In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’ve seen an unfortunate rise in fearful responses on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s one thing to hear fear and loathing from such places as Fox News, but to hear average people parrot similar anti-Islamic tropes as a result of the actions by Daesh (I’m weening myself from calling this group ISIS), is saddening. It’s a reaction of ignorance, and one that plays right into the terrorists’ hands. After all, they want to eliminate the “grey zone” of coexistence between average Muslims and average everybody else. Judging all Muslims by the actions of the few lunatics that act in the name of Islam is exactly what Daesh wants.
A trope that I’ve heard on more than one occasion is “why aren’t Muslims in the Middle East condeming Daesh? Or Al Queda? Or every terrorist act done by someone who claims to be Islamic, anywhere? I’ve seen it on my Facebook feed, and a Toronto couple even put it up on a whiteboard for all to see.
There are a few answers to this question. We can ask why we don’t require all Christians to apologize for the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, for instance, or those racists that have pushed a Muslim woman into a speeding train in the London Underground, or the assholes who attacked a Muslim woman picking up her children from a Toronto school. It’s not fair or right to do it when the tables are turned, so why do we hold individual Muslims to a higher standard than we hold ourselves?
But a more pertinent question to ask in response to “why aren’t Muslims protesting Daesh” is, “how do you know you haven’t been listening?” Twice, now, I’ve been able to post “Here they are! See?” If I can come up with this in under five minutes searching Google, how hard are these people really looking? Are they looking, or are they just speaking from their biases and their ignorance?
Never mind the fact that we kind of take the ability to protest publicly for granted in Canada, the United States and western Europe. History has shown that protesting on the streets of Iran or Egypt carries considerably more risk. That’s no excuse to blame the average Muslim for shouting too quietly, however.
True, the media does seem to give limited coverage to the average Muslim outraged by the actions of radicals being taken in his or her name. The reason for this, I suspect, is because most journalists are storytellers, and most of us tend to view the world in the framework of stories. You’ve heard the phrase “there are two sides to every story”? Well the reality is, at a conservative estimate, there’s more like seventeen.
Have a look at how the media tends to frame any story that takes the Christian religion into account. Whether it’s same sex marriage, or sex education in schools, the talking heads tend to fall into two groups: right wing religious, and left wing secular. How often do you hear about liberal Christians in the news? In the United States, which party’s candidates get more focus for their Christian fervour? When Al Gore said he constantly asked himself “what would Jesus do?”, did that really mark him as a Christian in most people’s eyes? People tend to focus on his other political attributes.
Liberal Christians have had a had time getting attention, explaining that their faith informs their actions in favour of their politics as much as certain right-wing Christians. Some of us even point out how it can be argued that some on the right aren’t living up to the teachings of Jesus in their attack on workers’ rights, or in their turning away of refugees. And we get very frustrated when people ask, “where are the liberal Christians? Why aren’t they speaking up?” We have been. It’s just been hard to get to the microphone. And I think the media doesn’t like handing over the microphone because the presence of other voices complicates the story, makes it harder to understand and to tell, and thus robs the media corporations of eyeballs as viewers turn away.
It’s ironic that, as Daesh tries to strip away “the grey zone” and present the world as black and white, we ourselves are already halfway there, because there is so much shade and colour that we do not see, largely because the media doesn’t tell us about it, and we do not look for it. That needs to change.
And step one is not to automatically assume that a person is what you fear rather than what you hope will be. Acknowledging that the Syrian refugees are running from the same enemies that attacked Paris and giving these victims shelter cuts off Daesh’s plan at its root.