According to many, being Muslim and American, or Muslim and western of any stripe, are contradictions in terms. You have done a lot of work to overcome some of these stereotypes. Clearly, a lot more work needs to be done. What are some practical things people can do?
It’s particularly pronounced for Muslims these days, but the binary is increasingly applied to all kinds of communities—can you be an immigrant and an American, or black and French? My experience and context is American; I can’t speak to other contexts. There are many things that can be done, on a personal and everyday level, scaled up to the national. First and foremost, simple engagement makes a huge difference. A mosque, for example, should be an institution that serves its wider community, that connects with elected officials, interfaith partners, and empowers local residents, in addition to, of course, serving as a spiritual and communal hub.
There needs to be greater investment in producing journalists, supporting artists, encouraging storytellers, and developing the capability to resist discriminatory legislation and rhetoric. As these capacities are realized, it’s possible for a community to build more durable partnerships and establish itself more effectively. Last but not least, who is talking to Republicans? There are many Republicans who are deeply dismayed by the rise of Donald Trump and the debasement of their party. They may not have been and may very well still not be amenable to all of one’s politics, but they are part of the American landscape, many of them have been civil servants or elected officials, and all of them matter.
For me, I’ve invested in two roles that I believe help make America a better place, and help Muslims too. The first is creative. Hence the book. The second is educational. The more we understand the nuances and complexities of different communities, the less tempted we are to demonize them. We can instead find platforms, social and political, that emphasize our common interests and shared values—that everyone should be treated equally, that government is best when it checks and balances itself, that no person should be held accountable for the actions of another, that there is and must be due process, that the institutions of the state serve the people, and not themselves.
An Interview with Jeremy Menchik on his new work, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance Without Liberalism
Why did you write this book?
My book stems from frustration with the most common approaches to Islam, tolerance, and democracy. Instead of asking whether Islam is compatible with democracy, my book investigates the more important (and less polemical) question: what kind of democracy do Muslims want? Instead of asking whether Indonesian Muslims are tolerant, my book investigates the historical and political conditions that engender tolerance and intolerance. Most important, to me, is that my book explains what tolerance means to the leaders of the world’s largest Islamic organizations and challenges the assumption that liberal modes of tolerance are necessary for making democracy work. Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism demonstrates that Indonesia’s Muslim leaders favor a democracy in which individual rights and group-differentiated rights converge within a system of legal pluralism, a vision at odds with American-style secular government but common in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
An interview with Naved Bakali on his book Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism through the Lived Experiences of Muslim Youth
What inspired you to begin this project, and how did this inspiration transform or continue during your project?
I have worked as an educator in the public school system for over nine years. Throughout my experiences I would regularly come across students that had extremely ignorant views about Islam. As such, I was curious to know how young Muslims felt about their high school experiences in Canada. Did they perceive racist treatment in the post-9/11 context, how did they cope with biases, discrimination, etc. I also wanted to give young Muslims a platform to express their thoughts and views, as many young Muslims, particularly Muslim women have their views authorized for them. What I mean by this is that, everyone tries to speak on behalf of Muslims and Islam. Rarely are Muslims given an opportunity and platform to speak for themselves.