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Picking on Muslims is getting dull


The Weekend Australian front page 'fighting Islam 100 years'It should be a given that a young child brandishing a severed human head is something that no reasonable person would condone. And yet such is the animosity toward Islam that when one such image was splashed on the front page of The Australian – the son of an Australian 'jihadist' posing with the decapitated head of a Syrian soldier – Muslims were expected to vocalise their horror lest they be taken to approve of it.

As Muslim academic and feminist Susan Carland tweeted at the time, 'If you honestly need me to TELL you that I don't agree with a father getting his young son to hold up a severed head…I kind of want to cry.'

The relentless persecution of minorities, public beheadings of journalists and crucifixions that are a now a daily occurrence in Syria and Iraq are all atrocities that most Muslims find no less terrifying and distressing than the wider community. It is a testament to how 'different' Muslims are considered that some Australians still think many, if not all, Muslims living here are not only unbothered by such atrocities, but actually support them as a legitimate expression of Islam.

This is the reality for Muslims in the age of the war against terror. Condemning terrorism is exhausting. No matter how loudly or often Muslims distance themselves from the actions of groups such as the so-called Islamic State (IS), it is never enough.

That the world's 1.8 billion or so Muslims are expected to rally against every bad deed committed by a stranger who happens to nominally share their faith speaks to the deep distrust with which Muslims are regarded.

It is demoralising to know that people in my own country assume, or at least suspect, that I approve of these atrocities. Whether I like it or not, my religious background and my name tie me to these 'jihadists.' Their actions reflect on me; I feel the permanent weight of expectation to publicly apologise for their actions.

And I do so, knowing full well that to some, nothing I say will make up for the fact that I was born into the Islamic faith. Or, more specifically, I was born into one of the many Islamic faiths.

That a non-practising Alawite Muslim such as myself feels pressured to repeatedly condemn rogue Sunni groups like IS demonstrates both how much the west fears 'otherness', and the extent to which western society is unwilling to confront its own prejudice.

There are more than 15 denominations and sects in Islam, all with varying interpretations of the faith, all with differences both subtle and vast. Alawites are considered heretics by many Sunnis, and indeed have been the victims of persecutions and attempted genocides dating back centuries.

Though some (and I stress some) Alawites have achieved unprecedented prominence due to the rise of the Assad family in Syria's ruling Ba'ath party, Alawites are a secretive sect and have always historically existed on the fringes of Islam.

Although much of the Sunni majority regard them as being outside the fold of Islam, Alawites are Muslims in that they regard Mohammed as the messenger of God and the Quran as the last holy book.

I mention all this only to highlight the ludicrousness of assuming that Alawites secretly approve of Islamic State actions and goals, not least because they too would be annihilated under its 'caliphate.'

That is not to say that Sunnis themselves generally approve of the Islamic State. Of course they don't – given that many victims have been Sunnis who refuse to recognise delusions of an 'Islamic State.'

That IS and other terror groups are a perversion of Sunni Islam is evidenced in the fact that so many of its adherents know little of the religion itself. As Mehdi Hasan notes in New Republic, the books of choice for 'the swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings' are Islam For Dummies and The Koran for Dummies.  

All of which serves to highlight that the readiness with which some westerners take the most violent and extreme groups as legitimate expressions of Islam betrays the racism that underpins perceptions of Muslims.

Islam may indeed be a religion and 'not a race' as the popular mantra of the Islamophobe has it, but it's a religion that has never been sanctioned by the west. While extremists of other stripes, whether they be Christian or even Buddhists, are regarded as aberrations, no such allowances exist for Muslims. A Muslim doing a bad thing must be doing so because of Islam, not despite it, even when their victims are other Muslims.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the western world has long regarded Mohammed as a barbarian and the Quran a fundamentally more violent book than the Bible. Every beheading, every massacre and every terrorist attack is consequently taken to reflect Islam as a whole.

