On Christmas day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines flight arriving from Amsterdam in Detroit. Though he is Nigerian, he has alleged contacts with al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. This event would spur a new round of Islamophobia in which western residents would make apologist arguments regarding violence and paint all those of Muslim faith as violent threats to society.
Rather than dealing with the issues that lead to violent action, the default answer has been racial profiling. Birmingham Labour MP Perry Barr Khalid Mahmood, who is Muslim, stated:
“I think most people would rather be profiled than blown up… It wouldn’t be victimisation of an entire community. If people want to fly safely, we have to take measures to stop things like the Christmas Day plot. Profiling may have to be the price we have to pay. The fact is the majority of people who have carried out or planned these terror attacks have been Muslims.”
This mirrors Anne Coulter’s rhetoric: “Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim.” This kind of logic can only be understood if the working definition of terrorist is applicable only to those who practice Islam. It further characterizes all Westerners as good and pure, thereby demonizing Muslims.
On January 4th, it was reported that a Molotov cocktail (bomb) had been thrown inside of largest mosque in Hamilton, Ontario. The mosque is also the home of the Islamic School of Hamilton. The school educates two hundred children between kindergarten and grade eight. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack. According to the Hamilton Spectator, the police are investigating the attack as a hate crime. This is the second time this mosque has been attacked. Nowhere in the reporting on this incident have the words “terrorist attack” been used.
MP David Christopherson expressed his pleasure that this incident was being investigated by the police and declared, “We have racism in our community, but we are not a racist society.” I suppose it was accidental that both times in which there has been an air attack on the U.S. by a Muslim, this mosque has been attacked. It certainly could not speak to the ways in which Canadians view those practicing the Muslim faith.
According to the L.A Times, a burned and torn copy of the Koran was found during New Year’s Day prayers at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. The proximity to the attempted bombing on Christmas Day suggests that this event was meant to terrorize the local Muslim community as a twisted kind of retribution.
The Telegraph reports that Cradley Heath Mosque and Islamic Centre in Plant Street, near Dudley in the West Midlands, was burned to the ground on Boxing Day. The fire crews have determined that the fire was set intentionally:
“This is not the first time we have been targeted,” said Vasharat Ali, secretary of the mosque and Islamic centre. “There was a similar attack four or five years ago.”
It is not only mosques that have been attacked. Muslim women have repeatedly had their headscarves ripped from their heads. Victims like Rehana Sidat have found that the justice system has failed to properly punish the perpetrators. Being ordered to pay fines and issue apologies has done nothing to halt these violent attacks.
Violence against Muslims and desecration mosques is on the rise. We do not see these incidents as terrorist acts or even as interconnected. This kind of compartmentalization allows Westerners to avoid the label of “terrorist,” thus further stigmatizing Muslims.
In news reports, the actions of one become indicative of all of those who practice the Muslim faith. The communal approach to cast a culture and people as deviant is not unique to Muslims; in fact, this is a social practice that we can see in attacks against the GLBT community, Blacks, and the differently abled. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that when it is experienced, it is easy to identify it for what it is; only when our personal biases come to the forefront do we forget what it is to be a victim of this type of profiling and social intolerance.
We often demand that the Muslim community identify those who have violent intentions, yet no such pressure is placed upon the larger Western society to regulate those who are Islamophobic. Their actions are understood to be acceptable, because they are framed as reactionary. This, in turn, erases our communal responsibility for the violent actions that Western governments have engaged in for decades in the Middle East.
Is there really a difference between strapping an explosive to yourself to blow up a building or plane and dropping bombs which kill people whose eyes you will never see? Is there really any difference between the extremist language on Islamic websites and the burning of the Koran or spraying graffiti on the walls of a mosque?
We resist having conversations on our communal responsibility because in Jihad vs McWorld, the roles have already been assigned and everyone knows that not only do the “good guys” wear white, they generally are White. This is specifically why in all of conversations regarding profiling, we continually fail to acknowledge that White Muslims do indeed exist. The policies that the Western world hopes to invoke serve two purposes; they normalize Islamophobia and insist that people of colour are backward and violent. This is seen a win-win for the ruling elite.
Western nations are secular and yet religion is often the basis of sanctioned attacks on Middle Eastern countries. In our decidedly God-fearing societies, we extol the merits of Christianity, pretending that events like the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition did not occur. History can only be your friend when it highlights your virtues rather than reveals that you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When Europe was still mired in superstition, the Middle East was the home of human advancement; however, to truly own that history would require admitting that no single group represents the best of human achievement.
McWorld Vs Jihad is truly an outmoded binary. A reductionist understanding of human social engagements just leads to more violence and bloodshed. The supposed victor, in the end, will rewrite the history of these events and the defeated will be silenced and ignored; however, we all will have lost the opportunity to understand that it is our differences, rather than our similarities, which make us a unique and beautiful species. One man’s terrorist will always and forever be another man’s hero. We would at least manage to understand that, if our purpose truly was honouring the sanctity of human life.