As I write these statements, I choose my words carefully. I choose them with the knowledge that I cannot generalize – my words must not implicate all those who share this characteristic; and that I am drawing these statements from my own experiences. Does this principle not apply to all our actions?
The emotional narrative of a tragedy is an almost universal experience: shock, disbelief, and sadness among other things. Notice that the list doesn’t include guilt? Burden? Defensiveness? Fear of backlash? Call for an apology? Bitterness? After all, why should it if you’re not the one committing the crimes?
And yet, these are familiar elements of the narrative for many Muslims following events from 9/11 to Charlie Hebdo. Immediately following the news of a ‘Muslim’ affiliation with such an attack, there are a myriad of responses from the Muslim community: people instantly separating themselves from the attacker, criticisms of the flawed logic attributed to the attack, speculation as to other motives, attempts to compare or shift focus to other tragedies, apologies and condemnations of the attack, calls for actions, formal statements from religious leaders…
The fact that there are different reactions to events is hardly surprising; 1.5 billion people can hardly be expected to all hold one opinion. This fact only serves to highlight that we cannot speak on behalf of one another.
But on the other hand, there are still those who argue that a condemnation or apology is required: it helps individuals have a greater understanding of the true aspects of Islam; it further emphasizes that extremists are outliers and not the norm; it shows that the majority of Muslims are against the violence. After all, even US President Barack Obama said that “…it is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL…” when speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24th, 2014.
This all boils down to one question: Is it the duty of the average Muslim to denounce radical acts committed under the name of Islam in order to increase public understanding of the religion? Or does constantly denouncing these attacks reinforce perceptions that there is a connection through the same ideology?
In answering this question, we see that in every such case there are Muslims who do apologize, condemn, and denounce. What has the effect been?
Reacting to tragedies is usually an emotional statement, a statement of solidarity or empathy or outrage. For Muslims, it has become a calculated, carefully worded, ‘PR-esque’ statement. The very process highlights an issue; we write our statements ‘as Muslims’, and worry about their reception as a statement ‘from Muslims’.
This entrenched ritual only serves to polarize Muslims from “everyone else”. “Everyone else” can simply mourn the victims; Muslims have an apology script attached to their sorrow.
In fact, many ‘apologetic’ movements on social media have bred their own subsidiary movements that allow Muslims to participate in the collective grief without capitulating to the demands that they apologize or condemn a massacre in which they had no part.
#JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed
#NotInMyName and #MuslimApologies
These two movements are far more effective at promoting understanding than their original counterparts, without requiring an apology: it forces individuals and communities to recognize that the crimes of extremists not only affect the immediate targets, but victimize whole groups of Muslims.
Not only is the expectation of collective Muslim condemnations ridiculous, illogical and unfounded, it is in fact not even effective at serving its argued purposes.
The only #MuslimApology that is needed is this:
I’m sorry that you need Muslims to apologize to you in order for you to realize we’re all humans. #MuslimApologies