Rather than assessing terrorism in the context of the political and social environment in which it occurs, it becomes a flag of convenience for the distrust that lies dormant, waiting for the chance to surface. When the most extreme forms of terrorism are used to legitimise the ostracism of ordinary Muslims of all stripes, then nothing will satisfy the persistent demands for condemnation.

They merely serve as a reminder that to some, Muslims will never fit in.


Ruby HamadRuby Hamad is a Sydney writer and associate editor of progressive feminist website The Scavenger. She blogs at rubyhamad.wordpress.com and tweets as @rubyhamad.

Topic tags: Ruby Hamad, Islamic State, Islamophobia, racism, media, Sunni, prejudice



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Existing comments

It's time for Christians and the wider community to give more time to studying Islam. How many of us until recently had any idea about the Sunni-Shia divide? One video I have found helpful is Quran Documentary, free at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVER__C7lhE

John Wotherspoon | 11 September 2014  

In an otherwise terrific and thoughtful essay, and long-overdue too, this fell out with the clang of an off-statement: 'the readiness with which some westerners take the most violent and extreme groups as legitimate expressions of Islam betrays the racism that underpins perceptions of Muslims.' I am not sure this is particularly true -- I would guess that most westerners simply hear slimy thugs like ISIS claim to be legitimate Muslim groups, and do not hear any Muslim authority decry and renounce them. As Thomas Friedman says constantly here in the NY Times -- where is the roar of modrate Islam, admirable Islam, peaceful Islam, against this lunatic fringe?

Brian Doyle | 12 September 2014  

If similar atrocities were being committed by a significant sector of the Christian community in the name of Christianity, I would expect other Christians to be not only very vocal in denouncing it but also actively working to end it. They would also need to understand why it would negatively impact the world's opinion of all Christians.

Solange | 12 September 2014  

Solange, you write: "If similar atrocities were being committed by a significant sector of the Christian community in the name of Christianity, I would expect other Christians to be not only very vocal in denouncing it but also actively working to end it." I suppose you have been very vocal in denouncing child sexual abuse by Catholic priests...or by Salvation Army officers? Or did I miss something?

Frank Golding | 12 September 2014  

It is not getting dull or boring it is getting annoying.

Gary Dargan | 12 September 2014  

To Brian Doyle who asks where is the roar of moderate Islam. My file of Muslims denouncing atrocities committed by insane vermin in the dame of Islam is over 70 pages long. Why is the roar not heard? Because it contradicts the media message and is either ignored or reduced to a whimper

Gary Dargan | 12 September 2014  

Ms Hamad, please pay more respect to valid criticism of Islam. If we view "the most violent and extreme groups as legitimate expressions of Islam" that is because these groups, like Islamic State, explicitly defend their actions as expressions of Islam. Put simply, they sever heads because Islam's Prophet severed heads - for example, beheading some 400 Jewish men in the village of Qurayza in 627. Such facts, and the many statements in the Quran urging violent death to the infidel, are not racist ravings of unreasonable people. They are a deep problem within Islam's doctrine. We need to hear authoritative Muslim bodies formally condemn such doctrines, and assure the Australian people that we can have 'spiritual Islam' in this country without the abhorrent 'political Islam' that, regrettably, seems part and parcel.

David van Gend | 12 September 2014  

I doubt that what the West fears is "otherness", M/s Hamad. What is feared is the indiscriminate slaughtering of innocents as has happened in the USA, England,the Middle East and erstwhile USSR states. It would be reassuring if the genuine peaceful Muslim community took definitive action to stop recruitment of terrorists in its mosques, spoke out publicly and in fact abandoned the extreme "racism" of considering every non-Muslim as an infidel beyond their God's favour. Might also be very helpful if the community made some effort to live in a multicultural society, retaining their religious freedom as exists in the Western world but is blaringly absent in the Muslim world as clearly evidenced by the Middle East at this time. Try being a Christian and then you might find that Muslims are not the only ones vilified for their beliefs.

