Condemn your Terrah!

Did you condemn your Moozy terror today?

Muslims are […] seen as dispensable because they can be marginalized at any time as not really part of ‘us’; they are always required to perform and thereby prove their loyalty– either by statements distancing themselves from international conflicts where other Muslims are involved or, perhaps more frequently, by maintaining a tactical silence.

— Peter Morey, Amina Yaqin, Framing Muslims

At every new incident of what officials dub an act of terror, American Muslims fall over themselves to condemn the act as quickly as possible. It is then reported by say, NPR, that x Muslim organization has condemned the act though we the viewers/listeners should not assume that Muslims had anything to do with the act in the first place. Then right-wingers and liberals start quibbling about whether or not Muslims condemned the violent act or violent acts in general, or whether Islam is a religion of the sword or does it means peace. The possibilities of other reflections are foreclosed since everyone has something to say about the Moslem. The discourse remains firmly mired in what Islam is or is not with respect to terror. Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin in Framing Muslims show how stereotyping and framing “stak[es] out the territory within which ‘Muslimness’ and ‘Muslim issues’ are recognized and valorized.” “Such structures are prevalent, although more subtle, in supposedly liberal media as they are in the more predictable fulminations of the conservative right,” they write.

The calls that Muslims condemn this or that act and the resulting condemnation work as a pair– the latter acquiescing to the former and being one of its intended responses– both ensure that the Islamophobic merry-go-round will keep on going round and around. This politics of condemnation ensures that Muslims in the US won’t criticize the US actions abroad or even domestically, and that they will not partake in dissent, a fundamental aspect of democratic citizenship. It is one of the means of the curtailment of their engagement, as citizens and as critical voices. To participate in this condemnation circuit is to go along with a depoliticization of Muslims which aims to make them docile patriotic subjects or scapegoats. 

This politics of condemnation fashions a certain kind of Muslim self. It lets certain people and organizations speak for Islam and Muslims in certain set ways. That, in the process, helps them define what it means to be a Muslim in America and shape Muslim communities in a particular direction. Morey and Yaqin bring attention to what they call “‘professionalization’ of the role of Muslim representatives.” Professional Muslims swiftly condemn events like the Boston bombing even before any details had emerged but say nothing about drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, or the wars that the US launches at will. These condemnations of terrorism find their place in the imperial propaganda machine: Look our Muslims are on-board with America’s war on terror, they are on the side of Freedom.

I find Suburban Mosques and Islamic Centers to be thoroughly deploiticized spaces that often entertain “diversity tours” for corporate leaders and perform Muslimness through prayer demonstrations and the like. (Well, they are political just in a House Muslim kind of way.) Nary a peep of dissent, only the politics of patriotic acquiescence and Muslim performativity. What then remains an easily accessible Muslim voice of dissent for a politically engaged Muslim? Devoid of any political engagement with issues of social justice in the wider society, the focus of such spaces is on navel-gazing and self-stereotyping (the Noble savage variety). In these spaces Islam becomes confined to prayer rituals and is denied any relevance to social life and lived experience – a private(/ized) faith, if you will. 

The making of a depoliticized Muslimness is itself is the doing of the WoT that places fear in the hearts of Muslims that they dare not say a political word in mosques and gatherings with Muslims for fear of spies in their midst or for the fear of placing their mosque and community on the surveillance map of this police state. Statements condemning non-state terror or apologetic statements to the tune of ‘Islam does not condone terror’ are the only individual or collective “political statements” acceptable for a Muslim to utter. Say anything else and the reaction is: OMGZ, this dood is TEH RADICAL ISLAMIST; or mixing religion and politics is a no-no– well, unless it is in the service of the American empire.

When it comes to Muslim minorities, interfaith dialog is dubbed as the favored form of engagement whereby the normative White Christian sits down with an exotic Brown Muslim to learn about the latter’s belief and culture. A good old thanksgiving enactment. The discussion items would revolve around Islam and X (violence, women, democracy, American values … pick your favorite). The discussion would not however include, for instance, White privilege, racism, imperialism, state surveillance, proliferation of prisons, and the immigration detention and deportation regime. This interfaith multiculti stuff too becomes a depoliticized space. Here too a Muslim is only that– a foreign religious body. She has no politics and no American history whether inside or outside the US, at least not one in which the normative citizen is implicated.

There are, however, other venues for coalitions in which Muslims and non-Muslims can come together in a politically meaningful way outside the frame within which Muslims are confined as tolerated outsider exotic Others. Social justice issues provide such spaces where Muslims can form alliances with other Muslims and non-Muslims. (Speaking of which, this is one of the cutest stories to come out of OWS.)

Rich  immigrants hold disproportionate influence over suburban and countryside Muslim communities since they are the ones who bankroll mosques and are thus able to establish themselves as ‘Muslim leaders’ entitled to speak for Islam. Consequently such mosque communities and Islamic centers become bastions of political conservatism. So, don’t count on the good Muslim doctor to come out against anti-immigrant state policies, anti-black and anti-Latino Police brutality, or the economic inequality. In fact, you can count on him for demonizing the poor and families on welfare in coded racist Reaganite speech, and, of course, flag-waving. If only the Right abandoned Islamophobia, the good doctor is an ally like any other prick in a Porsche. 

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