What’s Wrong with Asking Muslims to Condemn Terrorism?

Written by Bridge Initiative Team | (Bridge) | – –

Last [September], Vox journalist Max Fisher recounted a interesting story about an exchange between Larry King and a Muslim fan seeking a photo. Upon learning the fan was from Saudi Arabia, the former CNN host told him that he is Jewish and wondered aloud if a snapshot with a Jew might not be welcomed in the man’s Muslim country. After smiling for the picture, King offered this parting quip: “Now, please go fight ISIS!”

To the general public, these comments may not appear to be blatant expressions of prejudice. But these seemingly innocuous conjectures about Saudi anti-Semitism and Muslims’ collective responsibility for ISIS are laden with problematic assumptions and contribute to pervasive negative views of Muslims. Fisher explains how King’s remarks were

“…the subtle expression of stereotypes and prejudices about Muslims and their way of life: the presumption that simply because of their religion or ethnicity, Muslims and Arabs are violent, backward, misogynist, and anti-Semitic. That unlike ‘us’ they are less than ‘normal,’ or even less than human.”

Fisher’s piece reminded us of another example of this “subtle expression of stereotypes” about Muslims: the oft-deployed recommendation that more Muslims need to condemn terrorism.

“Why don’t more Muslims condemn terrorism? They should speak up.”

Some variation of this expression invariably comes up every time a Muslim individual or group commits some act of large-scale violence. Many media personalities, politicians, and religious leaders have called upon Muslim leaders to denounce violence committed by their co-religionists. In January, for instance, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called on Muslims worldwide to “shed their ambivalence” and participate in a “million-person march” to denounce extremism. To many, these calls seem perfectly appropriate, even necessary.

Yet Todd Green, Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, makes three important critiques of this persistent request. In a piece in Sojourners, he notes that it presumes an inherent link between Islam and violence, and ignores the fact that while some Muslims may cite their religious tradition as their inspiration to commit violence, the vast majority of Muslims point to their faith as the impetus for living lives of peaceful service.

Green also points out that urging Muslims to condemn terrorism presumes that they are not, and overlooks the “overwhelming” evidence to the contrary — evidence that in this Internet-driven day in age, can be accessed on an iPhone in the palm of one’s hand. He also notes that demanding that Muslims condemn terrorism allows those making such demands — usually non-Muslim Westerners — to conveniently overlook or absolve themselves of responsibility for much of the past and present violence that plagues the world. It’s a way: “to project our sins of commission and omission onto the Muslim ‘Other’ so that we need not take seriously our own complicity in a violent world order.”

Calls for Muslims to reject terrorism are presented as an innocent suggestion, a piece of well-intentioned advice. But, in reality, these calls for condemnations often further entrench the stereotype that Muslims and their religion are inextricably tied to violence.

Via Bridge


Related video added by Juan Cole:


8 Responses

  1. Beyond this, those in America who make this commentary likely do not consume media from the Middle East, Arab nations or North African nations that would cover local “protests.” Further, the lack of media coverage by US media does not mean that something doesn’t take place.

  2. Well said about the negative stereotypes and prejudice. Its like we’re expected to be perpetual condemnation machines when we’ve suffered from terrorism too. Its like going around asking average British folks to apologize for colonialism, or Americans to apologize for Iraq, etc…

    • The problem isn’t the condemnations, Saf, it is the nature of those condemnations. The non-Muslim public would be perfectly fine with Tweets and press releases from Islamic organizations and imams…. that is if Muslims did not flood the streets every single time Israel undertook military action in Palestine. When Muslims protest against Israel but not ISIS is makes the non-Muslim public suspicious.

      • That’s just ridiculous. Just because you don’t condemn something does not mean you agree with it! The troubling part is the collective responsibility and blame – we don’t know any of those people nor do we support their criminal acts! Why does anything need to be said? Shouldn’t it be clear? Everyone is different. People are just trying to live their lives in peace. We are allowed to care strongly about what we care strongly about without it being deemed as sinister. For example, some people are more passionate about global warming than civil rights, etc.

  3. What’s wrong with asking Jews and Americans to condemn Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and to do something about it, like stop giving Israel money.

  4. I hesitated to comment on this one,

    no, nothing is wrong about asking people to condemn terrorism. What’s wrong is ignoring it when they do, and then claiming that they (whoever) never condemn terrorism in the first place.

    We do that all the time. So do they. I think it’s a human thing.

  5. All these points make sense and I don’t believe moderate Muslims are accepting of the radicals and their work. I fully expect that there are plenty of condemnations from the moderates, even if Western press miss it.

    Even so, the radical elements are winning the marketing campaign. They are pushing the impression that this is a struggle of culture and faith. They are also aided by regional states who try to leverage anti-western sentiment for political gain.

    Regardless, non-muslims are becoming conditioned by these acts of terror. Even if incorrect, the average person doesn’t have the wherewithal to delve into the details and discover the truth behind the radicals’ actions (stupid selfish politicians don’t help here). So in a sense, the moderates have to find a way to make “noticeable ” pushback and do it repeatedly.

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