john frawley | 12 September 2014  

"the racism that underpins perceptions of Muslims."... It is not racism. It is something much deeper than that. We do not seem to have a single word to suitably express the distrust felt by many towards members of other belief systems, particularly those who are aggressive. Many Catholics in Australia have accepted parish priests who are of African or Asian ethnic origins. "Westerners", on the whole, are much more tolerant of Muslims living in the 'West', than Muslims in Muslim countries are of non-Muslims. The Media inflame tensions by ignoring calls by moderate Muslims for moderation, and high-lighting any and all extremist atrocities. Both the Quran and the Bible have been used to 'justify' atrocities by all three of the solipsistic Abrahamic religions. It seems there will be no peace and harmony until we all agree to stop saying, "God is on OUR side, and try instead to get on God's Side.

Robert Liddy | 12 September 2014  

I don’t believe Mohammed was a prophet from God any more than I believe Joseph Smith was. But I acknowledge that both Muslims and Mormons are generally better family people than most post-modern Christians. Yet I find Ruby Hamad’s “poor me” article somewhat grotesque coming on the anniversary of 9/11 and the launch of new efforts to defeat the barbaric death cults of the Middle East. In fact Mohammed did 1300 years ago what Hamas, Boko Haram, IS, al-Shabab and al-Qa’ida are doing today—spreading Islam by fear, murder and slavery. Today, Caliph Ibrahim of IS demands Muslims throw out “democracy, secularism, nationalism, as well as all the other garbage and ideas from the West.” And Jihad is the perfect cover for psychopaths who can believe that their viciousness serves an ideal other than their own gratification. But while Islamists may love death, Western postmodernists have also embraced what John Paul 2 called a “Culture of Death.”

Ross Howard | 12 September 2014  

I do not believe it is "a testament to how 'different' Muslims are considered that some Australians still think many, if not all, Muslims living here are... unbothered by such atrocities...." but rather it is a testament to the comparative silence that comes from the moderate Islamic community that causes people to wonder. Despite what Carland might say ordinary people do need the reassurance of hearing key people TELL them that these atrocities are wrong.

Martin Loney | 12 September 2014  

The Western attitude to Muslims has nothing to do with prejudice, it’s about barbaric, cruel behaviour . Religion is meant to make one a better person and if it doesn’t, then something is wrong with the religion or something is wrong with the way it is practiced. People are being beheaded or buried alive if they don’t convert to Islam. The atrocities are claimed in the name of Islam. Please refer me to the articles from Muslim leaders condemning terrorism. Stop blaming the media, you have a perfect opportunity here in ES, also a missed opportunity to condemn terrorism on Q&A recently.

Jane | 12 September 2014  

It is concerning that the Islamophobic cry "Muslims do not condemn X or Y" is so often repeated. Every Islamic organization on earth has condemned these ISIS criminals but we still hear that all Muslims are silent about them. It is sickening that this lie is ceaselessly repeated by the haters.

Bilal | 12 September 2014  

Strange too, how those who continually condem 'due to the press coverage they get can' have in the past been in denial & relatively silent over autrocities & child abuse committed by their own church!

Bernie Peoples | 12 September 2014  

I think that I would rather be a Moslem living in Australia than a Christian living in an Islamic state.

David | 13 September 2014  

Why does everyone get so upset and hang off every word spurted out in "da media" about Muslims? Do you think the average journo with a 3 year BA from the uni of wolloomolloo knows more about the world than you?

AURELIUS | 13 September 2014  

Very good Ruby. Very true.

Louw | 13 September 2014  

Ruby, would you and/or anyone in authority in Islam, or indeed in the Islamic crowd, be prepared to condemn in retrospect the violent invasion and cultural/religious suppresion/ destruction of christian lands and communities throughout the middle east, north Africa and Bysantium that occurred from 8th to 15th centuries? I am prepared to condemn the military response that occurred to that in the form of the Crusades, as being against the spirit of the revealed God.

