Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are Muslims afraid of their own shadow?

J Hashim Brown

When we used to be American Muslims we hated our own freedom. In the phrase of the time, “they hate our freedom,” American Muslims were both the “they” and the “our”. Such a contradiction in terms is probably a good sign that there’s something awry with the original premise. Now that the fear mongering in American right-wing circles has gone viral amongst the entire public, will Muslims succumb to the same fear? Will Muslims begin to fear Islam just as much? Will they begin to fear their own selves? The symptoms have begun to manifest.

The reason for this escalation of what is being called “islamophobia” is all too familiar. Historically, societies going through disaster or crisis have turned on their minorities in almost ritualistic scapegoating exercise that hearkens back to ancient times.

Americans are going through a period of uncertainty. Economic downturn and joblessness makes them feel scared and unsettled.It is unfortunately unsurprising that they seek a scapegoat when the impotency of right-wing politicians to provide the promised solution shows itself.


But if Americans are uncertain about themselves and their future, and lash out in desperation, it shouldn’t be a cause for Muslims to be uncertain about themselves or their spiritual culture.

Unfortunately, in an unprecedented loss of nerve, many Middle-class and elite Muslims have contracted more islamophobia than the islamophobes. Distancing themselves from their religious and cultural identity in a bid to fit in. Even some Muslim countries are trying to marginalise religious practice and culture or sweep it under the rug altogether as if to prove their worthiness to be admitted into the club of glamorous nations.

With the rapacious belicosity of the state of Israel, the “self-hating Jew” is a historical relic. You now have the self-hating Muslim all decked out for the minstrel show.
Muslim elites have always tried to distance themselves from their religious and cultural identity. But to no avail. Leaving Islamic institutions and native cultural discourse to embarrassing “lay-readers” or fixated radicals eventually backfires on us all.


Instead, Muslims should embrace a robust identity and invest in a rich heritage that promotes a dynamic, effective, and ‘switched-on’ discourse.Tomorrow,sitting at the table when company comes, everyone will see how beautiful they are.

Muslims could gain from the advice of the writer James Baldwin to his nephew in America.“Please try to be clear, dear James, There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.”

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research of the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.