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How must Muslims react to Isis?

Militants from the Islamic State - Photograph: presstv.ir

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Muslims need not convince the world that Isis is not Islam. If anything, the burden should fall on Isis to convince the world that it is Islam, says Nicholas Chan.

I will begin by answering the question posed by the title. Muslims should react to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) no differently from anyone else.

Muslims should have the absolute freedom in choosing how to respond or whether to respond or not – simply because everyone else enjoys that kind of freedom. There should be no compulsion involved.

Yes, any right-minded person would not have condoned the Paris attacks. But was it fair that we single out a particular community to demand an explanation even when the overwhelming majority had nothing to do with it at all?

The Malaysian Hindus were not asked for their opinion about the communal violence in India, nor were the Buddhists about violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

A white supremacist shot up a church in Charleston in June 2015 and killed nine African Americans, but nobody would expect a ‘Caucasian’ response to reassure the world that being white did not equate to being a racist extremist.

The fact is, most of us can have the luxury to respond to global incidents in a public manner now is because technology enables us to. The so-called ‘Muslim’ response most people await would probably just be responses on social media.

But does silence on social media mean a person condones a particular action? I have dozens of non-Muslim friends who said nothing at all on social media with regards to the Paris attacks; some don’t even seem to have room to grief, judging by the merry barrage of vacation pictures that continue to swarm their walls.

So if a Starbucks-toting, islan-hopping non-Muslim is not considered to be insensitive or worse, ignorant of world tragedies, why must a Muslim’s perceived silence on the matter automatically become a presumption of endorsement?

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Reassurances ad infinitum

Don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy for the terrorists and was pretty glad that people like Jihadi John was taken care of. But equally important to the task of finding and eliminating the real terrorists is not to shove innocent people to their side.

Given the very heavy-handed approach most governments now employ to tackle terrorism, it is not difficult to imagine that anyone who is wrongly treated as a terrorist suspect might end up radicalised into one.

No doubt, the predominant form of terrorism today is those acts done in the name of Islam. But we are already entering the 14th year since 9/11 – how many more assurances does the world want from Muslims that Islam is not a violent religion?

Does such a proclamation, which is often gleefully taken up by some politicians just to exalt their international standing, even mean anything in the effort to combat violent extremism?

Surely if a husband needs to tell his wife every week that he is not cheating, the wife will think that the husband might actually be cheating on her.

Have we considered the fact that the more we say Islam is not violent, the more people will think it is? Are we unknowingly contributing to Islamophobia?

I recall reading an article titled ‘How to tell the difference between Isis and Muslims’. While the author meant well and was trying to curb Islamophobic thinking, it was probably doing more damage because it operated in the same pretext as the problematic mentality many harbour; that Muslims are Isis (or their sympathisers) until proven otherwise.

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The condescending and presumptive nature of such narratives would only invite more distrust and animosity. It spoke of a situation where counter-terrorism becomes synonymous with counter-Muslim.

Counter-effects of counter-terrorism discourses

Indeed, one should rethink current counter-terrorism efforts because it has not been producing the most desirable outcomes. So far, what we have are more deaths, more wars, and a more polarised world.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, terrorism-related deaths have risen to its highest in 15 years.

We are also faced with the situation where many people think of the world in Manichean terms, with people adopting identities in solitarist terms, constantly projecting the image of ‘evil’ on the ‘other’.

I am very upset by the position taken by some who seek to blame everything that happens in the Middle East on the West.

It is obvious that many of these people have a rather simplistic, lazy view of global affairs and are mindless subscribers to a victimhood-cum-supremacist mentality that can see no wrong from people they think are of their ‘kind’. I will write more about this mindset in the coming weeks.

Much have been said about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches to counter-terrorism, but what was lagging was the approach to reform the general discursive space where identities were treated as singular, monolithic objects.

A Muslim cannot have unfavourable views on the ‘West’ without being seen as a terrorist – although many non-Muslims harbour such views too. Ask any Chinese or Russian national and you will know.

As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen forewarned in his book Identity and Violence, any attempt at reducing the multi-faceted nature of identity would only risk more violence.

Therefore, we – all of us, regardless of faith – must also reflect on the nature of the discourses in a world that is heavily acclimatised by the ‘war on terror’” paradigm.

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This is because radicalisation often happens in a dyadic nature; the “with us or against us” mindset adorned by the Bush administration is now happily adopted by the enemy.

Isis has gone on persecuting, enslaving, and slaughtering people they considered to be infidels, including Muslim themselves. One’s fate and dignity is now hinged upon one particular identity, Sunni Muslim or not.

Let justice takes its course

Considering that Malaysia has a rather complete set of laws to deal with terrorism (some would argue an over-repressive set of laws), we as civilians must rightfully not worry that funders, supporters, and perpetrators of terror are not brought to justice.

In fact, an individual was even charged in court for having the Isis flag in his cellphone. With such legal instruments at hand, if anyone was to be brought to task should an act of terror erupt on our soil; it should be the authorities, not ordinary Muslims.

We have no business in policing a community based on their faith; nor is it right to do so. If someone has done something criminal, he/she should be treated with the full weight of the law, no matter what the religion is.

We must not be entrapped within the same dialectics that made Isis (and its many predecessors and spinoffs) into what they are today. It is ridiculous to treat someone for who they are, instead of what they have done.

Muslims need not convince the world that Isis is not Islam. If anything, it is Isis that should convince the world that it is Islam. And the more the world entertains the idea, the more victorious Isis is.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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