(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.
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
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.)
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