I want to wish you a blessed and happy belated (we’re never on time, I know) Eid-al-Adha. Given the news about Islam in the media the last few weeks, including some harsh exchanges on CNN with Reza Aslan and an HBO shouting match between Bill Maher and Sam Harris against Ben Affleck, Michael Steele, and Nicholas Kristof (this really happened. I’m as surprised as you are), I also wanted to give you a few tips about how to proceed with Eid celebrations and, in general, how to conduct yourselves (see non-Muslims, I’m doing my part!), even though I am not really representative of 1.5 billion people. No, from what I have gathered from the media, only members of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other fanatical groups get to be that.

First, given the lack of Muslims denouncing the violent acts of (fringe) Muslims (by all means, continue to ignore countless fatwas, protests, conferences, and public statements by Muslims against violent extremism), please be sure to denounce al-Qaeda. Denounce bin-Laden. Denounce 9/11. Denounce 7/7. Denounce (insert event/person neither you nor anybody claiming to be Muslim minus a microfraction of a microfraction of a percent of the populace have any connection with). Denounce hard-to-pronounce-for-white-people names. Denounce your cousin with the beard. Denounce facial hair (positive externality: this lets us denounce hipsters). Denounce kufis. Denounce things that haven’t even happened yet, just to be safe. Though, since you then might get blamed for those things, go ahead and denounce yourself, just to be safe. Also, in the midst of all this denouncing people/actions that, to a trained observer would appear to have practically no real connection to you (why do non-Muslims not have to apologize for the manyfold more [compared to Muslims] horrific acts committed in their name? Oh right, because this is a ridiculous idea, period), make sure the media covers it. If they choose to ignore you (and similar actions by millions of Muslims around the globe), its actually your fault, not theirs, when people keep pointing out that Muslims have not denounced violent extremism. If you really meant it, the press would cover it. Instead, this is just an example of taqiyya.

If you aren’t lying (you probably are, though), you also need to be careful not to upstage journalists (they’ll let anybody [not Muslim, obviously] on TV, huh) asking important (ignorant) questions about Islam being a religion of violence. For god’s sake, do not tell them their entire premise is empirically false. Don’t bring up the fact that your comments seem to be getting equal weight with a comedian’s, even though you may actually be an actual expert on the topic (Aslan, in this example, has a PhD focusing on the history of religion). Don’t remind them that they can’t claim a pretty broad causal relationship (Islam is violent) by picking a few examples of violent behavior amongst Muslims, while being unable to explain the lack of such behavior by the vast majority of Muslims (by the same logic, did you know that white people started almost every major world war? We should try to do something about them). Don’t correct them when they make leaps in generalization by explaining problems in one country as explained by a problem with a religion, without acknowledging any of the political or institutional issues in said country that have a lot more to do with the problem than religion. (Did you know that the very-Christian American South has some extremely racist and intellectually backwards people who used to regularly murder black people [to say nothing of the current issue of police brutality]? That parts of India have Hindus that murder Muslims? That Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have murdered Palestinians? That must mean that Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism promote violence, racism, and backwardness, right?) And, above all else, do not get agitated at all when they keep repeating these errors after you explain to them the problems with practically every point they have made (do journalists do any actual research before going on the air, or do they just wing it with talking points?). By agitated, I mean don’t even get moderately annoyed, because the latter will be seen as Muslim rage, which the media will then claim is proof that Muslims are angry and that the line of questioning was valid (keep in mind, Aslan was hardly “angry”, and, again, this is an absurd generalization, even if he was “angry” at journalists who absolutely didn’t do their job in the first place).

If you do manage to get on the media to talk about Islam (don’t hold your breath – most American media discussions about Islam involve zero Muslims), please be sure to never talk about political context. Ever. Because politics and institutions have no role to play in what is happening in Muslim countries. Indeed, if you do so, you will be accused of diverting blame and using liberal values to be politically correct while undermining liberalism. No, you should stand up for liberal principles, no matter what your own country stands for in the Muslim world (hint, hint: not liberal principles). Please don’t mention how these tyrannical dictators throughout the Muslim world are kept in power by liberal democracies. Don’t bring up the fact that, in autocracies, the leaders control all the political institutions and have no incentives to put in place the institutions that create a populace where liberal values are taught. Ignore the reality that liberal democracy must be supply-side, not demand-side, driven in authoritarian countries[1], and instead accept that liberal values would just blossom organically in Muslim countries if we really wanted them, despite pretty much every force that enables liberalism being shut down. So Muslims, understand that Islamic expert Bill Maher (not an Islamic expert at all, but rather a comedian who doesn’t understand causality, leading him to ignore political context and put all the explanatory power on religion) is right when he says the religion, and not authoritarians claiming to be Muslim who shut down all the avenues towards liberalism with liberal democracies looking the other way or outright backing them, is the problem. Fellow Islamic expert Sam Harris (not an Islamic expert at all, but someone who claims to be scientific while regularly dismissing all the empirical evidence re: Islam and violence, and trots out Islamophobia under the guise of rational criticism of religion) has poll numbers that clearly illustrate the problem with the Muslim faith, even if the polls are possibly/maybe/definitely misleading. (Maher and Harris cited two polls as “proof” of Islam’s violence recently. One finds that 86% of Muslims in Egypt find corporal punishment as reasonable for those who leave the religion. However, they forget to mention that this is among those who favor Sharia law, and that most Muslim countries do not have this kind of result. The same poll also finds a majority of Egyptians fear Islamic extremism, which fits their argument if we simply ignore their argument, or the results. Also, the poll finds that only 22% of Egyptians know much about Christianity. Thus, it seems reasonable to think the 86% number is driven by a lack of education. They also argue that 78% of British Muslims think the Danish cartoonist who drew the xenophobic pictures of the Prophet Muhammad [the same paper rejected Jesus cartoons because it would be offensive to Christians — at least they’re transparent about double standards] should be prosecuted. Not killed, not attacked, but prosecuted, which they then say is evidence of violence. A far more rational explanation is that British Muslims tend to be poor/working class and not as well-educated as the average Brit, and their ignorance explains the poll result, which is obviously concerning re: the legal process, but again, does not promote any violence. Or we can opt for the superficial, and almost certainly incorrect answer, that these polls prove that Islam is violent.)

