Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Confluences & Challenges

Images show the transformation of Mohammad Abdulazeez, who killed five service members in a rampage in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 2015. His family said he had a history of depression and addiction. He was killed shortly after the attack. Facebook and Yearbook

Mateen had a troubled past. Why isn’t that the story? Indeed, why is the Islamist label so hard to shake when it comes to lone-wolf attacks perpetrated by people from Muslim background? Because there is a high-profile terrorist organization out there openly calling for such attacks to take place and not simply engaging in hate speech or speaking in hypothetical terms. That its calls tend to resonate more profoundly with troubled and mentally ill individuals is natural. The way the process of radicalization works in this situation, relying as it is on self-motivation, makes preemption well-nigh impossible. Yet, the absence of direct linkage between most attackers and the organization does not take away from the role of ideology in cementing the resolve of the attacker during those crucial moments leading up to the attack. The personal dimension, psychological and social, prepares the ground for radicalization, but it takes ideology to seal the deal.

The Western media’s preoccupation with the background of the attackers is equally natural considering their awareness of the overall geopolitical context for the attacks. If there is any bias here, at least in regard to how mainstream media outlets handle the situation, it comes often as a reflection of the media’s structural affinity for sensationalism rather than an inherent anti-Muslim bias. But restricting the usage of the “terrorist” label only to cases of Muslim attackers does speak of a latent bias, perhaps stemming from the lingering “otherness” of Muslims in popular Western consciousness. This phenomenon needs to be properly addressed by those in charge of running mainstream media. There is a need for the adoption of clear objective standards in this regard.

Yes, the West’s Muslim population should be concerned about the overall impact of this situation on their future wellbeing. But fear of rightwing backlash does not justify silence or recalcitrance in the face of the hate within. Islamists represent a problem for Muslims above all, and can only be defeated by other Muslims. Traditional Muslims, however, need not give up their cherished beliefs. As is the case with other traditional faith systems, Islam is being continuingly reinvented by its followers, and not all reinventions are good or popular. This process is not simply natural and unstoppable: it’s gone on hyper-drive these days due to a variety of socioeconomic and political factors. Agreeing on a “right” and “modern” version of Islam is not what’s stake here and should not be. This would be a fool’s errand. In matters of faith, disagreement and reaching different conclusions on all sorts of issues is the rule, and the idea is to find ways that allow for this disagreement to manifest without causing social instability or harming individual and collective rights. In other words, Muslims need to agree on one thing: that there is no worldly authority tasked with determining which faith and which version of the faith is true, and that only the most extreme interpretations and practices, those calling for violence and bloodshed, and for restricting the basic freedoms of various individuals and groups need to be rejected and criminalized. The real challenge facing Muslims today revolves around the need for revising their understanding of the concept of public and private spheres, expanding the role and area of the latter. 

Murdered British Lawmaker Jo Cox Advocated for Syrians in This Powerful Speech. “On refugees, given the escalation of the violence in Aleppo and lack of medical care available there now, what further can the U.K. do to get the most vulnerable people out of harm’s way?” Cox asked. “And surely, given what we know about the horror that many of the refugee children in Europe have fled, isn’t it time to end the government’s shameful refusal to give 3,000 unaccompanied children sanctuary here in the U.K.?”

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