We cannot ignore what surrounds us all over the U.S.; what has become a plight of the nation – protests focusing on racism and its many different forms, but particularly police brutality and the unjust killings of many minorities, especially African Americans.
There are several things to say from an Islamic point of view. What is the most remarkable is how everything is interlinked. With social laws, like physical laws, there are equations and rules for causation that make the current situation regrettable, but not surprising.
For years, with the rise of a number of key movements in the U.S. and the West – the conservative movement; the so-called Neo-Con and nativist movements; the clash of civilization ideology, for which the U.S. played a central role; and American militarism, which spearheaded militarism all over the West – a new colonialism was allowed to grow and become anchored in the world. People ignore the stark, undeniable resemblances between historical colonialism – which brought the rise of the modern slave trade and modern racism – and the new form of colonialism; people resist calling it colonialism, although that is precisely what it is. The rich and powerful are entitled to monopolize the resources of the world and assign themselves privileges denied to others.
The difference is that with the rise of the Neo-Con movement, the new form of imperialism, and the new form of colonialism – movements of white privilege – a new ideology that served and justified itself emerged, one that made it feel better about itself, whether you call it the reading of Ayn Rand; a new form of liberal democracy; or a rejection of white guilt. This ideology often centers on evangelical and missionary Christian values, a belief in Judeo-Christian civilization with an embedded hostility to Islam. Judeo-Christian civilization is positioned as the bearer of humane values with Islam as a straw man that embodies all the values that are the antithesis of “Judeo-Christian moral values”.
The '60s brought the Civil Rights Movement that produced serious, important progress. But starting with the Bosnian genocide and after 9/11, there was a major reactionary movement that systematically regressed the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement. There were several decades where there was at least an effort to address racism, but with the rise of the Neo-Con movement, the rise of new evangelical Christianity and the rise of the Judeo-Christian notion of civilization, along with the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the clash of civilization ideology and the rise of Islamophobia; white privilege became something to embrace and things like slavery, racism and colonialism became things people should “get over”. Suddenly, white privilege felt like there was nothing to apologize for or feel guilty about.
We saw it on university campuses; in our military policies around the world; in the way we talked about the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; but we were effectively all ignoring the monster in the room which was racism.
Islamophobia is a symptom of deeply embedded racism; Muslims are the low hanging fruit. Racists cannot say what they really believe about blacks or Latinos, but they can say whatever they want about Muslims. They can say the most hateful things about Islam and get away with it, so Islamophobia became the barometer of a social malaise.
The rich and privileged decided they didn’t want to hear about racism, colonialism or sexism anymore. They abolished affirmative action on university campuses, changed zoning laws to increase separation between white and black neighborhoods, and did so without guilt. Dynamics led us to guiltlessly perpetuate violence upon the world and within our borders against the disempowered. As we exercised militarism around the world, we also militarized our police for huge profits. We became the world’s policemen and taught our law enforcement that this is a dangerous age – the age of terrorism – so they became far less interested in humane values and far more interested in power results.
Everything evil is interconnected in the world. The police lynch people, as we saw with George Floyd’s case. It was a lynching under the cover of law, but a lynching nonetheless. This doesn't happen without a process of acculturation in which people are subtly taught that there are those who matter and those who don't; that militarism, violence and the arrogance of power is okay.
In the '80s, the police were trained to at least be polite when making calls or traffic stops, but the police are no longer trained in being civil with civilians. They often feel free to cuss, not return a “good morning” and to dehumanize you, regardless of what you are doing. Increasingly that is part of the training provided. Amazingly, if you meet them as human beings when they retire, you discover that they could be very decent human beings, but that is the role that the institution trained them in.
The election of Donald Trump was a symptom, not the problem. Many Americans say, "Yes, Trump is a sexist, a racist, an Islamophobe – but I like him because he's good for the economy." That's precisely what neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism do; humane values don’t matter as much as power and economics. It is like spitting in the faces of minorities, saying that to have a little extra money makes it okay to hate, marginalize and dehumanize Muslims, blacks, Asians, and Latinos. The U.S. has often led the modern world. The problem is that with the election of Trump and his administration, racism no longer needed to be hidden, white supremacy no longer felt like an illegitimate ideology and Islamophobia thrived.
The moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem is intimately connected to the racist policies that led to the killing of George Floyd. When power is arrogant and stops caring about the rights of the disempowered, that arrogance spills over everywhere. The same mentality that says the rights of Palestinians don't matter is the same mentality that will overlook the suffering of African Americans, racist policies, and the fact that all first world countries – in other words, all advanced countries of the world – are white or have become thoroughly white-ized culturally, like South Korea, Japan and South Africa. It's not a coincidence that if a country is white it rules the world, but if it’s not white, regardless of wealth, it’s disempowered and behind.
