The West wants to know: How okay is it to demand that Muslims denounce terrorism?
It’s the sort of question that invites a perfect storm of tribal conflict, hot takes, and the zillion-odd varieties of ‘-splaining’—the oblivious, solipsistic style of lecturing now taking over the internet.
Inconveniently, however, the question must be asked and answered, for the benefit of civilization, if nothing else. And who better than the most reviled man in media to kick things off with a polarizing Murdochsplanation?
“Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful,” Rupert recently tweeted, “but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”
Responsible? Held? Whaa?
The backlash was immediate and overwhelming. Vox’s Max Fisher epitomized the fury with a farfetched diatribe against “what Muslims and Muslim organizations are expected to say”—e.g.: “‘As a Muslim, I condemn this attack and terrorism in any form.’ This expectation we place on Muslims,” Fisher sniffed, “to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted.”
Rash and imprecise as Murdoch was seen to be, Fisher discovered in the call to denounce terroristic slaughter two invidious “implications.” First, that “every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise,” and second, “that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.”
So Fisher used the same broken logic (to be absolutely clear) that he accused his foes of deploying. Because some people calling for Muslims to denounce terror are actual bigots, you see, everyone who calls for Muslim denunciations must be considered a bigot—and, yes, Held Responsible.
Unlike Fisher, Murdoch acknowledged he had spoken poorly. In a rare revision and restatement, he emphasized that he “certainly did not mean all Muslims [were] responsible for [the] Paris attack,” but simply that the “Muslim community must debate and confront extremism.” Homing in on the essential point, he insisted that it is “important for people of all faiths to address the threat.”
In other words, it’s not Islamophobic to demand that Muslims denounce terror, because everyone ought to denounce terror.
At first blush, it’s astounding this point must even be made, much less made over and over again. To be fair, however, there are so many ignoramuses now, on both sides of the cultural, political, and theological controversy surrounding jihad. The practical reasons that drive the point home are all but absent from the debate.
Let’s not be too generous, however. Ignorance is not the only problem. We have an affirmative interest in forgetting the facts that orient us in moral space. Today, the quickest way to mobilize mass emotion is to appeal to abstract principles. Of this point, no media maven is ignorant. We all sense it. Afraid of being lost in the shuffle of historical particularity, we suspect deep down that it’s sloganeering or bust, whether FREE SPEECH is our mantra, or RESPECT or EQUALITY.
In fact, even the most poetic and evocative abstractions fail as explainers for why, with terrorism, we should ask Muslims to embrace the same standard of moral accounting that everyone should. If we paused to remember our shared history, we’d remember that, too.
It’s not inherently bigoted or wrong to think Westerners may tell Muslims how they ought to respond because we’re all in this together, as we have been for hundreds and hundreds of years. Rather than two separate “worlds” that have “clashed” like explosive billiard balls, Islamic civilization and what’s become of Christian civilization are still deeply entangled and interwoven.
It’s impossible to make sense of the modern Muslim “world” without understanding how the West’s cavalcade of ideologies—ethno-nationalism, fascism, communism, capitalism, militarism, the list goes on—has partly colonized and partly inspired cultural change among Islamic peoples. It’s precisely because murderous Muslim radicalism has blended Western and Islamic roots that Westerners need to speak up. Muslims are stakeholders in the Western world—and vice versa.
It isn’t bigoted to pretend otherwise. But it is dangerously mistaken.
There’s more at stake than terrorism in the retaliatory mania that’s driving pious liberals to strip the West of its moral standing in Muslim matters. In its bloody, disorienting, and disenchanting transition away from Christian culture, Western civilization has learned some important lessons that could be of great potential benefit to its Islamic neighbors.
One could almost say the West is under a moral obligation, for instance, to bear witness to the folly of religion that declares a holy war on the profane mortal world. Muslims, like non-Muslims, must reckon with the perverse dominance of religious absolutism, whether it manifests in violence or not. The Saudi cleric who declared snowmen anti-Islamic obviously doesn’t speak for all his co-religionists. But he is illustrative of a serious problem that a fixation on grisly terror can regrettably obscure.
As Westerners should be the very first to counsel, Islam doesn’t need a “Reformation.” The Christian Reformation fueled not just a deepening of faith (that’s good), but an obsession with controlling every detail of the mortal world (that’s bad, mmkay?).
Islam needs what all religions need: a reconciliation with the world. Without it, we lose the emotional capacity to reconcile ourselves to one another. No religion at war with the world can long endure. Fortunately, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims and non-Muslims who are not at war with the world. We need them to step forward and stay vocal: not we members of this civilization or that, but we constituents of the human race.