THE LEVANT NEWS– By Ghassan Rubeiz — Should we be fearful of Muslims in our community? Regrettably, this regressive question is one of the most hotly debated issues in the current US presidential race. To win the war on terror Western societies should be more inclusive, not less. The current debate on terror is not helpful.
Donald Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering America is a policy of irrational fear, a narrative reinforcing the Islamic State’s (ISIL) world-view. Discrimination based on religious affiliation creates psychological barriers and generates cultural conflict as well as wars.
To be fair, the rising tide of fear of assimilation of Muslims in America and other Western societies has not come about spontaneously. Terrorism perpetrated by Muslims has indeed increased markedly in recent times. However, it is not Islam, the faith, which has generated violence; it is rather the political environment of Muslim societies which generates violence. Injustice and suffering darken Muslim’s view of the world and arouse hostility toward local authority and the West.
The global picture of Muslims is telling: A billion and a half Muslims conduct their lives routinely, going to work, sending their children to school and praying for a better day. It is noteworthy that foreign tourists are still safe walking at midnight on the streets of overcrowded Cairo, Karachi or Istanbul.
Examining the relation of Islam to violence is a daunting exercise; causation is equivocal. One has to factor in the method of teaching faith as well as the socio political conditions under which religion is acquired, in order to logically analyze the relationship between Islamic beliefs and human behavior.
In Muslim societies not long ago religion was the glue holding communities together and maintaining stability. Arabs had been passive for centuries: tolerant of tyranny, hypocrisy, unfair distribution of resources, gender inequality, foreign intervention, unlawful occupation and archaic religious institutions. But in recent years Muslim societies have become less tolerant of injustice. Their reformers have so far failed to find adequate political solutions to this predicament. Terrorist leaders, on the other hand, have seductively proposed simplistic, counterproductive “solutions”.
Prophetic voices in the Arab world are emerging. With strong conviction the feminist writer Leila Ahmed witnesses her Islam (A Border Passage) through inspirational writing. She says she learned Islam from her grandmother at the kitchen table, not from bearded patriarchal figures. Ahmed adds that most Muslims acquire religion informally at home. If the parents are liberal the children grow up to be liberal. Ahmed points out that most Muslims acquire their faith not by reading the written text. She adds that the Islamic oral tradition is open to personal interpretation and adaptation to local culture.
Prejudice is a byproduct of ignorance. The most vocal crusaders against Islam are those who lack personal contact with Muslims. It is hard to find Islamophobes who have lived in Muslim countries for long periods or have Muslim contacts here in America.
Nicolas Henin, a French journalist and author (Jihad Academy: The Islamic State) who was imprisoned by ISIS for several months, explains that most ISIS leaders are new converts to Islam or “born-again” Muslims. Henin asserts that Muslims who grow up in the faith “are vaccinated” against succumbing to terrorism.
The unifying concept of the Islamic State is the separation of Muslims from the world. And policies which make life uncomfortable for Muslim Americans feed the narrative of the global terrorist. Promoting diversity is the right weapon against fear mongering and prejudice whether it comes from reactionary Islamists or Western politicians.
A more pertinent question is how to work with Muslim communities of America to confront rising terrorism. Muslim Americans are eager to help in defending America from Islamic terrorists, domestically and abroad. By addressing terrorism in close and genuine cooperation with Muslim Americans policy makers will guarantee results and give new depth to American values.