One of the many paradoxes in the modern age is that there is an overabundance of knowledge and information available to the masses; yet, easy access to and dissemination of information has created a space for exaggerated views, simplistic analyses, and uninformed opinions to proliferate. As such, we have more knowledge available to us, yet many of us remain misinformed. With a plethora of uncritical and un-nuanced information bites easily available, a Muslim terrorist dialectic has emerged, reinforcing a narrative that Muslim men are dangerous, violent, and prone to acts of terrorism. It is not uncommon to come across this “dangerous Muslim man” archetype in Western public, political, and media discourses.
This most often occurs when radicalized Muslim individuals engage in random acts of violence, in which civilians are murdered and/or injured. When these acts of violence occur in the US, Canada, and Europe, there’s a concerted effort in the media to portray such random lone wolf acts of violence as being linked to some global Muslim terrorist infrastructure, and in doing so asserting that Islam is the root cause for these actions. However, deep and detailed analyses of the possible psychological, emotional, or social states of the perpetrators to help understand these actions, beyond terrorism inspired by Islam, is completely absent.
For example, in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, ruthlessly murdered 49 and injured 58 men at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Media outlets and authorities considered this to be a terrorist act, as Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS over the phone while committing this atrocity. However, mainstream media outlets engaged in very little analysis of why he may have committed this crime. Mateen was a closeted gay man, who according to friends and family was ashamed and struggling with his homosexuality. The perception of Mateen being a self-hating, psychologically damaged individual was elusive in media portrayals of the story. Such a narrative would be essential in trying to probe the motivations for his actions. Rather, stories of the incident were framed as another generic instance of “Islamic terrorism.”
In the Canadian context, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was responsible for the Parliament Hill Shooting, where he murdered a Canadian soldier and eventually died in a gunfight with Canadian security forces in a Canadian Parliament building. Media outlets and politicians were quick to label this act as a form of terrorism, even though there was little to suggest that Zehaf-Bibeau had any formal ties to terrorist networks. Rather, he had an extensive history of incarceration, violence, and drug addiction. Zehaf-Bigeau’s drug addiction was so severe that in 2011, he requested a BC court to send him to prison so that he could overcome his crack cocaine addiction. Despite the litany of social and mental problems suffered by Zehaf-Bibeau, his obscure religious extremist affiliations were portrayed as the primary cause of his acts of violence.
Similarly, in Europe hundreds of young men and women have joined terrorist organizations, and a handful have committed acts of violence and terrorism locally. These events are given widespread media attention and have become instrumental in shaping the political narratives in a number of nations. There is no shortage of discussions in media-political discourse describing what is happening when it comes to Muslims and terrorism, however there is a lack of explanation as to why it is happening. Muslims in a number of these countries are less educated, face higher rates of unemployment, and have been socially and economically marginalized through discrimination, identity politics, and targeted legislation. However, these issues are rarely discussed when trying to understand the motives of these criminals.
It would seem that many Muslims in Western nations have also internalized the Muslim terrorist dialectic, as they are always in a rush to condemn acts of violence and terrorism committed by fringe elements of Muslim society, trying to distance such actions from the mainstream Muslim community. However, are such condemnations necessary? Why do Muslims feel they need to condemn the acts of radicalized extremists? Muslims who possess extremist and radical views represent a miniscule minority as multiple studies have shown. Muslims who actually commit acts of violence represent an even smaller fraction of Muslims globally.
Yet Muslims are constantly obliged to shore up their “good Muslim” credentials by constantly condemning these acts of violence, even when there’s little to suggest they are acts of terrorism inspired by Islam, but are rather more often than not acts committed by troubled individuals. When Christian fundamentalists commit similar acts of violence do Christians feel they need to condemn such actions? When radicalized Buddhist monks indiscriminately slaughter Muslim families in Myanmar, do peaceful Buddhists around the world feel they need to condemn these actions? The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the colonization of Asia, Africa, and the Americas were all forms of violence and state sponsored terrorism that were justified through scripture, yet do Christians feel the need to constantly condemn violence and terrorism, out of fear they may be perceived as being prone to violence through this historical legacy?
The Muslim terrorist dialectic, which presumes that all random acts of violence committed by Muslims are acts of terrorism inspired by Islam, is fraught with logical fallacies. Muslims who commit acts of violence, like members of other faith-based communities, are complex actors who have a multiplicity of motivations and reasons for committing such acts. Religion may play a role, however, their views cannot be conflated with those of mainstream Muslims, as their beliefs represent a radical divergence from traditional Islamic teachings and beliefs. Muslims themselves need to come to terms with this reality and stop feeling the need to apologize for their extremist co-religionists, because doing so reinforces the idea that Islam was in some way responsible for these actions. Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and members of other faith-based communities are unapologetic for their extremist co-religionists. It’s time for Muslims to be unapologetically Muslim.