Institutionalized Contempt for Islam, How Do We Tackle It: A Riposte
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
A riposte is a fencer’s quick return thrust following a parry. In this vein, I want to reply to Jafar Siddiqui’s concern about the growing professionalism in the Islamophobic industry and the lack of an effective Muslim response. His question is “how do we tackle it?” He does not know, and neither do I, but that is no reason for despondency. As long as we are asking questions, we are still alive, and that, given present circumstances, is encouraging.
There are many answers, most of them inadequate. They range from denying that the problem is growing, all the way to joining a Sufi order so that we don’t have to worry about it. Or we can become terrorists, which is worse than useless. These ways are the easy ways out of the quandry.
And then there are the effective ways that are more difficult and require a lot of sabr or patience. Perhaps the most difficult in the short-term is merely to be a good Muslim and a good American, which are two sides of the same coin. Over the very long term, the most effective strategies are to educate the younger generation with vision so that they can enter academia and help change entire paradigms of thought, or join and found think tanks in order to shape political agendas, or even prepare for a career in politics in order to work proactively from an interfaith perspective on specific policy issues unrelated to Muslims as a group or Islam as a religion.
A few Muslims may be called to complete the original American Revolution or start a second one by joining the American Revolutionary Party, which I co-founded two years ago as one of the two drafters of its constitution. We are not interested (yet) in running anybody for political office (though I understand that we are registered in the State of Washington for this purpose). Instead we would like to support those within either of the two major parties who talk about real change but have nothing of substance to offer. Check out http://www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us.
Jafar is concerned about how easy it is to raise a million dollars to build a mosque but how impossible it is to get support for effective, namely, competitive organizations, to influence the premises of policy, which is where all policy originates. It is easy simply to assert that those with the larger perspective of grand strategy will never get funding from Muslims for our higher, divinely-inspired calling, and that fund-raising must target what Muslims and Arabs want, which perhaps means nothing beyond one’s own nose. Only Jews have learned to combine inward focus with an outward focus on selling larger strategic perspective both to their funders and to the enlightened and universal self-interest of policy-makers generally.
We should never become defensive because that is a guaranteed strategy for defeat. One function of Islamophobes, whether by design or not, is to distract Muslims from contributing to society by forcing them to focus on defending themselves. Nasir Shamsi was adamant that my book for the Center for Understanding Islam should not attack or even mention any Islamophobes, because this would distract from the positive message of the book. Ali Chaudry came to agree with him, and I did too about a year ago, so we dropped the book in 2007 as counter-productive since half of it was on defending Islam.
The same applies to the two books that I wrote in 2005 and 2006, which were largely negative on U.S. foreign policy and were rejected by the funders for the same reason, quite correctly so.
The problem is that people under attack, like Muslims, want to counter-attack defensively and get so hung up on this that they become irrelevant in the world. Even worse, however, would be to do nothing, which was the result after the attack by the Mongols seven hundred years ago and by the European imperialists a couple of centuries ago. Ironically, even America in recent years after 9/11 has copied the Muslims by going into a terrorized funk, despite the NeoCon’s fraudulent front of calling for freedom and democracy, with the result that America now seems to be declining toward the level of universal irrelevancy.
One can learn general strategy even as a child on the playground. People who are confident in themselves can ignore attacks on the basis of the old ditty for children, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” My mother taught me this when kids used to yell at me and some beat me up. She had me take lessons in martial arts and I immediately found that standing up to a bully immediately reduces him to a blowhard totally discredited among his own followers. This works almost as well even when one challenges the bully to a fight and loses. More importantly, I found that to ignore verbal attacks has the same effect and that this is the first step toward leadership. This works on the playground and might even have universal applicability.
Of course, one can overdo this, as I did when I countered some disciplinary action by the principal by organizing a strike by all the boys. We simply took off and spent the day exploring the forests of Belmont Hill, which I knew well in the western exurbs of Boston. Of course, the police found me at home that evening and threatened to lock me up in prison. My parents knew this was not serious, but I did not, so it successfully deterred me from future such leadership experiments.
The defensive and reactive mentality is always a loser. It spells the end of every civilization. In the Year 2008 election, the Republicans’ lost dignity by retreating defensively with the message “I’m not as bad as you think I am” and by stooping in desperation to the level of gutter politics. This contrasted with Obama’s efforts to avoid this and focus on the positive, which was the major psychological reason the Democrats won, even though neither party had much to offer in the way of “change.” The Republicans could not even convince themselves that they had anything fundamental to offer other then existential fear, whereas Barack Obama was Reaganesque in calling for the best in America, even though the Democrats could not agree among themselves on what this might be.
