President Obama was right in not referring to ISIS by its chosen name of Islamic State, for it is neither Islamic nor a state. Unfortunately, the western press is not just providing ISIS with a semblance of legitimacy by referring to them as the Islamic State, but by so doing also disseminating a total misperception of Islam around the world.
(Daily Times, 2 October 2014)
As Australia joins the war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and Australian media is saturated with reports about the ISIS threat, police in Sydney has termed as a hoax text messages making the rounds claiming that members of ISIS are knocking on people’s doors and marking Christian houses.
A few days ago, an Australian navy officer claimed that he was assaulted by two men of “Middle Eastern appearance” who threatened to cut his throat while he was standing in uniform in front of his home in Sydney. It was reported so widely that, after police found the allegation to be false, Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin saw it fit to apologise “to the Middle Eastern community for any angst the allegations caused” them.
Fox News presenters in the US ridiculed as “boobs on the ground” the Arab female pilot from the UAE who had taken part in a bombing mission of ISIS targets in Syria. While burqas and niqabs attract much commentary in some quarters in the West, the fact of a female Arab combat pilot invites sexist and racist jokes.
As ISIS goes on a rampage in parts of Iraq and Syria, Islamophobes in the West are on a rampage of their own. No matter that the total number of Muslim youth from the Western countries fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria would be miniscule relative to the number of White supremacists, skinheads, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in these countries, the media is creating the impression of a West under siege by ISIS.
The truth is, ISIS is more of an actual threat to Muslims than to anyone else, and in more ways than one.
On the one hand, it is Muslims who are bearing the brunt of ISIS atrocities: Sunni Kurds, Shia Arabs, Sunnis who support the governments in Baghdad or Damascus and anyone who does not agree with them. Muslim shrines have been destroyed or desecrated by ISIS vandals.
On the other hand, Muslims everywhere, from Sydney to Stockholm and from Melbourne to Montreal, have been put on the defensive. They have to clarify that they or their religion have nothing to do with the ISIS. And no matter how frequently and passionately they clarify, it does not suffice.
Islamophobes and many well-meaning non-Muslims often ask: where are the moderate Muslims, why do they not speak out against Islamic extremism as represented by Al-Qaeda and ISIS? Well, they always have, but their voices do not carry the same newsworthiness as the beheading of an innocent western journalist by an Islamist extremist.
For the record, in August Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz, the highest religious authority in the country, said that ISIS and Al Qaeda were “enemy number one of Islam” and not in any way part of the faith. This is not the first time that an Arab king, president, sheikh or mufti has condemned these groups by name.
“Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilisation, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims,” the Saudi Sheikh said in his latest statement.
As recently as last week, 126 Muslim scholars from around the world signed an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the so-called “Islamic State”, denouncing them as un-Islamic.
Quoting chapter and verse from the Quran and Hadith, the 18-page letter released on September 24 blasts the ISIS ideology point-by-point and concludes: “As can be seen from everything mentioned, you have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. As elucidated, this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world”.
The signatories of the letter are a virtual who’s who of the Islamic world, muftis, sheikhs, imams, professors and researchers from Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.
President Barack Obama was right in not referring to ISIS by its chosen name of Islamic State, for it is neither Islamic nor a state. Unfortunately, the western press is not just providing ISIS with a semblance of legitimacy by referring to them as the Islamic State, but by so doing also disseminating a total misperception of Islam around the world.
It is hardly surprising that hundreds or even a few thousand Muslim youth from Muslim as well as Western countries have joined ISIS. Those who are serious about understanding this phenomenon will not have much difficulty in doing so. And those who merely wish to use these developments to whip up an anti-Muslim frenzy or to reinforce their own Islamophobia will find it easy to blame Islam for this nihilistic enterprise of some angry Muslim youth.
It is not just Muslims who see the continued Israeli atrocities against Palestinian Muslims as one of the greatest ongoing injustices of the last century. That this is only possible due to the unstinted support of the US for Israel does not escape anyone’s notice.
And it was the US, in cahoots with the UK, which launched the most unjustified, illegal and immoral war of recent times, against Iraq, another Muslim country. The number of people killed and maimed from that war runs into the hundreds of thousands.
Islamophobes may have erased from their memory the countless massacres, atrocities and indignities inflicted on Muslim countries by the US, UK, France, Israel and their Christian Lebanese allies over the last half century or so, but the victims, their descendants and sympathisers have not, particularly since the atrocities continue. Abu Ghraib is not too old, and the rubbles of thousands of Palestinian homes in Gaza bear witness to the most recent atrocities.
Who will deny that the ISIS phenomenon is a direct result of the Iraq invasion and the indirect and cumulative consequence of the numerous atrocities and indignities heaped on Muslim countries by the West and Israel. The fact that the West (and even Israel) can count some autocratic Arab regimes as their allies and friends does not lessen the injustice but exacerbates it.
By Razi Azmi