It’s Islamic Activism, Not Extremism, We’re Afraid Of

by James Randall

Barely before the dust had time to settle in Brussels has the narrative returned to its same old chorus:

We need to do more to tackle the growing threat of extremism.

We need to stop pretending this has nothing to do with Islam. (Like anyone ever did)

We need to remember we’re not at war with all Muslims.

We need to build a wall-

No matter which side of politics it’s from, it’s the same demands for more.

Boiled down, eventually it’s a call to defeat extremism, whether militarily through brute force, or ideologically, by providing a nice watered-down version of Islam everyone can accept.

And yet here we are, nearly 15 years into the War of Terror, and neither tactic appears to have worked.

The United States has spent more money and dropped more ordnances on Iraq than any conflict to date, and the world-spanning conflict has to date cost the lives of nearly 5 million Muslims.

With such a catastrophic death toll, any community would be crushed and reeling in horror.

Yet in its wake has risen a force more gratuitously violent and unrelentingly hostile to even its fellows than there ever was in the Iraq of before.

No amount of right-wing apologia can spin the War of Terror as achieving its goals, or even pursuing them at all.

That leaves what many have called the battle for hearts and minds to save the day.

And as much as Islamophobe scholars/evangelists would love to kid themselves, Brigitte Gabriel, Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Shoebat, it will not be a sudden and dramatic change of heart brought on by the redemptive powers of Christ.

As has been asserted by most others till now, it has to come from inside the Muslim community.

This alternate strategy to military intervention hasn’t worked, however, because it was never sincere, and has been deliberately slow and antagonised.

Until now, most Western Muslims have been reactionary in their faith, behaving according to secular expectations of religion, framing their faith and its ideals within a western narrative and terminology.

Yet at every interval where Muslims have tried to break the mould, fulfil their religious morals and, importantly, make a difference, they are met with suspicion and restriction.

Countless Islamic advocacy groups and bodies have embarked on initiatives to promote peace, plurality, non-violence and understanding.

However, the same voices calling for more change from the Muslim community, almost always hold such activities with suspicion and fear:

Are they just pursuing a religious agenda?

Are they secretly promoting violence behind our backs anyway?

Are these programs a cover for proselytisation?

Many Western Christian and secular governments have taken similar stances, enforcing surveillance regimes on Muslims and organisations, and funding “think-tanks” that pursue their agenda of religious inaction and obedience.

This is because Christianity secularised itself, not reformed itself. Yet Islam has not done this, which is why states see it as a threat.

Not because of its values, practices or methods, but because it remains a holistic religion, which looks at everything wrong in the world, and proposes active changes to make that world a better place.

That’s what scares the west about Islam.

States are not afraid of violence. States can answer violence with more efficient violence.

What states can’t answer is change.

When non-state movements offer change, something they can’t offer, the state responds with force.

It’s why environmentalists are being incriminated by new laws in Australia restricting who can launch legal processes.

It’s why Hizbut-Tahrir, a political group with a radical vision but otherwise nonviolent, was in talks of being banned/listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia.

It’s why Muslim charities in Australia have been continuously slandered as financing, despite there being no evidence ever being brought forward to prove it.

It’s why whenever Muslim initiatives towards peace are held in the highest suspicion, even after continuous calls by the same voices for more peaceful Muslim initiatives.

It’s why when Sydney Muslims banded together to form Homeless Run, an initiative to encourage helping the homeless and discourage drug and alcohol abuse, were harried by NSW Police officers.

Which is especially ironic at a time when Islamophobes ask why isn’t funding being spent on the homeless instead of mosques.

That’s why Islamophobes expend so much energy in voicing the need for Islam to reform itself: because Islam as it is threatens the status quo, not with violence, but with real, promising change.

How this affects Muslims is that these figures will call government agencies and resources to harass Muslims and the Islamic Movement, to impede its progress.

This is all because of a narrative/climate that has made it impossible for governments and agencies to differentiate between activism and extremism: between making a positive change in your surroundings and waging a campaign of conquering and Islamising them.

But opposed to what cynics may want to believe, that doesn’t mean these initiatives aren’t worth pursuing: rather, it proves they must be pursued now more than ever.

It means that Muslims everywhere, and what allies they may have, need to drop the inferiority complex and take up the fight to reform society.

Because after Brussels, that fight just got much tougher.


© James “Abdulmalik” Randall, 2016.