aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the United
States is once again roiling in pain, struggling to come to terms with its
violent reality. With every such act of mass murder, the American nation seems
to be edging closer to the full recognition that the terror of its own racist
white supremacy is far more serious than all the frightening delusions it has
about the violent non-white "other".
after these mass shootings, the New York Times ran an editorial, pertinently
pointing out that "[i]f one of the perpetrators of this weekend's two mass
shootings had adhered to the ideology of radical Islam the resources of the
American government and its international allies would mobilize without
delay." Indeed, they would as they
editorial reasoned further: "The awesome power of the state would work
tirelessly to deny future terrorists' access to weaponry, money and forums to
spread their ideology. The movement would be infiltrated by spies and
informants. Its financiers would face sanctions. Places of congregation would
be surveilled. Those who gave aid or comfort to terrorists would be prosecuted.
Programs would be established to de-radicalize former adherents."
nothing wrong with a state mobilising to face any threat that comes its
citizens' way. The key question that the
New York Times editorial raises, and indeed many others are asking, is when
will such mobilisation happen when white men perpetrate mass violence? Or, in
other words, when will the hateful ideology called "white
nationalism" be considered terrorism and treated as such?
Islam, The Enemy?
effect, such editorial positions, mirroring a national mood, call for is to expand
the definition of "terrorism" exclusively applied to Islam and
Muslims to others who are not Muslims.
this call can be heeded and such change of perception achieved, we must first
explore when, how and why "Islam" or "Muslims" came to be so
thoroughly identified with the dreaded term "terrorism" despite the
overwhelming body of evidence that there is no such special relation.
acts of terror that can come from any ideology, whether adopted by Muslims,
Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or other religious groups or even the
so-called seculars, agnostics and atheists.
first addressing when and how Islam and Muslims became categorically
"terrorist" until proven otherwise, the expansion of the term
"terrorism" to any act of wanton cruelty of mass murder will not be
belated and much overdue attention to racist white supremacy terrorism will
never amount to anything if we do not get to the bottom of this diabolical
hatred of Muslims that has taken root in the US and Europe.
thinking about this question, I was reminded of a 2011 article by the
self-proclaimed American "intellectual" Sam Harris published on
Truthdig. The 1800-word piece was meant to be his defence against accusations
by journalist Chris Hedges that he is harbouring genocidal thoughts about
Harris challenged the charge of racism by claiming that he has nothing against
Muslims as such and that he is talking about "ideas" not people.
analysis of religion in general, and of Islam in particular," Harris
wrote, "focuses on what I consider to be bad ideas, held for bad reasons,
leading to bad behavior. My antipathy toward Islam - which is, in truth,
difficult to exaggerate - applies to ideas, not to people."
exactly are these Islamic "ideas" that designate Islam as a vile and
violent religion compared with any other religion? Harris mentions the
following: "martyrdom, jihad, honor, etc".
look at his writings about these concepts reveals how Harris cherry-picks
certain convoluted thoughts and weaves them into a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Here is an example:
reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial
under Islam as is the resurrection of Jesus under Christianity. It is not an
accident that millions of Muslims recite the Shahadah or make pilgrimage to
Mecca. Neither is it an accident that in the year 2015, horrific footage of
infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography
through the Muslim world. All these practices, including this ghastly method of
murder, find explicit support in scripture."
single sentence of this passage is a landmark of rubbish. Martyrdom is as much
integral to Islam as it is to Christianity, while Jihad is as much a matter of
moral courage as marking physical rebellion against tyranny.
the shahadah and making a pilgrimage to Mecca are what millions of peaceful
Muslims do mostly in the autumn of their lives, neither of which has anything
to do with whatever kind of "pornography" Harris is fed by his fellow
Islamophobes on the internet.
with such outlandish statements is that they are readily consumed by the wider
American society and its leadership, which form their perceptions of Islam and
Muslims based on the volumes of nonsense the likes of Harris regularly produce.
writings cannot stand a half-decent scholarly examination and yet a whole
Islamophobic movement is nourished by them.
much the matter with practices of Islam, and no other souls on this earth have
addressed those issues more diligently than Muslim thinkers over the last 1,400
years. In fact, the rise of multiple and conflicting schools of philosophy,
theology, and mysticism in Islam reflects the reality that Muslims have never
been content with the state of their faith and from a position of critical
intimacy and with a caring intellect have sought to right the wrong they have
seen in their collective practices.
equally important to keep in mind that rapid globalisation of Islam and the
widespread presence of Muslims in four corners of the world have created new
and fruitful conditions of critical thinking for Muslims.
last century alone, Muslim thinkers like Muhammad Iqbal from Pakistan, Mohammad
Arkoun from Algeria, Ali Shariati from Iran, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm from Syria,
Nasr Abu Zayd from Egypt, among dozens of others, have revolutionised the very
texture of critical thinking about and in their faith.
scholarship has hardly made it to the US mainstream, which prefers to make
quick conclusions based on easily digestible biased statements which the likes
of Harris readily provide. This astonishing fusion of arrogance and ignorance
is the historical root of American Islamophobia.
American society will not be able to fully comprehend the reality of white mass
violence and redefine "terrorism" to rightfully include it until it
stops embracing hate-mongers like Harris and the intellectual terror they
such introspection, without getting to the roots of this ignorant, gaudy,
malignant hatred of Muslims, the term "terrorism" will never be
liberated to include the racist mass murders in El Paso, Dayton, Pittsburgh,
Poway, Santa Fe, Parkland, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, Charleston, etc.
views expressed in this article are the author's own.
Headline: Redefining 'terrorism' in America
Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative
Literature at Columbia University.