Muslims are now at the centre of two forms of terrorism. On the one hand, acts of terror carried out in the name of Islam and/or to defend a Muslim population by fellow Muslims. And on the other, acts of terror by white supremacists carried out in the name of western, Christian, or European civilisation. How should one respond to terrorism carried out in one’s name?
I put aside for now forms of state terrorism such as those carried out by the US-led alliance in Iraq, by Israel, by the Assad regime in Syria, or by China in Sinkiang, for example, because they deserve a separate discussion.
The first thing to note on the two kinds of terrorism I am interested in is that, globally speaking, the overwhelming majority of the victims are Muslims (just think of Pakistan and countries such as those in which groups like ISIS operate). I shall, however, confine myself to western or white-majority countries. In other words, I am thinking of attacks such as those carried out on the London transport system in 2005 and on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 – where Muslims are a minority and also a minority – albeit not an insignificant one – of the victims.
There are a number of interesting questions that can be asked about the two kinds of violence mentioned at the top of this blog. For example, the two seem to have some kind of causal or reactive connection and one could explore that aspect and wonder if both are set to increase as they feed off and copy one another. One may also ask about the role of religious identity, especially as there seems to be two different dynamics at work. In the case of Islamist-inspired violence, the relationship with religious identity seems direct, even if based on deviant interpretations of Islam. In the case of the Christchurch killer, a direct appeal to Christianity seems to be at best civilizational rather than faith-based; its relationship to religious identity is that it is explicitly in the name of opposition to a specific religious identity, namely Islam, or more precisely to a hatred of Muslims, in other words, Islamophobia.
My question here is: how should those who share the relevant generic named identity (eg., being Muslim, being white, being a Westerner) respond to the violent evocation of their identity by perpetrators of violent crimes? And, further, can there be a basis of cross-arching unity through such responses and bi-sided condemnations?
Since 9/11 many western (and other) Muslims have been numerously asked to condemn Islamist acts of atrocities. While all or nearly all do so, some Islamists and left-wing Muslims also object to non-Muslim fellow citizens asking them to do so. They bristle against the assumption that they might be supportive of such atrocities and ask why is the condemnation sought only from Muslim citizens. Isn’t the desire for public condemnation by their fellow citizens a kind of collective suspicion of all or most Muslims, which is only one step short of collective blame, which would be racist?
Requiring rituals of public condemnation of jihadi terrorism by co-citizens just because they are Muslims may indeed be Islamophobic. But perhaps Muslim co-citizens not spontaneously – without being asked to – distancing themselves from Islamist terrorism shows a diminished civic identity? Or perhaps not?
One test of this, or at least an opportunity to reflect on it, presents itself with the growing white supremacist terrorism. Should white citizens – in virtue of being white and co-citizens – feel obliged to say anything to groups victimised by such terrorists? Are Muslims or other relevant minorities owed a condemnation by co-citizens? Does it matter that such condemnation by white people would reassure and express solidarity with their Muslim co-citizens? Is the requesting of white people to make such a condemnation or the spontaneous making of it by them an acceptance of collective blame and the not making of it, siding with racism and Islamophobia?
While we should not overlook that western Muslims live under a burden of suspicion and stigmatisation with constant pressure to conspicuously exhibit they are good citizens in a way that most white people do not have to, we should all indeed strive to be good citizens. Zealous witch-hunting of Muslims is not good citizenship; but nor is not spontaneously attending to one’s co-citizens fears and anxieties and cultivating forms of solidarity.
Given that the two kinds of attacks that I have been discussing here are likely to grow at least in the short and medium-term and that they are meant to divide communities and citizenries, can bi-sided ‘not in my name’ condemnations rather than the silence of ‘nothing-to-do-with-me’ be the appropriate response of citizens and political leaderships?
This article was originally published on openDemocracy and is part of a series on Global Extremes.
About the author:
is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy and Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol and a Fellow of the British Academy. His latest books include Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea
and Essays on Secularism and Multiculturalism
(2019). He recently held a seminar about ‘Accomodating Religious Diversity in Secular Institutions’ at the ISS.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, under the GREASE project (grant no. 770640) and the BRaVE project (grant no. 822189).
The opinions expressed in these blog posts are the sole responsibility of the authors. The European Union is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information or opinions contained herein.