Culture Ethics

Should all Muslims be singled out for the actions of a few? (COMMENTARY)

Washington DC and other transit systems are now refusing all issue ads to avoid being forced to use inflammatory ads from Pamela Geller's anti-Muslim group American Freedom Defense Initiative. Photo by Mike Stone, courtesy of Reuters.
Political blogger Pamela Geller, American Freedom Defense Initiative's Houston-based founder, speaks at the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. Two gunmen opened fire on Sunday at the art exhibit in Garland, Texas, that was organized by an anti-Islamic group and featured caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad and were themselves shot dead at the scene by police officers, city officials and police said. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Stone  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LAWRENCE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on May 6, 2015.

Political blogger Pamela Geller, American Freedom Defense Initiative’s Houston-based founder, speaks at the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. Two gunmen opened fire on Sunday at the art exhibit in Garland, Texas, that was organized by an anti-Islamic group and featured caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad and were themselves shot dead at the scene by police officers, city officials and police said. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mike Stone
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LAWRENCE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on May 6, 2015.

(RNS) What followed after two gunmen were killed trying to carry out an attack on an anti-Muslim “Draw Muhammad Contest” was predictable.

Pamela Geller, the organizer of the event, called for war, American Muslims condemned the attack, and the mainstream media rehashed the very old and exhausting debate about whether Islam has a violence problem.

This routine unfortunately reeks of collective responsibility, an antithesis to sound moral ethics in all societies, including Western ones. While the concept holds no legal recourse, it should nonetheless be considered morally outrageous for one community to condemn the actions of those over which it has no influence.

Collective responsibility

Since the events of 9/11, this trend of moderate Muslims’ routinely having to condemn terror attacks by individual Muslims and Muslim groups continues unabated. Calls for reform in Islam and the burden placed on “moderate” Muslims to take back their religion from radicals have been repeatedly demanded. Such a suggestion not only singles out Muslims but betrays the largely agreed principle among philosophers and international law scholars that no one group should be held accountable for the actions of a few.

Renowned political science Professor James W. Garner wrote in 1917 that “the theory of collective responsibility, even when applied in its mildest form, necessarily involves the punishment of innocent persons, and for this reason it ought never to be resorted to when other more just measures would accomplish the same end.” For some, the concept ought to completely disappear.

Philosophy professor Jan Narveson at the University of Waterloo thinks collective responsibility is a slippery slope that treats others unfairly. While perpetrators of violence should face the consequences, he said:

“… individuals in that group who do nothing of the sort, and perhaps exert themselves to prevent other members from so acting, or try to shield the oppressed from their actions, simply are not guilty, and may not properly be thought to be so.”

To follow Narveson’s logic, Muslim organizations have tirelessly condemned terrorist acts committed by individual Muslims in the post-9/11 era. Nevertheless, the mainstream media have not budged in their dubious claims that Muslims need to “do more.”

Media portrayal of Muslims

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance writer living in Canada who has written on current affairs for publications including Al Jazeera America, PolicyMic,  and Mondoweiss. Photo courtesy of Usaid Siddiqui

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance writer living in Canada who has written on current affairs for publications including Al-Jazeera America, PolicyMic and Mondoweiss. Photo courtesy of Usaid Siddiqui

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fervent Islam critic and a media darling on all things Muslim, insists that Islam needs reform to stop the violence emanating from its populace. She urges Muslims to overhaul their teachings and align with other religions that have supposedly already reformed.

Hirsi Ali once called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death.” While she seems to have toned down her language, she has yet to apologize for her past inflammatory comments. In giving voice to her simplistic views, the mainstream media have played a significant part in creating a false narrative of Islam and Muslims.

In the aftermath of the Garland, Texas, attack, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity brought on Anjem Choudary, a British Muslim who believes in global implementation of Shariah, to debate with Geller. The former has little credibility in the Muslim community in England or abroad and was once described by journalist Mehdi Hasan as a “blowhard.”

Earlier this year, Don Lemon of CNN asked a prominent and well-respected Muslim lawyer and commentator, Arsalan Iftikhar, if he supported the Islamic State group. This was after Iftikhar had expressed disgust with Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris and condemned the killings as a “crime against humanity.”

As with Iftikhar, there remains no shortage of condemnatory statements from Muslim individuals and organizations making it clear that they do not subscribe to Islamic State militants. In the ever-expanding information age, finding out what Muslims think or what Islam says about violence should hardly be an issue.

In light of this reality, for Muslims to continue apologizing and even worse be expected to, is meaningless.  Disclaimers such as “Islam is a religion of peace” to prove one’s commitment to nonviolence are silly. Rather, the debate should be around why the Hirsi Alis and Gellers continue to be given airtime to ostracize an already suffocated minority.

Meanwhile, Muslims should denounce any attack against civilians but as citizens of a diverse integrated populace, not a suspicious other.

(Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance writer living in Canada. He has written on current affairs for publications including Al-Jazeera America, PolicyMic and Mondoweiss.)

YS/MG END SIDDIQUI

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Usaid Siddiqui

6 Comments

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  • “[Anjem Choudary] .has little credibility in the Muslim community in England or abroad ”

    Not as much as you, right?

  • “it should nonetheless be considered morally outrageous for one community to condemn the actions of those over which it has no influence.”

    “but betrays the largely agreed principle among philosophers and international law scholars that no one group should be held accountable for the actions of a few.”

    Regularly, on these very pages, anti gay commenters claim that all gay people should be held accountable to for the actions of a few, usually I identified but allegedly gay, people. Anonymous sends a packet of white powder to a church, gay people are vicious. Someone sues a vendor or protests and anti-gay statement, and all gay people are suddenly vicious fascists intent on destroying Christianity.

    And not one so called good Christian calls them out on it.

    Amazing how it all depends on whose ox is getting Gored.

  • Re: “The former [i.e. Anjem Choudary] has little credibility in the Muslim community in England or abroad and was once described by journalist Mehdi Hasan as a ‘blowhard.'”

    Yet, despite this lack of credibility, he still has his mosque and still teaches … well, whatever it is that he teaches. Why is this the case? Why has he not been shut down, deprived of whatever preaching credentials he may have, whatever? Is it enough just to sit back and decide that he has no “credibility,” therefore he can just keep his mosque and continue blathering on however he wants to? When does someone decide that enough is enough with him?

    (Yes, I do, and have, asked the same question of creepazoid Christian preachers like Marion ‘Pat’ Robertson, who’s dallied with tyrannical African dictators and other assorted questionable creatures. I have no idea how or why he’s still on the air, either. But he isn’t at issue here.)

  • Re: “Someone sues a vendor or protests and anti-gay statement, and all gay people are suddenly vicious fascists intent on destroying Christianity.

    And not one so called good Christian calls them out on it.”

    It’s called “never admitting any possibility of any flaw, ever, with anyone else who’s on the same ‘team’.” Because then one runs the risk of admitting one’s religion might not be as flawless and perfect as one claims it is … and that’s simply impermissible. All religions do it, to one extent or another, because of the insecurity they feel, which is a product of their indemonstrable metaphysics.

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