In light of the recent fatal attack on a Muslim teenager in Virginia and a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque in London (as well as the shooting of worshippers in a mosque in Canada earlier this year), I think it’s time to ask ourselves if the way we talk about Muslims contributes to hatred and violence towards them. Consequently, I’ve written the following guide.
There are predictable ingredients in a Muslim-hatred souffle. You mix the following ingredients:
The belief that Muslims (or most Muslims, say) are of a type. The Muslim is backward, misogynistic, violent, primitive, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, fundamentalist. You ignore the cultural diversity of Muslims. You ignore the differences in belief, custom, and degree of religiosity among them. You ignore the great artistic, scientific, and philosophical achievements of Muslims past and present.
Definition by the worst.
You form your picture of Islam according to the worst behavior you can find among Muslims. Your image of a Muslim is based on ISIS, Al-Quaeda, Saudi Wahabis or hatred spewing Imams you’ve seen on Youtube. You ignore the Muslims who live in friendship and harmony with non-Muslims, who volunteer their time as doctors or humanitarian workers or who fight for human rights or denounce, again and again, terrorism and religious violence. If you do acknowledge these Muslims, you see them as aberrations from the true Muslim type as in #1 above, refusing to see the obvious fact that these Muslims are, well, also Muslims and it is just as reasonable to believe their actions are motivated by aspects of Islam as it is to believe ISIS is.
Apply double standards.
When a Muslim commits a hate crime or an act of religious violence, it is because they are a Muslim. If a Christian- say, a member of the Lord’s Army in Sudan commits war crimes or atrocities it is because they are not true Christians. You get the idea.
Do not study the Quran deeply. Best to rely on Google or websites that cherry pick verses out of context to make their point, or weave together the most offensive quotations available from Imams or rulings of Islamic jurors over time. How hard can it be to grasp the ins and outs of a 1500-year-old religious tradition whose texts are written mostly in languages you don’t understand, which spans countries and continents and has billions of adherents? Judaism could be well understood after several hours on anti-Semitic websites, right? And Atheist websites would be a great guide to the history of Christianity? Right. So stick to anti-Islam websites for your information. What could go wrong?
Don’t befriend any real Muslims.
This last piece of advice is most important. In person, in the context of friendship, you might learn more about the realities of Muslim life and experiences that you ever could from websites and books. You might start to think about Muslims in a complex way that is humanizing and nuanced and results in becoming an ally of the average Muslim in their pursuit of religious freedom, human rights, dignity, and safety. That will decisively ruin your souffle.
If all that fails, declare yourself an identitarian like everyone’s favorite Nazi Richard Spencer. After the mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada, Spencer tweeted, ““Why are there mosques in Quebec City, one of North America’s most beautiful cities?” If you don’t find there’s anything inherently egregious in Muslim culture, you can take refuge in the hatred of difference itself. Declare Muslims an insult against the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West itself. Of course to be consistent you’d have to kick out Latinos, Indians, Africans, Japanese and Chinese too, among others. No more General Tso’s chicken for you on Christmas Day. But then, as Gandhi said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds.”
I hope this guide has helped clarify whether you are helping the spread of anti-Muslim hatred in your community. Remember that hateful words, stereotypes, and dehumanization end eventually in harm towards real people whose lives cannot be summarized in a caricature or justly offered up on the altar as a sacrifice to rid the world of some religion or ideology you despise. Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are “made in God’s image”, and that image cannot be erased. There are no people to whom it does not apply, and therefore there is no one who can rightfully be dehumanized or denied dignity and care. To do so is quite literally a sin against God.