Must Muslim Americans Condemn ISIL? Must Turkish Jews Condemn Gaza War?

By Juan Cole

During the recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, a controversy broke out in Turkey about whether Turkish Jews were required to condemn Israel’s actions, as some pro-Palestinian Turks suggested.

Turkish Jewish intellectuals wrote in an open letter to the newspaper Hurriyyet [“Liberty,” Istanbul]:

“”Israel’s latest attack on Gaza led, once again, to cries of ‘Why does the Jewish community remain silent?’ A campaign was even launched that claimed that the Jews of Turkey bear responsibility for what Israel does in Gaza.

“No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

“It is anyway not possible for a community of 20,000 to declare a unified opinion. No human community can be monolithic and the Jewish community is not. Its members include people of all kinds, with a great variety of views.”

Many Jewish organizations stigmatized the demand as Antisemitism.

Asking people to take stances based on their ascribed identity (what they were born into most often) rather than on the basis of their individual choices in life goes against everything that modern human rights thinking stands for. It is like forcing all Russian-Americans to say publicly what they think about Vladimir Putin.

So if all this is correct, and it certainly is, why do right wing Americans continue to demand that Muslim-Americans condemn Muslim extremists in the Middle East? They have nothing to do with the latter and aren’t responsible for them. Some of the inhabitants of the American Southwest in the early modern period were secret Muslims from southern Spain who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Inquisition. My birthplace, Albuquerque, is an Arabic word (al-Barquqi). Some 10% of the some 4 million Africans kidnapped and trafficked to Southern landowners as slaves in the US before the slave trade was abolished were Muslim. Hundreds of thousands of people practiced Islam in North America long before there was a United States. The White House was built with slave labor and likely some of that was Muslim labor. Some of the founding Fathers likely owned Muslim slaves. As late as the 1930s, elderly ex-slaves reported in interviews that they remembered their mothers bowing toward the east at dawn. Some Arab-American Muslims can trace their family roots in the US back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The religion is an American religion, deeply interwoven with American history and Muslim-Americans are not responsible for developments in the contemporary Middle East.

So they shouldn’t have to, but they do:

VOA: “US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State”

20 Responses

    • Unfortunately, almost all of our information on ISIL comes from the media which, to my mind , has no credibility at all. Who really knows if even the horribly immoral beheadings were actually ISIL or simply some individual nut case on his own? My cynical approach to the media may be excessive, or maybe not.

  1. Yeah, condemn ISIL, but recognize the processes that let the thugs who have grown this grand criminal enterprise have a fertile ground to grow in. And then what is the remedy for this disease? Bombing is never “precision,” despite the hype, and that is just plowing more fields in which the ugly murderous identities of disaffected gunmen can sprout. I would say this is a job for Elliot Ness, but his success was actually minimal, and the Mob still prospers today even after some kingpins were “taken down.” Same with the trillions of dollars and all those operatives (so many of whom become corrupt themselves) in the War on Drugs. We should be a little concerned that some of our children find their identity in aligning with and even joining in the killing and domination… Why is that?

    Evaluate the problems honestly, then try to sort through the tool box for something that will actually end up making stability and decency for ordinary people, for a change…

  2. “No citizen of this country is under any obligation to account for, interpret or comment on any event that takes place elsewhere in the world, and in which he/she has no involvement. There is no onus on the Jewish community of Turkey, therefore, to declare an opinion on any matter at all.

    On the other hand, as the old saying goes, “All that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.”

  3. Great statement by the Turkish Jews. This also extends to the annoying stereotype bias with the exaggerated and ignorant ‘silence’ claim, particularly against Western Muslims. Its like they expect to hear an ongoing on-demand condemnation or protest machine for every crime to ease their prejudices.

    Learn something new everyday…not on the American Muslims (learned earlier here) but on Albuqeurque. Looked up Wikipedia on it (I know, I know…), article considered it more of a Spanish origin thing…though mention the Arabic as another theory, which makes sense considering the regional history…

    A bit silly, but can’t help think of it as a kind of a spiritual fate thing because the Professor was born there and what his concentration is on…

    • Wkipedia mentions the cork industry in Alburqurque in Spain. ‘Ab al-Qurq’ means ‘land of the cork oak’ in Arabic. Moors (Arab speakers) occupied the region for centuries. This may be the origon of Albuquerqe..

    • Most of the civilised world openly condems the monstrous ISIL ersion of islam. Time for the muslim community to do this aswell. Or…maybe you silently cheer on?

