In search of a magic bullet

Among the outpour of grief, loss, and prayers that have been triggered by the recent mass murders in the US and France, a less considerate reaction has been developing, the expansion of the blame pool.

As these events, unfortunately, become more frequent, the ballad of finger pointing is unnecessarily growing in complexity and scope. Previously these debates were well isolated among the lines of gun control and terrorism. With the spread of ISIS they have changed to include other domestic issues such as immigration, religion (clash of civilizations), and integration. And today the finger pointing has begun to include an even more specific group of individuals, moderate Muslims.

Time to do more

The headlines are quick to point out, moderate Muslims need to do more than just denounce violence committed in their religions name; they need to act out against it. And with that rhetoric, somehow the biggest victims of terrorism are also burdened with the responsibility of defeating it.

Now this might be an attractive proposition, Muslims, after all, are present at the frontline of terrorism. They can understand the religious motivations of extremists and can intervene in communities to help stop “radicalization”.

Unfortunately though, that’s not how religion works. To assume that individuals who belong to the same religion somehow also possess cohesion and an organized ability to confront extremist elements is both under sighted to individual experiences, and turns a blind eye to the plethora of elements that lead to extremist actions including social and political isolation, economic disparity, and weak administrative governance.

The term itself “Moderate Muslims” lacks any accurate or concise definition. However, as a construct it seems to provide a dichotomy between those who are and those who are not moderate, with those who are not moderate being the enemy.

If one was to assume this definition, the very notion in of itself self-destructs. If by definition, non-moderate Muslims individuals are extremists, how is it that they are, on a political/ideological level, supposed to be quelled by moderate Muslims? The very definition of extremism is a denial of any form of moderation. Being a moderate also hints at a weak association between religion and the “moderate” individual, in which case a moderate Muslim is really just a moderately religious person and does not identify themselves exclusively within that religion and don’t see that they act within it or for it. How then are they supposed to assume responsibility for something they don’t identify with?

Blaming moderate Muslims for not doing enough also robs them of their individual experiences. Moderate and progressive Muslims in the Middle East, those who support liberal ideals, already find themselves foreigners within their own authoritarian cultures. Weary of not being too vocal for what might be seen as dissonance against their families or society at large, they either end up being members of a subculture or immigrate to somewhere where they feel safer. How is it then that we are to expect “moderate” individuals to on board an ideological fight they want nothing to do with?

 Pluralistic responsibility

On a community level there also seems to be a call for local leaders, preachers, and communities as a whole to help counter and pre-empt the spread of extremism. No one would argue that this doesn’t require a level of organization and authority among representatives of the Muslim faith. But who lends these community leaders authority? And more importantly in areas of high risk within the greater Middle East who ensures these leaders remain safe from extremist elements? Surely we have now moved from an issue of community and individuals to an issue of governance and security and the argument of “moderate Muslims” falls flat again.

This rhetoric is paralleled within Muslim communities in Europe and the broader “west” especially within the context of new terror attacks and the refugee crisis. Here the argument, not dissimilar to the one made for the Middle East, is about the role of Muslim communities in policing and identifying potential threats. Of course this never takes into consideration social psychological and individual factors such as diffusion of responsibility. Scoping the problem under “Muslim communities” also diffuses the responsibility of domestic and local governments in engaging with their own citizens or “citizens in progress”, and discounts variables such as urbanization, economic disparity, and presents a manageable problem, not too dissimilar to inner-city violence during the 90’s in the US, as an uncontrollable oddity caused by religious affiliation over anything else sensationalizing term’s such as no-go zones.

Reality Check

It’s impossible, and would be unwise, to separate the terror activities occurring in the world around us from their religious connotations. ISIS, at the end of the day, is projecting itself on a platform of absolutist Islam through the re-emergence of a caliphate. But it remains important to separate the medium they use to attract support, from their pursuit of power and legitimacy within the Middle East and the world.

It’s also important to keep in mind the several interacting elements that have resulted in the creation of ISIS. From the role of political Islam in the region, failures of domestic modes of governance, historical context, military failures, and even the failure of foreign intervention and international agencies as a whole.

This entire rhetoric also does massive injustice to the fact that Muslims are at the forefront of both the brunt of ISIS’ terror as well as the boots on the ground taking back the territory that ISIS has previously gained.

In the western world the petty assignations of group titles such as that of “moderate Muslims” continue to be nothing more than lazy journalism disconnected from any sort of practical policy implications, a search for a magic bullet, a fix all solution to a multi-factor problem. Its only contribution being in that they further the notion that all Muslims are somehow complicit in the role of terror and are to be treated as guilty until proven innocent, while conveniently absolving local governments and international organizations from the shortcomings of their policies or lack thereof.

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