Institutionalized contempt for Islam and Muslims? We cannot ignore it, but it deserves only one thing: contempt. And so do the desperate Muslims who deserve contempt because they have no faith in themselves or in Islam or in any religion and instead worship themselves by resorting to totally useless and terribly immoral acts of terrorism. We should respond by offering the wisdom of Islam and cooperation with every other world religion in pursuing peace, prosperity, and freedom through the classical or traditionalist Islamic paradigm of compassionate and faith-based justice, buttressed by specific implementing policies of both institutional and substantive change.
Many Muslims are experiencing burnout, as do also 90% of the terrorists, from working defensively in what seems like a losing effort. Our highest political concern should be not what will happen to Muslims but what will happen to America and the world, because focusing on ourselves does not adequately address our responsibility as Muslims to change the world fi sabil Allah wherever we live.
Unfortunately, in thirty years or so of full-time Muslim activism my message has been understood by many in the silent majority but by few among the Muslim activists. The major reason for this is that generally the funders cannot think big enough. Jawad Khaki understood what I was talking about and wanted to fund me a few years ago but only if he would not be the sole or even major funder. There was no response at all in the Seattle community, which was more interested in countering specific attacks on Islam and Muslims. This is essential, and CAIR is doing an incredibly good job at this (which is why it is so well funded), but such defensive tactics without a grand strategy are only buying time without addressing the real challenge of changing the governing global paradigm in both foreign and domestic policy from stability through power to peace, prosperity, and freedom through justice.
America’s dysfunctional global strategists in the Washington think-tanks are trying merely to survive in the face of global chaos by pursuing the status quo with all of its injustices. Since this is inherently impossible, we have reverted to the law of the jungle, which is a losing proposition because we are battling others who like us not only are at the top of the food chain but can outlast us.
Islam will always be and so will Muslims, bi ithni Allah. Our major concern should not be merely for ourselves. Our ultimate goal should not be merely to survive as Muslims but to fulfill our amana from Allah as stewards of creation to pursue peace, prosperity, and freedom through transcendent and compassionate justice for every person and every community in the world (and perhaps throughout the cosmos). This is our real identity, so our task, in sha’a Allah, is to become what we are. If Muslims cannot help lead America in this quest from chaos to cosmos on earth, then there may be no future for human civilization. Islam is indeed the answer, but that is easier said than done. To be emotionally despondent is human, but to be discouraged from seeking answers and from taking action is un-Islamic.
As I reminded the reader at the end of my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, published more than a decade ago, if we think we are the only answer to a problem, then we are denying Allah. In Surah al Baqara 2:243, 249, 251, we read, “Did you not turn by vision to those who abandoned their homes for fear of death, though they numbered in the thousands? Allah said to them, ‘Die!’ ... But those who were convinced that they must meet Allah said, ‘How often, by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.’ ... And if Allah did not check one group of people by another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief, but Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds.” And in Surah al Tauba 9:40-41, we have the revelation, “Unless you go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty and put others in your place. ... For Allah is exalted in Might and Wise. Go forth, whether with equipped lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle with your goods and your persons in the cause of Allah. This is best if only you knew.”
Again and again we read in the Qur’an, “Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed a plan, He but says, ‘be,’ and it is.” Surah Ali Imran 3:47, Surah al Nahl 16:40, and Surah Miryam 19:35, “Kun fa yakun.”
“And [the unbelievers] plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah” Surah Ali Imran 3:54, Surah al Anfal 8:30, and Surah al Ra’d 13:42. And again in Surah Ali Imran 3:26: “Say, ‘O Allah! Lord of Power, You give power to whom You please, and you strip off power from whom You please. You endow with honor whom You please, and You bring low whom you please. In Your hand is all good. Verily over all things You have power.”
Since we are nearing the Feast of Christmas, we should take to heart the wisdom of Sister Lydia Griffin, an editor of ICNA’s The Message, expressed in its special December 1993 issue entitled The Crescent and the Cross, referring to a dialogue between Islam and the Vatican similar to the one flowering today: “Is this the time when true understanding is born, the realization that the power of the One message of the One God is so strong in resurgence, now that the world needs it so badly, that it can finally unite those so long separated by human fortresses and matchstick towers. Barrier built on a mortar of illusion and fog.”
The strategy called for in the book on Shaping the Future is not “peaceful coexistence” through tolerance, which is defensive and self-defeating, or even acceptance of diversity through a higher level understanding through “peaceful engagement,” but rather is action in solidarity to overcome the barriers to cooperation in the pursuit of truth and justice. The most profound sentence perhaps in the entire Qur’an is the admonition, wa tama’at kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “And the Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice” Surah al An’am 6:115.
The true power of faith-based reconciliation and faith-based cooperation in the pursuit of transcendent justice , which is the very definition of the traditionalist movement that gave birth to the Great American Experiment, does not lie in think-tanks created to wage mimetic warfare at an intellectual level, or in lobbying organizations designed to penetrate the existing power structure, even though they are essential for success. Real success in tackling institutionalized contempt of Islam can come only from reliance by large organized communities of people on the power of God.