain this violence through a scholarly endeavor that undertakes an understanding through the a socio-political lens that actually investigates the myriad of factors including war and occupation that lead to the rise of such groups? Absolutely. While politicians and Islamophobes alike continue to pressure the Muslim community into nonsensical apologies based on a homogenized identity, many Muslims have, unfortunately, internalized the narrative of collective responsibility, leading them to issue condemnations of acts of violence and terrorism based only on the fact that we share one piece of our identity. Coupled with the ever present voice of those calling for Muslims to speak out against Muslim terrorists, those who have stepped up to this plate, have not presented a counter-narrative as they purport, but rather an internalization of the dominant narrative where Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. Most ripe in this sense is Frantz Fanon’s quote in which he states the following: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”[114]

In Western culture, condemnations and apologies are hard to come by. Governments and their institutions acknowledge grievances years and even decades after of cover-ups, and issue graduated responses – starting from acknowledgements, through to condemnations, and finally apologies – long after the crimes were perpetrated. In the UK, The Hillsborough Disaster[115], The Battle of Orgreave[116] and Jimmy Savile[117] are a few examples of many. This is because condemnations are considered an acknowledgement of guilt – by association.[118]

In Western culture, those issuing apologies are many a time not those who perpetrated the crime in the first place. A recent example is the current leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who apologized[119] for the 2003 invasion of Iraq which was spearheaded by his party (the then UK government), even though he himself was opposed to the war at the time and it was Tony Blair who led the war. The politics of condemnation is ultimately an act of self-cannibalism. This premise for condemnation and apology-issuing is alien to Islam, even though it is perfectly acceptable, nay recommended, from a western perspective.

Muslims should be able to grieve as human beings for human loss without being expected to condemn it first.

Instead of condemning, Muslims should fight for the right of not becoming the secondary victims of terrorist atrocities.

Condemnations issued by Muslims have the effect of underplaying the fact that the victims of many western terrorist atrocities are Muslims themselves. One third of the Bastille Day attack victims in Nice were Muslims. Proportionately, this did not get as much media coverage as the religious identity of the attacker. In fact, the media went to lengths to point out he had grown a beard a week before the attack, and even went as far as saying ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack even though there were no obvious links between the attacker and ISIS. Amidst the Islamophobic hysteria, the mayor of Béziers in Southern France, Robert Ménard, tweeted an image of a Muslim child tugging at his veiled mother while pointing to a shop window wanting a white truck as a toy. In this climate, condemnations are a senseless, pointless exercise.

Those who tend to make clichéd complaints about Muslims not condemning, or not condemning enough, tend to be the sort of people who do not make the effort to look hard at the painstaking efforts mainstream Muslims undertake to combat radicalism. They appear to be of the type that does not have many Muslim friends. Condemnations are not an appropriate method to teach non-Muslims about Islam. The leader of Australia’s One Nation political party Pauline Hanson[122], and Australian TV host Sonia Kruger[123], are two examples (out of many) where condemnations would simply fall on deaf ears as they are unacquainted with the local and global Muslim community at a personal level.[124] The responsibility of reaching out falls on their shoulders, not Muslims.[125] Non-Muslims who oppose their bigotry are also responsible for reversing their ignorance. They need to understand how white fears are being exploited. They should not for them to wait for Muslims to alleviate their insidious prejudices that have been nurtured by government and right-wing media.

Condemnations mask the Islamophobes’ sense of responsibility for addressing their own bias by unjustifiably offloading that burden to Muslims as a whole, painting them as the source of many of the world’s problems, one of which is terrorism.[126] The condemnation culture is a burden that Muslims must shrug off their shoulders.

Muslims should not condemn because terrorism by nature is antithetical to Islamic law and the observant Muslim’s identity. All Sunni schools of Muslim law explicitly classify brigandage – which includes terrorism –as a major sin, punishable by a Muslim judge by capital punishment and even crucifixion.[127] Terrorist and criminals do not represent normative Islam. Muslims should not take ownership of any crime on the account that he/she is a Muslim[128], not even through a condemnation, let alone an apology.[129]

Reputable non-Muslim journalists, commentators have stated that Muslims do not need to, and preferably should not, condemn terrorism committed by Muslims.[130] Even sensible parts of the general public understand this and do not make it a requirement on Muslim to condemn terrorist attacks by Muslims every time it occurs. (See Assed Baig’s Article on Woolich).

Asking why Muslims are not condemning terrorism is no longer an innocent question. At best, it is a lazy question, the answer of which lies at everybody’s fingertips. At worst, it denotes a willingness to turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and is telling more of those putting the question forward than Muslims themselves.[133]

Muslims need to be cognizant of the political agenda behind the need for Muslims to condemn. Condemnations – if they are ever to be issued – must be based on principle and not political expediency.[132]

Open-invite fatwa and statements of solidarity…They come off more as political statements – which is what condemnations are by nature – than they do as edicts explaining the religion’s position.[141] If anything, efforts behind congregational fatwas should be channelled to condemn media, politicians and legislation that have unscrupulously targeted the Muslim community, all of which have eroded the human and civil rights of the general society.[142] Nowadays, the ordinary Muslim is exhausted of hearing and reading about condemnations against Muslim terrorists being issued on their behalf.[143]

What we do need are internal campaigns to fix the broken parts of our communities; to reach those who feel disenfranchised, angry and powerless when they see their kin in their cities and around the world under fire, under surveillance, under suspicion and under clouds of blood and bombs. This isn’t about so-called “counter-radicalism” but about making sure the particulars of our community are healthy so that the whole can be healthy. If one part hurts, the whole feels the pain. And we need more than publicly, poorly slapped on bandages. Sana Saeed [144]


So, next time you are asked to condemn? Refuse at point blank – and explain[147] why you don’t condemn, lest your refusal isn’t misconstrued as condoning terrorism.

The innately regressive nature of condemnations in the manner that is transpiring today is not recognised in Islam. It is high time for the condemnation game’s failed venture to be assigned to the annals of history. In its place, a fresh approach that is rooted in proactivity, renegotiating the social order for Muslims in western societies and traditional Islamic education is what is needed, away from the PR stunt and entertainment flash that the essence of condemnation is.

Do Muslims want to spend their efforts and energy trying to get a seat at the table of economic injustice, imperialism and structural injustice[149] by condemning what everyone else knows to be condemnable, or do they want to take the brave, principled stance in committing themselves to proving that the status quo is unacceptable?

I will not issue letters in the papers explaining this and lauding that and I will not sit at a table where the host with one hand praises my attendance and with the other denigrates my position in my society. I will, however, speak on my own terms and not with the neatly placed talking points meant to pacify and remind me of where I should sit and where I should stand. -Sana Saeed [153]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s