In the ongoing struggle to balance Muslim-American rights with Muslim American accountability, there was a little known event that set a new landmark in the fight against Islamism. On March 25th, 2016, the Islamic Society of Wichita (ISW) canceled their fundraising event due to local community pressure. ISW planned on hosting guest speaker and professed Hamas supporter Sheik Monzer Taleb, triggering a scathing public statement from Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo and public, including a planned protest from an armed group.
In the last decade of escalating pushback against Muslim communities’ open association with unsavory characters, this is a record-setting first back down of an organized event based on speaker choice by a Muslim group. The success can be attributed to a rare combination of social and political pressure – a necessary pairing to expose hate and hypocrisy left unchecked within too many Muslim communities.
In years prior, the public had been unsuccessful in holding Muslim organizations accountable for their open association with hate-mongers. Community opposition was unfocused and clumsy, if not entirely absent. Others, nervous about the speaker line-up for national organizations, had been unable to voice concerns principally because they represented the vendors and venues hosting these forums. Yet to the frustration of a larger community, including other progressive Muslims, American Muslims continued investing in Islamist speakers and lending an ear to Islamist scholars.
Three Reasons Why Islamist Scholars Thrive in the West
We Muslims are frequently guilty of refusal to engage in therigorous self-analysis that would propel Islamic thought into the 21st century. I believe the reason for this refusal is radical self-preservation. By this I do not mean physical self-preservation, but the preservation of the psychic self that is invested in a particular view of reality.
Islamic theology and culture has historically shunned or dispossessed the dissenting voices necessary for a society to move forward, while cradling a tribal mentality that insulates the self at any cost. Despite classical Islam being more tolerant than the warring Islam of the Prophet’s later years, Islam has done little to advance against the deep tribalism of the region. It can even be argued that Islam did the best it could, and tribal culture will need more than just faith to be overcome. For us today that means the average Muslims will find it difficult to be the objective and rational observer, leading him to uncompromisingly cling to an identity especially when feeling threatened from outside influences. In fact, the self will even fabricate new layers of identity that further insulate the self, which is why we see a reinforcement of the label Muslim as a foundation for a ‘Muslim America identity. It also explains the renaissance of Muslim culture in the United States through art, media and fashion that did nothing to challengedecrepit elements in the faith – and everything to further insulate ‘Muslimness.’ Fast forward a decade and today that behavior is being heralded by a Leftist society that rewards divisive signifiers – such as America’s first hijab-wearing anchor – rather than looking what an individual can contribute intellectually.
Secondly, in addition to radical self-preservation that does nothing to evolve an individual, there are also Muslims who see extremism as a political problem rather than a theological issue. Unable to engage objectively in a way that risks compromising the psychic self, Muslims at large will refuse to use the phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ or ‘radical Islam’ to discuss one of the greatest threats dwarfing human potential in the 21st century. This is why it’s critical to weaponize language in the fight against radical extremism.