      • The Muslim community, part of the civilized world, does do this, including protests and conferences, and individual or scholar voices on this ideological crisis.

        Unfortunately it seems to be deliberately ignored and lost by some who find it easy to accuse others of being ‘silent cheerleaders’, when there’s nothing that suggests that in the original comment and unfounded.

  4. The key word is “forcing”. No one should be forced to state their position, but for people to wonder about the position of individuals who are Jewish or Muslim, or of any other group, and to ask them respectfully what their position is, is quite understandable. In other words, there is a difference between a demand and a request that can be refused. Israel goes to great lengths to extinguish any distinction between the religion and the state, even refusing to use the term “Israeli” on ID cards. This is in keeping with the desire to erase the distinction between objections to what Israel does and anti-Semitism, something PM Netanyahu does regularly.

    Had I been living outside the U.S. when GW Bush rushed to war with Iraq, I would have welcomed people asking me if, as an American, I agreed with his actions. To summarize – it is right to respect each individual, but it is also quite natural to wonder about the views of members of this or that group and right that a question can be asked freely of anyone, individual to individual, without requiring that an answer be given.

      • Not collective guilt, which would imply punishment, but collective shame which entrails explanation and understanding.

    • … As Professor Cole implies you can politely ask one’s opinion, but to expect or demand basically an apology is racist.and is a not too subtle attempt to assign collective guilt!

  5. Muslims do not have a greater duty to condemn ISIL than anyone else. Likewise, people who leave the ME or North Africa are not duty-bound to support their nationality of origon. Exiles who find better lives elsewhere should feel free to not identify with were they came from.

  6. I think any person living in a society like my own, Australia, should find ISIL’s actions repulsive and unsupportable. I also think that any person living in a society like my own should find Israel’s conduct in regards to the Occupied Territories and Gaza repulsive and unsupportable.

    However, I find the notion that one group should have a special responsibility to publicly go out of the way to condemn the actions of a group on the other side of the world they have nothing to do with to be wrong-headed, toxic and pointless. It has been endlessly pointed out that American Muslim groups issue public statements denouncing every significant atrocity committed by a Muslim around the world, yet their enemies endlessly demand to know why they never speak up against those same atrocities.

    The supposition that Muslims in Australia, or the United States, should be should be held accountable for the actions in the Levant is as perverse as the corollary about Jews and Israel. Assuming a collective Jewish guilt in the crimes of Israel is clearly anti-Semitic, and assuming a collective Muslim guilt in the crimes of radical Islamic groups is no better.

    Yet recently our Prime Minister Tony Abbott lay the blame for his humiliating failure to win support for his amendment to our Racial Discrimination Act on the need to win over Muslim groups in the country. This was blatant dog whistling even when you don’t have anyone to point out that Islam (or any religion) is not given any protection under the act in question, or that the attempt to remove the pertinent section of the act was prompted by the conviction of a major Australian right-wing columnist for racial vilification directed against our country’s Aboriginal communities.

    I mention that specific example, because the special emphasis put into holding a specific group accountable for things they’re not responsible for, is in no way different from constantly seeking reassurance that a specific group does not support activities that they have no connection to.

    • A wise comment. I know a young and absolutely non-militant local Iman in my city who was contacted by the media 32 times after 9/11. Not one of the interviews made it into the media. The people who call out Muslims in America for not speaking up are the same ones who constantly complain about the bias of ‘liberal media.’ So, it’s not like they are unaware of the bias of the media, right and left.

  7. There are Jews all over the world, like me, who detest the Israeli regime and its oppression of Palestinians, its continuing theft of what’s left of their land and an Apartheid system that adds more miseries to Palestinians.

  8. Excellent article and point. Western Muslims are not obligated to speak out about ISIS or extremism anymore than Christians are to speak out about the Westboro Baptist Church. Yet, regularly conservative pundits and politicians ask–with a sense of incrimination–why Western Muslims are not speaking out. It is a bizarre attempt at trying to pigeon-hole Muslims as either “with us or against us.” Muslims as a whole are not responsible for the actions of ISIS. Yet, despite this Muslims do speak out and scholars, laypeople, and religious leaders alike have condemned the group just like they did Bin Ladin, Al Qaeda, and the attacks on 911. They just don’t get air time, or aren’t as sensational as stories of beheadings.

    I think this article by Professor Cole really hits the nail on the head on this issue.

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