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Sifting Muslims from Islamists





By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

April 09, 2015

Waving Israeli flags in unison with others flaunting swastika tattoos for a cause, is exhibit A of cognitive dissonance. Protesting to ‘reclaim’ one’s country from the religion of less than 2% of the population is exhibit A of Xenophobia. And when one considers that both the aforementioned exhibits were a part of one and the same ‘movement’, one gets an idea of the sheer magnitude of bigotry that has spilled over onto Australian streets.

‘Reclaim Australia’ protests were held in 16 Australian cities on Saturday, and were attended by hundreds of demonstrators, who want to ban anything and everything from the Burqa to Halal certifications, from Shariah law to Islam itself. They’ve made Australia the latest hub for anti-Muslim demonstrations, which have been reverberating in Europe over the past year or so.

In December 2014 around 18,000 demonstrators from Patriotic Europeans against the Islamification of the West (PEGIDA) rallied against “Islamisation of Germany”. PEGIDA’s movement virtually overlapped with attacks on Swedish mosques, three of which were firebombed around the same time.

Similarly in October 2014, Canada’s Cold Lake mosque was vandalised, with xenophobic messages like ‘Go Home’ sprayed on the walls. Mosques are increasingly being targeted by anti-Muslim groups all over the world, with the average Muslim bearing the brunt of the backlash against Islamist terrorism.

This, however, is just one side of the coin.

While a few hundred people were trying to ‘reclaim’ Australia from Islam, the governments of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have been trying to reclaim Yemen from Yemenis. This, as of April 7, has resulted in 540 deaths and over a hundred thousand people being displaced.

As Pakistan mulls over joining the GCC’s war, we have our very own Taliban who have been trying to reclaim Pakistan from us. The Taliban gave us all a reminder of their reach and intentions in Youhanabad last month, and before that they wrenched our collective gut following the Peshawar school massacre, a week before PEGIDA took to the streets in Dresden. The Peshawar attack was almost replicated by the Islamist al-Shabaab militants’ attack on Garissa University in Kenya this week, which coincided with the ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement Down Under.

When PEGIDA was gathering momentum in Europe, four noteworthy Islamist attacks (Sydney siege, Peshawar school massacre, Kolofata raid and Charlie Hebdo attack) jolted four different countries on four different continents. Every time militant Islamism shakes the world, the non-violent Muslims become vulnerable to xenophobia, highlighting how anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist terrorism are two ugly sides of the same coin.

While none of us Muslims should have to apologise for Islamist terrorism, what we need to realise and acknowledge is the fact that we haven’t been doing enough to present a clear distinction between an Islamist and a Muslim, which in turn fuels xenophobia against everyone who self-identifies as a Muslim. Every time an anti-Muslim bigot vies to present the Muslim world as a monolith, we jump the gun on playing the ‘Islamophobia’ card which is every bit a misnomer as ‘anti-Semitism’.

Just like the term ‘anti-Semitism’ fails to take into account that many Jew-hating Arab groups are Semites themselves, ‘Islamophobia’ conflates prejudice against a community with the ‘fear of an ideology’. ‘Islamophobia’ not only has become a Get Out of Jail Free card for us Muslims every time we face discomforting facts about Islam that need reform and moderation, the term fails to address the obvious difference between Islam and Muslims. ‘Islamophobia’ implies that prejudice against Muslims is a direct attack on Islam, in turn suggesting that every Muslim views Islam as the defining part of one’s identity, which obviously falls perfectly in line with the idea of a monolithic Muslim world that anti-Muslim bigots like to peddle.

An Islamist is someone who wants to reorder the government and society in accordance with Shariah law. A Muslim could even be someone who believes in a liberal interpretation of the religious text or one who doesn’t believe in the divinity or infallibility of Islamic theology at all. While other religious communities have expanded themselves to form a wider gamut, regardless of theological beliefs, we Muslims continue to excommunicate one another to a point where a Muslim is virtually synonymous with an Islamist.

Furthermore, multiple surveys, including the frequently cited Pew study, show that comfortable majorities in the Muslim world want the implementation of Shariah law, with death for ‘crimes’ like adultery, apostasy and blasphemy. 84% Pakistanis, according to Pew’s survey in 2013, want Shariah law in the country, 89% of them want stoning for adultery and 76% want death penalty for apostasy. The percentages are extremely high in South Asia and MENA, and significantly high in the rest of the Muslim World.

While thousands rally against ridiculous YouTube movies, cartoons and changes in the blasphemy law, Islamist violence is received with collective silence at best or defensiveness and apologia vis-à-vis Islam at worst. Similarly, as Israel’s human rights abuse in Palestine sees protest in the Muslim world, Muslim countries’ doing the same in Yemen witnesses acquiescence or indifference.

And so, as the Muslim world collectively narrows down the definition of a Muslim; stereotypes itself as non-inclusive; believes in primitive laws and their implementation; only seems to be bothered when non-Muslims kill Muslims and fails to unequivocally condemn Islamist terrorism in significant numbers, do we really not see how we fuel anti-Muslim bigotry?

While Swedes and Canadians ‘love-bombed’ mosques with messages of support to shush up the xenophobes; Australians started the #IllRideWithYou hashtag in support for the local Muslim community following the Sydney siege and German Chancellor called out PEGIDA as ‘full of prejudice and hate’ and rallied in anti-PEGIDA marches that had over 30,000 participants, how many of us protested against attacks against Christians in Lahore or Nairobi? Scratch that, how many of us have taken to the streets to protest against the Taliban who have been killing all kinds of Muslims over the past decade? How about Isis the world’s biggest terrorist organisation that has now established itself in Pakistan?

Until and unless moderate Muslims reclaim their Muslim identity from the Islamists, there can be no end to jingoistic movements in the West, ostensibly vying to reclaim their countries from Islam. Let’s play our part by calling out the radicals within the Muslim world and then worry about the rise in anti-Muslim xenophobia in the West, which would take a plunge anyway if we can successfully and conspicuously sift Muslims from Islamists.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a member of the staff at The Nation.