By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
20 Feb 2015
The reaction to the terrible Chapel Hill shooting, where three innocent Muslims lost their promising lives, bore another dark shade of tragedy. It is hard to recall a similar incident where so many people from so many different backgrounds were shamelessly united by a common cause of using dead bodies to further their agenda. Whether it was the Muslim world’s typical selectiveness in condemnation, the prominent Muslims in the West manifesting ‘atheismophobia’ or the illustrious atheists exhibiting the same defensiveness that they accuse the Islam apologists of, the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting was a massive assortment of hypocrisy.
While the reaction of the average Muslim living in our neck of the wood typically reeked of prejudice, it is prominent Muslim figures, quite often the flag-bearers of a moderate and progressive Islam, who took the cake. Reza Aslan, for example, launched his own ‘crusade’ against Richard Dawkins on Twitter, and wrote an entire article for Salon critiquing ‘New Atheism’ and ‘anti-theism’.
Aslan is among the most prominent voices downplaying the role of religion in Islamists conspicuously using religion to justify violence. So for him to start criticising ‘New Atheism’ and tout the negative influence of the likes of Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens over a crime where the only clue to an ideological motivation was the religious identities of the murderer and the victims, meant that he nullified most of his Islamic apologia. For, if Dawkins and Harris share the responsibility of a murder that one of their fans committed (not in their name) surely the blame for Islamists’ violence should also be similarly shared?
While the Muslims were almost ecstatic that a hate crime had been committed where they can mock people of another ideology, Dawkins manifested similar ecstasy when an apparent ‘parking space’ issue was peddled as a cause behind the attack. Visibly defensive about atheism throughout the day of the Chapel Hill shooting, Dawkins relentlessly tweeted about the ‘parking dispute’ when the news first broke.
While blaming atheism, the lack of belief, for the shooting is ridiculous – considering there’s no atheistic scripture to be interpreted (or misinterpreted) to endorse violence and the dearth of crimes committed ‘in the name of atheism’ – it is perfectly rational to discuss the rising anti-Muslim bigotry in the aftermath of the killings. By seemingly highlighting the ‘parking dispute’ – which might have been the immediate cause – as the main reason behind the attack, Dawkins manifested the same denialism that the likes of Noam Chomsky and George Galloway do with their fixation on Western imperialism in the aftermath of Islamist terrorism.
What the likes of Dawkins, Harris – and recently Bill Maher – need to be doing is to readdress the stereotypes that they have inadvertently proliferated about Muslims, instead of being defensive about atheism. For, when you tout Islam as ‘evil’ and in turn anyone holding Islamic beliefs as being dangerous, it is not implausible to see attacks against non-violent Muslims in retaliation to the terrorism in the name of Islam. Ironically, this would be a similar case of ‘self-defence’ and ‘fight for the greater good’ that the religious scriptures peddle.
Even so, while the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and Maher might have spread the stereotype of a monolithic Muslim world, we are the ones who have created and religiously stuck to endorsing the aforementioned stereotype. When most of us believe in and endorse the same Islamic laws as ISIS, al-Qaeda or TTP (i.e killing for blasphemy, apostasy, etc), as has been depicted by multiple surveys, we can’t blame people from other religions – or non-religion – not living within any proximity of the Muslim world for typecasting Muslims as intolerant or violent.
We can’t blame other communities for treating Muslims as a monolith, for there is no concept of a Muslim that is sceptical about the Islamic texts. That all Muslims treat the Islamic scriptures as the infallible, unalterable divine word – hence above reform – is not a stereotype created by the West; that’s how everyone in the Muslim World self-identifies, or is forced to do so. Hence, before using an isolated incident to launch our opportunistic bigotry against other communities, we need to realise and accept that the biggest – albeit not the only – cause behind the anti-Muslim bigotry is our virtually identical treatment of Islam and the religious scriptures.
The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter trending in Pakistan will not be laughable when we’re as vocal about Islamist violence in our own country, if not more. Peshawar and Lahore blasts have followed the Chapel Hill shooting, and we’re yet to see similar outrage. Instead of perpetuating a sense of victimhood, we need to realise that the biggest reason behind antagonism against Muslims, are we Muslims.
More than 5,000 people attended the funeral of Chapel Hill victims in the US. 30,000 Germans rallied against the anti-Muslim bigotry of PEGIDA in Dresden. The maximum turnout for protests against the Peshawar school attack was 300.
If the West is guilty of ‘Islamophobia’ how should we christen our reluctance to stand up for our own selves, looking at the mirror and finally identifying the elephant in the room?
"We can’t blame other communities for treating Muslims as a monolith, for there is no concept of a Muslim that is sceptical about the Islamic texts. That all Muslims treat the Islamic scriptures as the infallible, unalterable divine word – hence above reform – is not a stereotype created by the West; that’s how everyone in the Muslim World self-identifies, or is forced to do so."
What Mr. Shahid says is true. Intolerance to dissent among Muslims is intense, real and can be deadly. Reformist voices have to speak in muted tones, hence are seldom heard.