Muslims battered on both sides of the Atlantic

Friday 01/04/2016
A Moroccan child wrapped in a Belgian flag lights a candle during a tribute to the victims of the Brussels attacks, in Casablanca on March 26th, four days after a triple bomb attack.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats,

The Second Coming

There are plenty of interpretations of this poem, written by Yeats after World War I, and its memorable lines have inspired many novel and film titles. It is espe­cially appropriate as we see the failure of the centre to hold against the tide of radicalism from the left and right.

Attempts to reason against the illogic of blaming all Muslims for the acts of a very few fall on deaf ears among skinheads, Trump/ Cruz supporters or others too ready to blame “the other”. The centre cannot hold because it has little capacity to counter extremism, which would require more awareness of Islam and Muslims than most are willing to engage.

Muslims themselves are torn between justifying acts of reasonable opposition to autocratic regimes and pointing fingers at those whose horrific acts undercut every word of compassion uttered by their communities. It is ironic that the vast majority of extremists call themselves Sunnis, Salafists, jihadists, while Shias, whose excesses of past decades in Lebanon and obdurate policies emanating from Iran, are tarred with the same brush as al-Qaeda franchises and the Islamic State (ISIS). Despite 1,400-plus years of separation, in the end, they are, in fact, all Muslims, all guilty.

To non-Muslims, Muslims are equally culpable for a multitude of sins stretching from Indonesia to Nigeria to Europe and even North America. To most Americans, Muslims are predominately Arabs, as are Iranians, because “What’s the difference?” They all share the tenets of Islam, a religion of hate and submission we are told by the Trump/Cruz apologists on talk radio. Muslims, they claim, are unwilling to live in peace with the rest of humanity (read Christians) because of religious precepts.

Far be it for these supporters to actually shake hands and converse with a Muslim, although they may have been doing it for years without contamination. Enlightened statements by US President Barack Obama, leading military and intellectual leaders and well-intentioned political leaders have not affected those who fervently believe that Muslims are somehow a lower form of humanity that won’t rest until the apocalypse has come — strangely similar to many Christian evangelicals.

My concern is broad and deep for my country and for the lack of civility that characterises public life. I have worked and lived with Muslim communities my entire professional life, here in the United States, in many Arab countries and Iran, which I know is not Arab. I have always thought it a blessing (baraka you could say) that my parents taught me compassion, inclusiveness and openness, especially towards that which I did not understand or feared.

While mine was a mostly normal American childhood, bigotry was somehow always lurking around, in remarks, insinuations, teasing. My sister/poet Elmaz writes of the pain of discrimination and marginalisation. I guess it’s harder for some. Mine was more cerebral, because I was fortified by not giving a damn.

I am a Christian Arab American. We are the majority of Arabs in the United States. We weathered the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts as highly political rather than theological conflicts. So much is different today. We hear from varied sources about the persecution of Christians by ISIS. Lost in the hateful news is that the tyranny of ISIS, acting in the name of Islam, has been responsible for far more Muslim deaths. ISIS and its comrades are enemies of humanity, not just of religions.

The same drumbeat of deprecation is rising even louder in Europe as tides of immigrants and horrific violent acts deprive the centre of a stable platform for engaging doomsayers, bigots and racists of all stripes.

In our naïve caricature of the region, we want clarity about friend and foe. This is no easy task. It is somehow lost in translation that we are in a generational identity struggle among ourselves and with those “not like us”. It is a struggle that we cannot, each in our own way, avoid confronting.

Just think for a moment, why are refugees headed for Europe and beyond? Is it because they hate the West, its civilisation and its society? Is it because they are hiding terrorists’ cells within their numbers waiting to strike? Or is it because, like us, they just want to wake up each day to the tedium of jobs, families, children and traffic?

It is this normalcy that is under attack and must be forcefully countered. We are certainly in a clash of civilisations — humanity against the beasts who deny us choice.