Jews and Catholics have been racked with guilt for as long as there have been Jews and Catholics. From Jewish mothers saying “sure, you can put off visiting me until next month, assuming I’m still alive then,” to Catholics feeling guilty if they eat meat on any Friday—not just during Lent—guilt has become synonymous with these two faiths.
Well, now Muslims are joining the guilt Olympics. But I’m not talking the guilt that some Muslims feel if they don’t go into the three parentally approved careers of doctor, lawyer or engineer. Sadly, this form of guilt is far more distressing.
I’m talking Muslim Americans feeling guilty for the worst acts committed by Muslims anywhere in the world. Those are findings of a new poll released Tuesday by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which found that 62 percent of American Muslims feel “ashamed” of violence committed by fellow Muslims.
In full disclosure, about a year after 9/11, I began to feel a sense of guilt and shame for the horrible terrorist attacks on our country carried out by fellow Muslims and men who share my Arab heritage. Perhaps the fact my mother is Catholic (I was raised both Catholic and Muslim) made me more prone to feeling guilt. My Mom is a Jedi Knight in terms of wielding Catholic guilt.
In time, however, that passed as I came to terms with the fact that I had zero to do with those barbaric people who utilized violence to further the political agenda of Osama Bin Laden. And that’s exactly what Al Qaeda and ISIS are truly about: Employing violence to achieve their political objectives while cloaking it in religious terms.
Dalia Mogahed, the ISPU’s director of research, explained to me that this sense of “collective guilt” among American Muslims has led some to “internalize negative stereotypes about their own community.” The result is that that Muslim Americans are now more likely than members of other faiths to agree with the view that Muslims are “more prone to negative behavior than other people.” (30 percent of Muslims agree compared with 13 percent of Jews and 12 percent of Catholics.) We are now thinking worse of ourselves than others think of us!
In reality, as noted in the ISPU report, Muslims are not committing more acts of violence than other groups. For example, a recent report by the ADL found that in 2017, 34 Americans were killed on U.S. soil by extremists. Eighteen of those people were killed by white supremacists--or as Trump refers to them, “fine people.” How many by ISIS-related actors? Nine.
So why are one third of American Muslims thinking so negatively of their fellow Muslims? Likely it’s because no one—not even Muslims—is immune to the impact our media have in depicting and defining Muslims in a horrible light.
As a March ISPU report found, a terrorist plot involving a Muslim receives seven more times media coverage in the United States than plots involving non-Muslims. For example, I bet you heard about the ISIS inspired terrorist in New York City last year who tried to blow himself up in the subway but only managed to injure himself. It was covered wall to wall by the media, and Trump even tweeted about this guy in an effort to use this terror attack to further his political agenda.
But did you hear about the conviction of three extremists in Kansas a few weeks ago who had plotted a terrorist attack? Probably not. These three men were white Christians who called themselves “Crusaders” (as in Christian Crusaders) and had plotted to kill Muslims in Kansas. This story barely got national media coverage, and Trump of course didn’t tweet about them because they were self-professed Trump supporters.
It matters how minorities are covered in the media. As studies have shown, disproportionate negative media coverage of African Americans had a real life impact from being linked to increasing racism to creating barriers for career advancement to reducing the self-esteem of black Americans. And just like we are seeing now with Muslim Americans, the barrage of negative images in the media about African Americans led some blacks to “internalize biases and stereotypes and, through their behavior, reinforce and even perpetuate the misrepresentations.”
In the case of Muslim Americans, the fact that nearly a third accept the worst stereotypes of Muslims means that many were also more willing to agree with right wingers who believe Muslims should be afforded less civil liberties simply because of their faith. This is beyond “self-hating” –it’s truly self-destructive.
Some might say Muslims should feel some degree of collective guilt for the wrongdoing of the most extreme among us. I absolutely disagree. I’ve never considered Christians as a whole in any way morally responsible for the murders and literally “hundreds of bombings” of women’s healthcare clinics that have been carried out in recent years by extremists who declare these actions are about their religious faith. And I hope that no good Christian feels ashamed for these attacks, which, like ISIS, are simply people using violence to achieve a political goal.
On the upside, however, the ISPU report did find that 83 percent of all Americans support protecting the civil rights of American Muslims. Unsurprisingly, white evangelical Christians, Trump’s base, were the most hostile and least supportive of Muslim American civil liberties.
Add while Muslims – like most Americans—aren’t happy with the direction of America under Trump, it appears that Trump has inspired more Muslims to get involved in American politics. As ISPU found, now there’s a record 75 percent of American Muslims registered to vote—up from 60 percent just two years ago.
My hope is that the guilt that more than 60 percent of American Muslims feel over the bad actions of Muslims will be eclipsed by the pride they feel when they see fellow Muslims achieve success. There are a record number of Muslims running for office in 2018, and we are increasingly seeing Muslims excel from The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj to Oscar nominated screenwriter and comedian Kumail Nanjiani to Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad. That may just be the best antidote for “Muslim guilt” –that is, next to a massive group therapy session.