Before any of our assumed multiple identities, we are human beings first and foremost. You don’t have to be black to condemn racism, nor Jewish to condemn anti-Semitism, nor Muslim to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry, and you certainly don’t have to be gay to condemn the evil that just descended upon Orlando.
A puerile response by some of my fellow Muslims is to ask “why should we apologize for something that has nothing to do with us.” But this entirely misses the point.
Just as we Muslims expect solidarity from wider society against anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, likewise we must reciprocate solidarity toward victims of Islamist extremism. Just as we encourage others to actively denounce racism wherever they see it, so too must we actively denounce Islamist theocratic views wherever we find them.
Enough with the special pleading. Enough with the denial. Enough with the obfuscation.
The killer of Orlando was a homophobic Muslim extremist, inspired by an ideological take on my own religion, Islam. In just the first seven days of this holy month of Ramadan, various jihadists have carried out attacks in Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Damascus, Idlib, Beirut, Orlando, and now Paris.
This global jihadist insurgency threatens every corner of the world and has killed more Muslims than members any other faith. So why pretend it does not exist? Why shy away from calling it by name?
So far do many of us liberals go in denying the problem, that we’re happy to stigmatize other vulnerable minorities in the process. “He was not a Muslim, he was nothing but a mad lunatic,” we cry in exasperation. As if those with mental health issues are somehow automatically predisposed to murder, or immune to manipulation and exploitation by cynical Islamists and jihadists.
Then there’s that other old tactic to try and avoid discussing the Islamist ideology. “He wasn’t from the Muslim community,” we proclaim. “He was acting in isolation, a lone wolf.”
Apart from the fact that research highlights how incredibly rare it is for jihadists to act in a vacuum, we need look no further than the Orlando attacker Omar Mateen’s father, who praised the Taliban as “warriors” to realize this avoidance tactic for what it is. Clearly Omar Mateen had moved in an atmosphere that glorified jihadist ideology.
“But it must be foreign policy in Afghanistan,” we naively protest. Albeit better than China’s, Russia’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Iran’s and most other undemocratic countries in the world, yes our foreign and domestic policies have their flaws. But what did gays in the Pulse nightclub have to do with any of that? Or the gays that ISIS regularly throws off the tallest buildings in Syria, for that matter?
It is time that we liberals took the fabled red pill and accepted reality. Just as this clearly has something to do with outdated gun laws, and just as those laws need reform, this also has something to do with Islam, which also needs reform today. No other stance makes any sense.
Poll after poll of British Muslims has revealed statistically significant levels of homophobic opinion. A 2009 poll by Gallup found that 0 percent of Britain’s Muslims believed homosexual acts to be morally acceptable. Despite polling methodology, what previous polls have shown us time and again is more of the same. In a 2013 Pew poll Muslims overwhelmingly say that homosexual behavior is morally wrong, including three-quarters or more in 33 of the 36 countries where the question was asked.
The latest ICM poll from April 2016 asked a slightly different question about whether being gay should be legal. Over half of British Muslims surveyed said they supported making homosexual acts illegal. It did not used to be like this, so what happened?
Liberals who claim that this has nothing to do with Islam today are being as unhelpful and as ignorant as conservatives who claim that this represents all of Islam. The problem so obviously has something to do with Islam. That something is Islamism, or the desire to impose any version of Islam over any society. Jihadism is the attempt to do so by force. This ideology of Islamism has been rising almost unchecked among Muslims for decades. It is a theocratic ideology, and theocracy should no longer have any place in the world today.
But it is as if we liberals will stoop to anything to avoid discussing ideology. We will initiate state sanctioned presidential kill lists and launch unaccountable targeted assassinations. Yet, no amount of drone strikes under Obama—at a rate that far exceeds Bush—will ever solve the problem. We cannot shoot our way out of an ideology. We cannot arrest our way out of an insurgency. Yes, law and war have their own place, but they will never solve the problem.
In the long run, only reducing the local appeal of this ideology will solve the problem. Whereas Islam today requires reform, the Islamist ideology must be intellectually terminated. To do so requires first acknowledging it exists, isolating it from Muslims, devising a strategy to challenge it, and then backing the voices that do.
As I argued in a TV debate with Fareed Zakaria, the danger of not doing so is twofold. Within the Muslim context, it is a betrayal of those liberal reforming Muslims who risk everything daily. These are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims, dissenting liberal and secular Muslim voices, persecuted minority sects among Muslims, the Ismailis, the Ahmedis and the Shia—all these different minorities within the minority of the Muslim community—they are immediately betrayed by our silence.
By shutting down the conversation about Islamist extremism we deprive them of the lexicon to deploy against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. We surrender their identity of Islam to the extremists.
The second danger is in the non-Muslim context. What happens if we don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam? We leave a void for the vast majority of Americans—who are unaware of the nuances in this debate—to be filled by Donald Trump and the Populist Right. They will go on to blame all versions of Islam and every Muslim, and their frustration at not being able to talk about the problem will give in to rage, as it has done. By refusing to discuss it, we only increase the hysteria. Like “he who must not be named”—the Voldemort Effect, I call it—we increase the fear.
So this is my appeal to President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and to all liberals and Muslims, for humanity’s sake let’s stop playing politics with evil. Just as this so obviously has something to do with lax gun laws, it so clearly has something to do with Islam. Hillary Clinton nearly conceded as much after these recent attacks. But liberals must own this debate, not merely appear to be defensively reacting to Trump’s agenda.
This September will mark 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, and we still haven’t devised a strategy to address Islamist extremism, let alone identified voices who can do so globally. Not al Qaeda, not ISIS, nor any other theocratic jihadist group that may emerge in the future, but a strategy that recognizes we are in the middle of a Cold War against theocracy. If we refuse to isolate, name and shame Islamist extremism, from fear of increasing anti-Muslim bigotry, we only increase anti-Muslim bigotry. If the rise of Trump has not convinced us of this yet, then nothing will.