By Tabish Khair
June 11, 2017
Three men drove a van into a crowd in London on June 3, 2017, and then ran about stabbing people until efficiently shot down by British policemen. Immediately, the Islamic State (IS) claimed the attack — though, as yet, there is no proof that the IS was directly involved.
But of course the IS will claim any monstrous act in ‘the name of Allah’ committed by morons anywhere in the world. It suits the IS. And in some ways, such a claim suits almost everyone else too.
It Suits Many People
It suits people like Donald Trump. It enabled him to send out inane tweets, seeking to use this tragedy to further his xenophobic, undemocratic and unlikely-to-be-effective policy options in the U.S.
The IS claim also enabled British politicians, who (it has to be said to their credit) basically reacted with calm and restraint, to suggest international conspiracies (highly unlikely) and remedies (such as curbing Internet), which are unlikely to work and will probably have more drawbacks than advantages. It is nice to have a Dr. No version of the IS to blame, when you know that your own neo-liberal and post-Brexit actions – such as laying off policemen in London – probably contributed to the casualties.
Finally, it enabled peaceful religious Muslims — many of whom will be angry at me for saying this — from facing up to their responsibility in the matter. Do not misunderstand me: these religious Muslims hate what the ISIS stands for: this fact was brought home by the sad but necessary decision by 130 Muslim imams and leaders in U.K. not to perform the compulsory funeral prayers over the bodies of the three London attackers.
Yes, most religious Muslims have no sympathy for the IS. Such religious Muslims often castigate people like me for describing IS-murderers as Islamists. They are not Islamists because they have nothing to do with Islam, I am consistently told. I agree — but I also point out that the IS and such terrorists think that they have everything to do with Islam. Sheer repudiation does not suffice. It especially does not suffice if you are yourself Muslim.
The IS enables peaceful, religious Muslims — the vast majority — to shirk their inadvertent complicity in such violence. It is time to face up to this, instead of expressing surprise and horror when some nephew or son mimics the IS and kills innocent people in the name of Islam.
I have written a lot about the ‘us-them’ binarism that had undergirded colonial Western atrocities against the rest, and still dominates the thinking of people like Mr. Trump. But it has to be added: peaceful, religious Muslims harbour a similar ‘us-them’ binarism.
Many decent religious Muslims believe that their faith assigns them a position of moral superiority over others. This is a feeling other very religious people — Hindus, Christians, etc. — might tend to have too. However, many religious Muslims also believe that their faith will prevail on Earth in the future and at least assure them (and only them) of paradise after death.
I have met Christians and Jews with similar beliefs of being a kind of ‘chosen people’, but their ratio is far lower. For every Christian I have met who believed that I would go to hell because I do not believe in Jesus as the son of God, I have met a hundred who would laugh at the notion.
Unfortunately, I have met too many religious Muslims who believe that they are specially chosen, and anyone who does not share their faith is condemned to an eternity of hellfire.
Most religious Muslims do not act on this conviction; they do not even utter it in front of non-Muslims. They are decent people. But it lurks in the depths of their minds.
It can also be flaunted indirectly: for instance, recently a major Indian Muslim leader dismissed another Muslim for not being a ‘true Muslim’ because he read the Bhagavad Gita! Or, during the holy month of Ramzan, many religious Muslims give charity only to the Muslim needy. Us and them. Them and us.
Facing Up To a Flaw
This is the germ that runs through much of contemporary religious Muslim thinking, and drives the more confused of our Muslim children into mimicking the monstrosities of the IS. This germ makes Muslim youth vulnerable to extremist ideologies. To think that you are so special can very easily turn into a dismissal of the equivalent humanity of others, as casteist Hindus do with Dalits and as colonial Europeans did with the colonised at times.
Until more religious Muslims face up to this flaw in their thinking, their children will be vulnerable to such detestable ideologues as those of the IS — and Islam, as a faith, will be the target of hatred from at least some of those who are excluded from the category of being ‘chosen.’
The ISIS is not some Hollywood super villain, an Islamic Dr. No, with highly trained agents present everywhere. It does not have that sort of clout outside the regions it controls and some neighbouring spaces.
But it is actually more dangerous because it can capitalise on the flaws in our thinking, those cracks in the floor of ordinary family homes, Muslim and non-Muslim. I have written about the cracks in the floors of ordinary European or American homes, with their ‘civilisational’ hubris. But it is time for religious Muslims to face up to the cracks in their own homes too.
Tabish Khair is an Indian novelist and academic who teaches in Denmark.