Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lecture 2: Moderate Muslims & Global Village

In the first lecture we discussed the issue of global pillage in relation to US Cold War policy and the rise of international Islamic terrorism. In this lecture we will deal more with the subject of global village in terms of how Muslims have taken advantage of globalization processes to create moderate religious developments, and more specifically how Muslims have contributed to a moderate form of Islam.
But how do we study Muslims in a global context when there are so many differences based on class, geography, ethnicity, language, and sectarianism among Muslims worldwide? Well, we will attempt to look at global processes and movements initiated by Muslims on a global scale and in local contexts.

You may be familiar with Gallup polling and statistics concerning politics. Gallup has also undertaken the first global survey poll of Muslims that meets the statistical standards of sociological survey research. So, Gallup was able to draw some statistical conclusions about Muslims worldwide based on their representative sample of surveys of Muslims in numerous countries conducted through 2007. The most conclusive issue is that only 7% of Muslims condone the 9/11 attacks, which shows that terrorism is opposed by 93% of Muslims worldwide. American Muslims are more likely than any other religious group to reject violence and also express loyalty o the US and a desire to work with Israel for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before we get into the American context, I want you to know that there are moderate Muslims everywhere, and a good example is a middle-class version of moderate Islam based out of Egypt by the popular tele-evangelist Amr Khaled. His show is watched by young Muslims all over the Arab world and he is actually more popular than Oprah! Check him out.

Where are the moderate Muslims?

This question has been posed thousands of times by journalists, politicians, pundits and in casual public conversations in the wake of 9/11. When people ask the moderate question they usually want to know why Muslims do not speak out against terrorism committed in the name of Islam. Well, Muslims have spoken out on television, on the internet, in public rallies and protests against terrorism, and also against the Iraq war, at Muslim and interfaith conferences, at local town hall type meetings, in the White House and almost any other place you can think of as a potential platform to speak out against terrorism. But it never seems to be adequate enough because the question is asked so often that it has become a cliché and often appears as if it is more often than not a way of criticizing Muslims, rather than genuinely wanting to hear moderate voices.

An online Muslim newspaper, The American Muslim, argues that the media has 'selective hearing' because Muslims have spoken out so much that there is no way that the media is unaware. Here is a classic example: 

"A few months ago, Thomas Friedman made the same error in an article If It’s A Muslim Problem It Needs a Muslim Solution in which he said “To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.”

"We have collected 105 fatwas from Islamic scholars, 75 statements by Islamic Organizations (many of these signed by anywhere from 50 to 500 scholars from around the world), and 142 statements by individual Muslims.  These are from 30 countries including:  Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Chechnya, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, New Zealand,  Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, U.S., Yemen." 

"They speak clearly against terrorism, suicide bombing, kidnapping, harming civilians, harming places of worship, weapons of mass destruction.  They clarify the Islamic position on minority rights and apostasy.  Some directly condemn al-Qaeda and bin Laden, and specific acts like 9/11 or the Madrid bombing."

So why would the media have a vested interest in criticizing Muslims for not speaking out against violence when they clearly have done so? Why does the media not educate the public about this? If a newspaper of magazine usually prints something that is false then they typically publish a retraction and correction, so why is this not done even when massive amounts of information have been provided to television and print media?

Please read the following links by Khaled Abou El Fadl: Battling Islamic Puritans and Shari'a against Terrorism.

In the short editorial by Khaled Abou El Fadl (an authority on Islamic law) you read about how the Islamic legal tradition has clearly defined and condemned acts classified as terrorism. He points out that terrorist groups are mostly influenced by anti-colonial movements from the Third World, and that they contradict the heritage of Islamic legal thought contained in the shari‘a.

Abou EL Fadl is described by a journalist as being an emblematic symbol of moderate Muslims in America who are taking up the issue of internal self-assessment and constructive criticism within the Muslim community in the news article, ‘Battling Islamic Puritans’. In social contexts in which Islam and Muslims are extremely scrutinized, however, many Muslims have reduced Islam to slogans and legalistic prohibitions, which disallows Muslims the freedom and experimentation to debate and negotiate the diverse trends within the history of Islamic thought and practice by silencing this tradition in the name of protecting Islam. Abou El Fadl tries to remind his readers of the ethical and humane ideals that is essential to what he believes define Islam as a religion of moderation that is based on the shari‘a. He is one of only a very small number Muslim legal authorities trained at such a reputable institution as al-Azhar in Cairo, while simultaneously holding a law degree and PhD in Islamic Studies and Law from US universities.

This has led Abou El Fadl to argue that there is a distinction between the balanced and moderate authoritative heritage of Islam and the current widespread authoritarian nature of Muslim thought that silences internal debates in the same manner that authoritarian regimes in Middle Eastern countries limit public debate and dissent. For him, the two forms of authoritarianism are un-Islamic by-products of the socio-political climate that reflects the state of many Muslim majority societies. He has also written that Muslims who claim to know precisely what Allah has willed and thought is an expression of ignorance, and he continuously tries to show that the search for knowledge and understanding begins with acknowledging that one recognizes that his or her perspective should not be mistaken for the will of God because that deifies one's ego. In contrast, he has argued that admitting that the individual may be mistaken or incorrect is the foundation to begin the study of sacred sources because humans and their minds are fallible, which requires a constant search for truth and a reading of the heritage of the great minds of the past. I hope this helps you to see how America has become a refuge for moderate Muslims who are having an impact globally.

So, with all of the moderate Muslim voices, why do media outlets focus more on the Muslim threat angle? Well, this video outlines research findings about an Islamophobia network linked to conservative political anti-Islamic Euro-terrorism and conservative Israel-allied political groups:

In 2010 this network of media activists garnered opposition to a Muslim Community Center, called the Park 51 mosque, but in the media and larger public it was called the Ground Zero mosque. Through Pamela Geller's anti-Islamic blog, Atlas Shrugs, this site became the biggest news story of 2010 (see here). Mass protests and at least one killing of a Muslim taxi driver resulted from this campaign against the alleged Ground Zero mosque. The following video gives you a good overview:

Despite claims that American Muslims are security threats, Muslim communities have been instrumental in helping US security agencies to identify potential threats. But still myths about Muslims in America being a security threat persist, which is why you should read the following 5 Myths about Muslims article. As Muslims seek to define themselves as fully American and Muslim they are often pressured to criticize one or the other since the are perceived as incompatible. Here is a good piece noting that an Arab-American recently won Miss America and that an Arab Muslim community had their own reality tv show, All-American Muslim.

We now have to think about the long history of ethnic and religious minorities in the US. The following video was put out by a group of Muslims during the 2010 uproar over the so-called Ground Zero mosque. In the video American Muslims are trying to show that they are a part of American life and that they stand in a long tradition of minority struggles for acceptance as part of the nation.

As those who seek to define Muslims as a threat to the nation both internationally and domestically, Muslims are pursuing multiple paths to demonstrate their place in American society as a minority that is making valuable contributions to American society and its security. While debates about Islam being a global threat persist, American Muslims are responding to this globalization narrative with their own narratives about being American as moderate Muslims.A good way to end the course is with the award-winning song, A Land Called Paradise, by an Egyptian-American Muslim cowboy from Oklahoma, Kareem Salama. Producer, Lena Khan, sent out an email to American Muslims asking them about what they would like fellow Americans to know about them. The placards you see in the video are what American Muslims had to say. This video has been used in US embassies across the globe as a peacebuilding initiative for how the US and Islam can stand in a positive relationship with one another.