Dr. Abou El Fadl begins with the troubling fact that despite consisting of over one billion people and collectively controlling over half of the world’s sources of energy, material and natural resources – everything that would enable them to empower themselves – Muslims worldwide are plagued by powerlessness. Many Muslim countries are led by corrupt puppets that effectively rule for someone else’s interests. Since colonialism, it is common that a Muslim ruler would rule over Muslim lands but answer not to their constituency, but to the powers that effectively colonized the territory over which these rulers rule.
So, for instance, the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and many others find it far more important what Europe or the U.S. thinks or wants than what their own respective peoples want. That is the epitome of disempowerment when collectively, the people being ruled don’t matter. There is no means by which to translate the people’s desires, preferences, or willpower, into a means for self-determination and autonomy, because rulers are not interested in accountability to the people.
Every human being must define a relationship with the idea of autonomy and self-determination. The challenge is whether their sense of autonomy or self-determination is superficial or real. At the superficial level, some think that as long as they can indulge in distractions, entertain themselves, or have fun, that they are exercising autonomy or self-determination; in reality, they ultimately might not have the power to influence their development or progress spiritually, morally, or intellectually as a human being, as is happening now in Saudi Arabia for instance. The Saudi government has opened up virtually all forms of entertainment for the Saudi people to give them the illusion of autonomy and self-determination. In typical authoritarian format, in Saudi Arabia the idea is, if you can party, then you are. But meanwhile, you control nothing about what happens at the national or multi-national level. You are, in fact, entirely powerless and without self-determination.
Similarly, another form of delusion is where people believe, as long as I can fight, then I am. Young kids become convinced that if they can engage in acts of violence and be killed in the process, that somehow they control their own destiny. This is another form of disempowerment.
The only true venue for self-determination in this day and age is the flow of information – information that shapes, crafts, chisels, and defines consciousness - or in other words, education. This is precisely why Islamophobia is a very extreme form of disempowerment. When information is managed, manipulated, and engineered in such a fashion as to cause a sense of dread among Muslims and non-Muslims about Islamic theology, law, history, and philosophy, then the autonomy and trajectory of Muslims has been affected in clear and undeniable ways.
For example, Muslims have been put in a persistent, defensive position when it comes to Islam. One cannot say the word "Shariah" anywhere in the Muslim world today without immediately making Muslims uncomfortable or being gripped by a sense of dread. If any Muslim uses the word “jihad,” or talks about Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, he or she immediately feels the need to explain (ie. engage in some form of apologetics) that jihad is not evil; Islam is not violent; or the Prophet was actually good. Any human being that is placed constantly on the defensive loses self-determination.
Autonomy and self-determination in the modern age are direct products not of military power, but of informational power. Information is controlled in order to control Muslims’ ability to engage in autonomy and self-determination, effectively colonizing the Muslim mind. Colonizing the Muslim mind does not mean injecting Western values into the Muslim mind; a lot of Western values are simply values of modernity. Colonizing the Muslim mind means injecting a sense of dread or insecurity about their own tradition, faith and law.
It is critical that Muslims understand that what we call the campaign of Islamophobia in the world is a power movement to control information and consciousness regarding Muslims. Islamophobia disempowers Muslims by creating a deep-seated insecurity about their own tradition. This has gone to extreme levels that Muslims in the West are often not even aware of. The minute one feels the need to explain and defend why they are not a bad person or apologize for their being, that being has been compromised.
The monotheistic faith is a faith of empowerment. It is a faith that teaches recognizing one’s self worth, the equal value of human life, and the direct connection between humans and their Creator. It is a faith in which each prophet comes to embrace the disempowered and resist the powerful. If monotheism is reduced to just practicing ritual, but does not teach a sense of autonomy, independence, dignity and self-confidence from within, then monotheism fails its purpose.
Islamophobia succeeded in making the gift of Islam, a gift of dignity and worth, hard to feel empowered by. The colonialism of Islamophobia is far more dangerous than military colonialism, because in Islamophobic colonialism, many Muslims are unaware of their colonization. Today, it is nearly impossible for a Muslim's relationship to Islam to exist without going through the filter of Islamophobia.
The Rand Corporation issued two reports in the early 2000s arguing that the way to fight terrorism is by shaping the Muslim mind and identity. In language resembling a colonial power, the reports set forth Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji as exemplars of the type of Muslim that the West wants. However, both are effectively atheists who hate Islam. Hirsi Ali believes that for the West to not be at war with Islam, Islam needs to reform per five conditions, among them abandoning jihad, denouncing “violence” in the Quran, and denying the Prophet Muhammad as a moral exemplar.
Hirsi Ali’s version of Islam is indistinguishable from the Islam that official state medias of many Muslim countries push. Media broadcasters speak of “reforming” Islam, as they believe that Islam is a violent faith that requires much of its material condemned. Counter-discourse is banned from these networks, and those who attempt to provide such discourse are often barred by Muslim governments.
A troubling trend from the early days of colonialism that has reemerged in the modern Muslim world is Arab Christians pretending to be Muslims or former Muslims, then denouncing much of Islam and altering it. An example is Walid Shoebat, who provides training seminars to Homeland Security and F.B.I. about Islam, despite his clear track record of being a fraud.
Islamophobia has resulted in an energy of dread surrounding Islam in the modern world. Nearly every Muslim today has felt doubt towards their own faith and the morality of the Prophet, Islamic history, and the Quran. Muslims must wake up and realize that a country does not need to be occupied to be colonized. Minds can be colonized through the control of information. Muslims do not control the flow of information about Islamic history, law, philosophy, or theology. As a result, almost all Muslim PhD students studying in these fields experience a severe crisis about the worthiness of their identity as a Muslim, wondering if they can be a good scholar and a good Muslim at the same time.
American Evangelists have dedicated an enormous amount of resources to achieve the same goal that was at the heart of colonialism: getting Muslims to have a troubled relationship with their tradition and colonizing the Muslim mind. That is the story of Islamophobia and the story of our present reality. The net effect is that many Muslim children around the world are now atheists or converting to Christianity and we are not even being honest about it. Our minds, the minds of our children and grandchildren have been colonized. The way Muslims relate to their religion, their tradition, and even God has been penetrated, invaded and colonized from within.
To resist, Muslims must invest in knowledge, information and data. Our governments are colonized, so we can only count on private resources. If Muslims are not willing to invest because they don’t think their religion is worth investing in, then there is nothing left to say.