Muslims Should Stop Playing the 'Condemn ISIS' Game - It'll Never Be Enough for the Bigots

After the horrific attacks in Paris many are clamoring at the opportunity to share comments from Muslims voraciously denouncing, and in some cases even apologizing for, what took place in the City of Light. For most non-Muslims this is because they are well intentioned, possibly wanting to amplify the voices of good Muslims—it’s their way of saying ‘see, not all Muslims are bad‘. On the other side we see that Muslims have quickly revived the hashtag campaign #NotInMyName, using it to condemn ISIS and to show others that what was done in Paris goes against real Islam. All of this, unsurprisingly, has followed a sort of formulaic methodology. When a Muslim commits a crime, or has been alleged to have committed a crime, thousands upon thousands rush to reject the criminals and their act. It seems sensible, for one to spurn offenders who are accused of having been from among them. What many are not acknowledging is that these performative denouncements, and the cringe-inducing show of nationalism that usually accompanies them, further otherizes and helps cast aspersions upon all Muslims.

Those incessantly demanding that Muslims condemn acts of terror don’t care if one is offered or not. They ask in order to castigate. How do we know this? We check the response when a condemnation is offered, which usually goes something like“well, more Muslims need to stand up against [so-and-so]“, “that’s not enough!“, “why aren’t you doing [such-and-such]?”, ad nauseum. Never mind that Muslims remain the leading victims of groups like ISIS, that Muslims were killed in the attack in Paris, that there have been countless protests against religious extremism, and that there are Muslim-led initiatives aimed at stopping extremism amongst young Muslims and others. Due to obnoxious naivete, or possibly a desperate need to perform for the public gaze, some Muslims seem to be under the impression that you can argue the case for your humanity with clear-cut, unashamed advocates of bigotry. To some degree this desperation is understandable, but seeing as this has all become mechanical in so many ways, you would think the cowering would end at some point, that the hashtag campaigns would at least get creative, and more importantly that they would move beyond the nauseating reminder to those who do not matter and do not care that we are actually good. 

Nationalist rhetoric is also being used by and against Muslims in light of the attacks in Paris, which again follows an implicit formula post-tragedy. Across Europe and the United States Muslims have long been accused of having dual loyalties, and so they are pressured into proving their patriotism—from acts of flag-worship to name changes—to alleviate hysterical, xenophobic locals who seem to be comforted, to some degree, knowing you have flags plastered across your lawn. Recently on Fox News one Saba Ahmed, founder of the Republican Muslim Coalition, made a television appearance wearing a US flag as a hijab. For this she’s been called “a total badass” and has been hailed on across social media for ‘being brave’ and ‘throwing shade’. Ahmed has defended her decision to wear the flag as a hijab, arguing that she only wanted to show that US Muslims are patriotic ‘like everyone else’:

“I love the flag. That’s why I’m wearing it, because I’m so proud of it. I went on the show wearing the flag to show that we’re proud Americans. We want to live in peace. And what ISIS is doing doesn’t represent our religion, and we shouldn’t be targeted because of a few bad people.”

The use of nationalism by Muslims during periods of heightened Islamophobia is a defense mechanism as much as it is a way for them to attempt to make their way into the fold of greater national culture. In order to make themselves feel more a part of mainstream society they often attempt to mimic the actions of the most vocally patriotic members; oftentimes this is in hopes of being safe from attacks. The idea here is that the Muslim who is of us will be draped in a flag or wearing a red poppy.

That Muslims, the racialized other, continue to be viewed as a hindrance unless they join dominant society is a marker of orientalism. But the widely held conviction that Muslims are one homogeneous body is turned on its head by liberal writers and commentators, who then go on to contend that the solution is to have Muslims take on identities that would push them into rejecting their own. Dr. Ana María Sánchez-Arce, member of the ‘Postcolonial Studies Association’,argues in Identity and Form In Contemporary Literature that “nationalism’s inherent drive to unify populations and repress difference may go hand in hand not just with classism, but also with other discriminatory practices such as racism.”

By praising those like Saba Ahmed, and even well-meaning advocates of mindless hashtag campaigns like #NotInMyName, we fall into the trap of performative, nationalist identity politics which are increasingly coercive and work to further the isolation of entire communities already marginalized. 

This piece originally ran on

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