Eugene | 15 September 2014  

If a Christian person brandished a severed head, the world reaction would be the same. There’s no specific “animosity toward Islam”. Revulsion happens when a head is held by a child whose parent condones the atrocity. Any religious group that consistently produces such horrors are abhorrent when such atrocities become commonplace. Muslims are not expected “to vocalise their horror lest they be taken to approve of it”. It is a sad testament to Islam that many Muslims support IS and Al Quaeda etc. financially. Also, sending Muslims as reinforcements believing them as legitimate expressions of Islam e.g. the Middle East, North and Central Africa: Pakistan, Afghanistan: Iraq: Iran: Syria etc. etc. contributes to negative views. There is “NO deep distrust with which Muslims are regarded”. Try a ‘scholarly’ commentary on the Koran, or a film on Islam. The prejudice comes from ordinary Muslims.Wheras Christians value commentary and can even laugh at themselves in comic strips and cartoons. Muslims not only can’t. Their response is violent and often deadly. That terror groups, ”... are a perversion of Sunni Islam” (and this) is evidenced in the fact that so many of its adherents know little of the religion itself ...” is not just Sunni. The Sh’ia and other Islamic fundamentalists contribute too. Most Christians, Buddhists and Hindus hold violent radicalism to be aberrations. It is hoped we have ‘grown up’ since Hitler’s Holocaust and the genocidal activities of Communism. Another assumption is the western world has “long regarded ...the Quran a fundamentally more violent book than the Bible”. Educated Christians know the New Testament is vicariously responsible for Jewish pogroms, the Crusades and many other horrors that equal the IS atrocities. Secularism, i.e. separation of Church and State, does have benefits. Third, “Islam ... has never been sanctioned by the west”. Actually, in the West we have long laboured under the myth that Islam nurtured and ‘saved’ Western science and art in the “Dark Ages” and overlook the bloodbath of Europe and Asia under Islam at that time.

Dr Karl H Cameron-Jackson | 15 September 2014  

While many Muslims indeed regard terrorism as an inauthentic expression of Islam, Australia’s Muslim leaders do not seem to share this view: sixty of them strenuously opposed Tony Abbott’s withdrawal of taxpayer-funded welfare payments to identified Australian terrorists, denouncing the move as an attack on Muslims. This is but one indicator of the confusion amongst Muslim adherents themselves as to the place of terrorism in Islam. Thus, while it would be wrong and unjust to accuse every Muslim of harbouring terrorist sympathies, it would be equally mistaken to assume any given Muslim must ipso facto abhor terrorism. Anyway, to some extent the discussion about authentic and inauthentic expressions of Islam is academic. What is undeniable is that Islam is at least a very strong proxy for contemporary terrorism, given that some 23000 fatal terrorist acts since 2001 have been carried out in its name as opposed to the handful of terrorist acts carried out otherwise. Whether one calls the perpetrators apostates, impostors or fanatical fundamentalists is irrelevant for practical purposes. As long as Islam, unintentionally or not, keeps engendering them, it is prudent and just for governments to construct policies for Muslims, either directly under their rule or indirectly as prospective immigrants, with this phenomenon in mind.

HH | 16 September 2014  

Commentators such as Thomas Friedman and Brian Doyle it would seem can only hear a "roar" of protest. They need to listen more attentively. Many years ago I was privileged to participate in a dialogue on the theme of terrorism at al Azhar university. At present I work with a colleague who is an Imam. From listening, I am learning that many Muslims do not approve of violence. I do not need a "roar" to convince me.

Brian Johnstone | 28 September 2014  

Brian, what counts for you as "violence"? I think stoning adulterers and executing apostates and homosexuals counts as violence. Yet thumping majorities of Muslims in countries the world over support these punishments. Does your Imam colleague openly preach against them? Even if so, he is in a very small minority.

HH | 08 October 2014