Maher is right in pointing out that we are afraid of the mafia that will kill us if we speak out against the violence advocated by a tiny fraction of the Muslim population, even though this is not really true, as our youth advocate love and education against hate and literally die stopping extremists from attacking our schools in some of the riskiest places.[2] And both Maher and Harris were right in telling an angry Ben Affleck (Ben…dude, what’s up with making Argo? That Islamophobic tour de force goes against everything you’ve said about Muslims over the years. Was that a favor you had to fulfill to somebody in the industry who lost a ton of money on Gigli?) that these views on violence were mainstream in the Muslim world, since they both have spent a ton of time there (they haven’t), regularly dialogue with Muslims (they rarely, if ever, talk to Muslims with expertise on these matters), and totally don’t (do) leave out critical political and institutional context in their facts (talking about poll numbers that don’t control for important confounding variables, like education, is really stretching the meaning of “facts”) that may (do) explain all the violent behavior they assign to the all-encompassing Islam. Harris also correctly reminds us that he isn’t picking on Islam, but rather supporting the few hundred million “nominal Muslims who don’t take the faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS” (spectacular: one for the made-up number, two for claiming that only non-practicing Muslims are against these kinds of activities, which only ignores history and facts, and three for using this to defend himself against claims of Islamophobia).

So Muslims, please remember, as you conclude Eid festivities (whenever you are celebrating it, because we’re not only violent, we also are hilariously bad at deciding when to celebrate our holidays), keep your nose clean. Remember that we, and not a bunch of crazy autocratic rulers who directly or indirectly via political suppression have enabled lunatics who practice “better than the Prophet” Islam (it is mind-boggling to see the number of things Muslim extremists practice that go completely against the teaching of Prophet Muhammad — the lack of education amongst their followers is why they can get away with this outright deception), are at fault here, even though huge majorities of Muslims oppose such practices, and do not engage in any violent behavior (fun quiz: who started more major wars since the emergence of Islam, Muslim or Christian countries? The answer may surprise you!). Don’t come up with weak (strong) concerns and claims, such as: liberal democracies have made our children fear the sky (while British comedians dabble in this topic, American journalists don’t let facts and other people’s humanity steer them towards covering this serious issue much at all), democracies openly back authoritarians that kill liberalism and democracy in our countries (Israel’s Justice Minister went so far as to call Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf dictatorships “moderate” forces,in the region – seriously), shouldn’t we have a voice at the table on these discussions, or Muslims are held to absurd double-standards. Bringing up empirical realities (for instance: the Muslim world was far more tolerant of minorities than Christians, until the last century or so of Western-supported backwards autocrats ruling most Muslim countries, but, you know,this is a correlation that nobody [non-Muslim, of course] bothers to consider) will only help us find ways to address the real problem of violent extremism in the Muslim world, instead of assigning blame en-masse to a religion while getting the causal story entirely wrong, and we know the latter is really the pressing concern.

 

[1] By this, I simply mean that liberal democracy isn’t going to occur without the supply of good policy and institutions in countries where those institutions are non-existent, thanks to our autocratic allies.
[2] Muslims are probably scared of speaking out in Saudi Arabia, parts of Afghanistan, and Northwest Pakistan (though, as noted, people still fight back), places that liberalized democracies have played no small role, in conjunction with autocrats/semi-autocrats and religious extremists, in making a true hell on earth for the innocent civilians living there. We often make deals with rulers who openly promote extreme views of Islam, rulers who openly suppress liberalism, or we play into extremists’ propaganda by bombing those areas, making it dangerous for Muslims to speak out against the extremists.

Fouad Pervez (@fpervez1 on Twitter) is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, where he writes on international politics, economics, and security. He is currently finishing his PhD in International Politics. Fouad is a writer and policy analyst, and founded the blog and talk show There is No Spoon. He can be reached at fouad0@gmail.com.