Islamic Humiliation and the West
The dust has begun to clear and new light has been shed on the horrific events of two weeks ago. Citing the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposure to extremist websites, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two conspirators, has given us some inkling of the motive behind this most recent act of theocratically-inspired carnage.
The continued speculation about how and why this happened reveals the extent to which history has been quick to recede from our collective memory. Only two years ago, an avowal of an equally mangled and ill-formed conscience came from Faizal Shahzad, another American and self-radicalized Muslim soldier ("Mujahid") who in May of 2010 attempted to blow up Times Square using a car full of explosives. "One has to understand where I'm coming from," he said in his guilty plea. "The US and NATO forces, along with 40, 50 other countries attacked Muslim lands."
The confession of America's most recent assailant also seems to echo and vibrate in the biography of John Walker Lindh, the young Californian-turned-Islamic-radical captured while fighting for the Taliban after pledging loyalty to sharia law and the ongoing jihadist project to overwhelm Islam's enemies, particularly the Hindus of Kashmir.
Unsurprisingly, some Muslim Americans have already begun to divorce last week's attack from Islamic theology and to play up political factors. The Muslim American comedian, Dean Obeidalla, had the following to say: "The unique problem for Muslims is that our faith is being increasingly defined by the actions of a tiny group of morally bankrupt terrorists. Just to be clear: The people who commit violence in the name of Islam are not Muslims, they are murderers. Their true religion is hatred and inhumanity."
This reflexive call to distinguish a "true" Islam from a "false" one and, by extension, of "authentic"from "wayward" believers has become proverbial in the wake of attacks committed in the name of Islam, not only in the U.S. but in many countries where jihadist violence falls at the feet of a Muslim minority.
"We hate these terrorists more than non-Muslims," Obeidalla continues. "How can I say that? Because they harm innocent people in the name of our religion and consequently we suffer a backlash because of their acts. It can be anything from a spike in hate crimes to people viewing Muslims as less than fully American because of our faith."
Such sentiments of shared religious victimhood and embarrassment may seem entirely licensed in a climate of so-called "Islamophobia" -- a politically-manufactured term that has been allowed to roost in public discourse by veiling the distinction (if you'll pardon the pun) between critique of an ideology and racial hatred. It may well be true that the majority of Muslims at home and abroad do not feel inclined to follow in the footsteps of what Obeidalla calls a "tiny group," but Muslim humiliation and the way in which that humiliation is expressed is becoming an albatross of alarming dimensions.
The collective shame of Muslims is saliently mentioned as the source of Islamic honor killings, when, through a perceived betrayal of rules regarding contact with infidel culture, many Muslim women living in the West have found themselves subject to vigilante justice at the hands of their own relatives. An untold number of women are threatened and/or killed every year in order to offset" injury" done to Islam and to mollify the shame of the family.
It is also cited as the basis for violence committed in response to crimes of idolatry and blasphemy in the West, such as those surrounding the publications of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons incident, or the trailer associated with the recent anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims. In all of these cases, Islamic "humiliation" occasioned demonstrations of ferocious violence on a coordinated and global scale, including the targeted murder of unbelievers, the burning of embassies and of human effigies,and, most recently, the assassination of the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
However, the kind of humiliation to which Tsarnaev and Shahzad allude is especially insidious, given the abundant success of this brand of grievance narrative in attracting support and commiseration among liberal Westerners. The Tsarnaev brothers were neither Afghans nor Iraqis and opposed U.S. foreign policy not as a violation of the sovereign rights of nations and of their citizens, but as an incursion into Islam's dominions.
And yet somehow, despite the remarkable candor of America's aggressors, the jihadist tendency to allocate territory to Islam seems to have fallen on deaf ears and to have bypassed all scrutiny. Incidentally, Iraq was for a time an important center of Christianity in the Middle East, while Afghanistan harbored Hindu and Buddhist relics of incredible historical depth and significance up until the systematic erasure of these historical cultures and the destruction of their holy sites during the Talibanization of the region.
Moreover, the existence of entrenched laws hobbling and vetoing any challenge to Islam's legal and political supremacy have resulted in a mass exodus of religious minority communities from these countries and many others in recent decades, leaving behind what can only be described as hideous disfigurations of nation states, as in the case of Sudan and Saudi Arabia -- constructs of religious partition where doubters are viewed as subhuman and their beliefs and institutions are systematically ground to dust.
The terrible irony is that while many will be quick to parry the blame in this most recent tragedy away from jihadist doctrine with the twin aim of protecting minorities and promoting diversity, both of which constitute worthy causes in the context of an ethnically and religiously pluralistic democracy like ours, the political Islamic movement to which Tsarnaev adheres strives precisely to negate diversity as it relates to matters of conscience.
With the events of last week still fresh in our hearts and minds, the time has come to inform ourselves and to have an honest discussion not only about the structure and nature of Islam (and of its politicized offshoots in particular), but also about how to confront Islamic honor and shame and the unique and unwieldy burden it imposes on civil and free-thinking society.