Guilty until proven innocent?
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Friday February 22 2019
Liam Neeson created a media storm after admitting that he wanted violent revenge against black men after hearing that his friend had been attacked by a black man. Despite the polarised opinions that have flooded the media since his confession, the situation has provoked discussion that more often than not, ethnic or religious groups are homogenised whereby the guilt of an individual presumes the guilt of the entire group. This is particularly evident when Muslim communities are homogenised and stereotyped as “terrorists” which puts an immense pressure on Muslims to justify their religious conviction and faith. Muslims are being questioned, suspected, criticised and interrogated, presuming a predisposition to terrorism.
Unlike non-Muslim communities, Muslims are also expected to prove themselves by condemning every single terrorist attack to “reassure” wider society that they are not a threat. Green (2018) writes “the presumption of guilt is an exercise in racist scapegoating. It enables us to project our sins of commission and omission onto the Muslim ‘Other’ so that we need not come to terms with our own history of unjust violence or our own complicity in a violent world order.” This means that additional factors such as socio-economic conditions or foreign policy are not taken into consideration in the debate about terrorism and preventing extremism.
The emphasis that all Muslims are complicit to terrorism has also been echoed by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid who previously stated: “although we all share the responsibility for tackling terrorism, there’s a special, unique burden on the Muslim community.” He also added that “There’s no avoiding the fact that these people think they are Muslims. They identify as Muslims. And they carry out their attacks – ignorantly, offensively – in the name of Islam” A statement like this gives credence to Islamophobic tropes which is then used to justify violence against ordinary Muslim citizens and to legitimately orchestrate the “War on Terror.” Furthermore, it overlooks the fact that many well-known, credible scholars have spoken out to condemn terrorism, from Sheikh Afifi Aikiti in the UK to Sheikh Tahir-Ul Qadri in Pakistan and Imam Suhaib Webb in USA.
Although there is some truth to this statement (as many terrorists do proclaim to be adherents of Islam, or act in the name of Islam), why should the Muslim community be held collectively responsible for criminal acts of such individuals in a way that no other religious or ethnic community is? Individuals commit crimes, not religious communities. Mr Javid should thus look to the overwhelming majority of what is a diverse, global Muslim population of 1.6 billion people. Islam is faith that promotes compassion, mercy and faith in One God and for the majority of Muslims across the world it is a spiritual guide to lead a peaceful and relatively ordinary life. However, stories of ordinary, mainstream Muslims are not narrated because they are so tediously ordinary. The majority of ordinary Muslims do not serve to maximise profit nor do they reinforce the Islamophobic narratives that Muslims are inherently violent, barbaric or incompatible with the West.
Robert Pape from the University of Chicago and one of the leading experts on terrorism, conducted research on every case of suicide terrorism from 1980-2005 and concluded “there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any of the world’s religions. Rather what they all seem to have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from territories that the terrorists consider to be their homeland” which illustrates that terrorism is politically motivated. This is also evident with the fact that most victims of ISIS attacks are in fact Muslim themselves, thus undermining the argument that Muslims are waging a war against non-believers.
The assumption that all Muslims are terrorist is equally as absurd as assuming all Christians are homophobic because of Westboro Baptist Church or racist and violent because of the KKK or the Lord’s Resistance Army. We do not expect any members of the Christian community to condemn these views because we understand that these are fringe extremist groups and it is only fair that the same courtesy is extended to Muslim communities.