This is the nature of racism that leads to the killing of people on the streets nationwide. It is all interconnected, and further, a threat to American democracy. So many of us left our homelands because we knew that if we stayed, we’d be imprisoned, tortured or eradicated. The problem with these dictatorial countries is the military has become politicized and acts as the arm of oppression for the ruler. The military is subordinated to whoever is in power and used to oppress civilians. America’s president used the military to scatter peaceful protestors with gas and rubber bullets so he could cross the street to take a picture holding the Bible. That same president referred to protestors as terrorists and requested that the military be used against civilians, with his own secretary of defense turning him down several times. We must be deeply concerned that American democracy is at risk, because all it takes is for one military commander to tell the dictatorial person in power, "Yes sir."
There is an Islamic obligation in all of this. As Muslims, when we stand with our African American brothers and sisters against racism, we are also standing against Islamophobia. When you support the just cause of the oppressed in the streets of Harlem, you are also supporting the rights of the disempowered in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank. When you stand up against American dictatorship and insist on the principles of democracy, you are preserving one of the few remaining asylums for oppressed Muslims worldwide. Where do oppressed Muslims go? They come to the U.S., England and Europe; there are no other choices. These are the only places that will provide them safety, so when you insist on keeping these countries democratic, committed to the higher values of humanity, you are also serving the interests of Muslims and Islam. Everything is interconnected, and you as a Muslim were commanded by God, given a duty to do good. As Muslims, we owe a duty to God and ourselves to stand by justice in every way possible.
The problem of the way that blacks are treated in this country by police can only be denied by either an idiot or a racist; we cannot go any significant period of time without hearing of blacks killed by police. Because of the way police are trained, they are often culturally insensitive. They are trained to recognize threat according to what counts as a threat in their own suburban cultures, so they would not understand the cultural gestures, acts or logic of others. No one understands the fear that victims of racism can feel and how that fear can transform into suspicion to a police officer, unless you are placed into that situation.
As Muslims we have an affirmative obligation to recognize, study and understand racism because it is an illness that our religion came to eradicate. Racism is a jahiliyya that the Prophet consistently condemned, when the Prophet would find a person mocking another because of their lineage, race, color or social status, they were told, “You are a person who has jahiliyya within, and jahiliyya is the antithesis of Islam.”
You cannot be a good Muslim and also say our obligation is to bow down to and please whoever is in power and not worry about the oppressed, suffering and victimized. This is not Islam – colonized, imperialized, racialized Islam is not Islam. The Islam of justice is true Islam. For Muslims, what does that translate into? As a Muslim, you are rewarded by God. You receive blessings if you protest injustice. Other people may protest injustice and feel good, but as a Muslim, you are actually rewarded. The longer you stand protesting injustice, the more reward you get.
However, Muslims are limited to peaceful protest. The minute you exceed the bounds of peaceful protest, you are re-categorized into a criminal. Peaceful protest is protected by the constitution, but non-peaceful protest is not and as Muslims, we need to be protected because we are also disempowered. If you do anything that breaks the law, you give them an excuse to wipe you from the face of this earth. Beyond that, the Prophet clearly taught us that you cannot punish someone based on the sins of another. In Islam, we cannot commit aggressions against the rights of others and claim that the ends justify the means.
People ask, “Does it really make a difference if I protest?" Yes, Trump came to power because of the silence of those who should have spoken. The louder you speak, the more you keep the energy of the protest alive; and the more people go to the polls and make sure that Trump supporters don't have a majority in the Senate, and that the next president is not a racist and respects the values of American democracy.
Things are connected in a logical fashion. As a Muslim, if you vote, you are rewarded by God for doing the right thing. If you're rewarded by God just for smiling or greeting someone, can you imagine the rewards when you stand to protest injustice? If you vote according to what's good for your pocketbook instead of what is good for Muslims and humanity, then you are not rewarded by God. Why should God reward the selfish? To be a Muslim who supports Trump because he is good for your pocketbook means you are a jahili human being. You're not a Muslim, you don’t value morality.
We are living in a moment where there is an aggressive war over the identity of Islam and what Islam will mean in the future. We Muslims are responsible for the institutions that represent us as Muslims in the West, and if these institutions are associated with Neo-Cons, evangelical Christians, right-wing Zionists, the annexation of Jerusalem and with everything that is evil, how can they not be viewed as evil? Every time as a Muslim you decide where to take your Islam from, you are helping shape the world we live in.
When a country like the Emirates has financially benefited the Trump administration – an administration that ignores Muslim rights in Jerusalem and supports Israel in the annexation of the West Bank – what do you think the Emirates position is about Black Lives Matter and about the demonstrations that are going on in the United States? The Emirates said it is haram (forbidden) to go to any demonstration. Don't we have an obligation to find out who in America follows Emirati Islam and to take the moral stand that God expects us to take?
The Israeli media published articles that say Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and Jordan have secretly communicated to Israel that they are in favor of – or at least will not oppose – the Israeli plan to annex major parts of the West Bank, even if they publicly condemn it. If this is true, this is yet another betrayal. Every such event shows that the current Saudi regime should not be the custodian of the two Holy Sites. When the representative of Mecca and Medina acts in such a morally decrepit way, as Muslims, we must object and meet God objecting. Do you think God will accept your Hajj or umrah when you stood by, seeing the custodians of the two Holy Sites give up Jerusalem and give up so much?
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