Beautiful Islam vs the ugly Muslim

by Yassir Morsi, August 14, 2014

Much of the analysis of the Muslim demonstrations has implied that Australian Muslims must create an image as good citizens before the righteousness of their resistance can be acknowledged. Yassir Morsi disagrees.

In a recent article about the Muslim Incredible Hulk Waleed Aly suggests that the Sydney Muslim protesters are pointless and only anger brings them into existence.  His commentary is yet another example of a failed apology in the disguise of an informed Muslim’s explanation.

To put it simply, Aly is offloading the failure of his own commentary onto Sydney’s Muslim protesters. It is an article that does little to help Australians understand a Muslim minority.

Aly makes an insulting assumption about the protesters: they protest for “a shortcut to self-worth”. With a swift movement of his pen, Aly denies hundreds of Muslim protesters of any political agency, self-determination and self-worth. They are instead passionately drunk on humiliation, inconsistent, unaware of outcomes, fuelled by the moment, swinging punches and unthinking. Consider his choice of words: orgy, wildly, frustrated, drunkenly, stupidity, scandal, cyclical, humiliated, disease and pointlessly.

Ironic, then, that in the same Islamophobic rhetoric, that I assume Aly wants to oppose, he himself writes about Muslims by describing how their emotion is their politics. The piece says nothing sophisticated about the world the Muslim youth inherits, but instead turns their reaction into their world. It is a strange circular logic that defends his argument.

Aly does, however, hang his hat on one point. The protesters did not see the movie, he says. This is only partly true. Some did see the trailer, others read about it on the net, and most described the details through word of mouth.

Considering that Islam forbids them to watch any movie that depicts the Prophet, it is not surprising that many did not watch the movie. But does it matter? The movie was offensive and the protesters got it right. Why question their method when they were spot on?

Maybe Aly exaggerates this point to make a more scathing underlining point. The protesters were swinging around with no balance and self worth, who did not even know what they were protesting against. This ape-like caricature does little to help society’s understanding of the Muslim minorities various struggles to find a place in a secular society. More importantly, it denies the agency and responsibility of free citizens who speak in self-interest.

If we assume a lack of agency in these protesters we deny that they exist politically. Is this not a convenient way to dismiss grievances from those Muslims who do not speak the high language of a well-spoken liberal?

That is exactly what moderate Muslims want. They want to wish away a violent Islam and pretend the embarrassing action of those on the fringe of their community has nothing to do with them or their religion. Since Sunday, major sections of the Muslim community have mauled the protesters without a single hesitation, obsessed with their image, none entertaining any suggestion that maybe police provoked the protesters.

These voices on online forums matched Aly’s and called the protesters backwards, uneducated, but, most tellingly, they called them un-Islamic. They accused the protesters themselves, and not the movie, as the biggest insult to the Prophet.

All this a couple of days after the Islamic Council of Victoria, Victoria’s peak Islamic body, delivered an incredible media release in response to the AFP raids in Melbourne. ICV in its release decided to highlight the “marginalised” status of those raided. They spoke about them as a “minority” and how they had “little followers”.

They congratulated the AFP for cultural sensitivity: between 20 and 30 officers barged into a home with only a wife and her children inside. On last report, by the group in question, the ICV did not offer any legal advice to the group in question. They simply distanced themselves.

This act of distancing ourselves from troublesome Muslims has become more and more common, but, from yesterday it is becoming part of our future planning. In response to Saturday’s riots, The Australian reported how Islamic leaders were calling for a halt to all future demonstrations. When considering the past ten years this call was the logic of society over-policing the Muslim.

The passivity hidden within the insecure ‘image’ driven moderate Muslim expresses itself best through the conservative clerics who call for calm and no protests. The logic follows that all forms of resistance, in a nuanced community, has its fringe and ugly quality, and thus the best way to get rid of the fringe and ugly is to get rid of the whole act of protesting.

Now Muslims are convincing themselves that the act of not protesting against an Islamophobic film is the ultimate act of protesting against a film. They have figured out that passivity is the only form of resistance.

Could it be that our community leadership have over time reached a silent compromise: we will trade in our political voice for a fragile security. How is that a solution?

To put it most controversially, many Muslims are now trying to rescue a beautiful Islam from an ugly Muslim, or better put: an abstract Islam from the everyday Muslim, an image of their religion divorced from the reality of their religion’s struggles.

It is so telling, then, that Aly laments the hollowing out of the Muslim condition, a ‘pointlessness’ to it all, yet it is his commentary that signals a growing trend. He holds the spoon that hollows the Muslim out of Islam.

It represents a moderate movement that assumes the righteousness of resistance exists in perfecting one’s image as a good citizen rather than pushing back the police picket line to create new forms of citizenry.

We should not be so hard on the protesters for all minorities throughout history fighting for their rights have clashed with police. In every struggle for minds and values there is the struggle of bodies and batons. It happens.



By Mohamad Tabbaa and Yassir Morsi

[Editor's note: This article was edited on 15 May 2013 to correct any misapprehension that the authors intended to make definitive statements about the intentions of any journalists or newspapers.]

What do a conservative leader and a radical feminist have in common? More than we would have guessed, it seems.

Recently an Islamic group held an event at the University of Melbourne. The seating was arranged according to gender, as is common with such events. A reporter from The Australian newspaper attended the event, we can only presume because the event was advertised as discussing Jihad.

However what The Australian uncovered was something much more sinister than the excitement of war and violence: gender apartheid. The experience of witnessing men and women seated in different parts of a lecture theatre is obviously traumatising, and so needed to be discussed on a national level. And of course, there is only one place to go when you want an opinion on Muslims, and so The Australian naturally sought out the opinions of a religious conservative politician, and an anti-religious feminist academic.

The difference between the two characters, Catholic Tony Abbott and feminist Sheila Jeffreys, could hardly be more striking. In any other scenario, they would quite happily be at each others’ throats, but in this particular instance they have made uncomfortable bedfellows, quilted beneath the warmth of Islamophobia.

Abbott declared that he expects “members of parliament … to be up in arms about this”. Jeffreys concurred almost identically: “There needs to be great outrage about this”. Apparently the richness of the Liberal Party bemoaning gender inequality was lost on Abbott, despite Gillard’s recent reminder to this effect. Jeffreys also appears unaware that Western feminism has attempted to move beyond the racism of the second-wave, which constantly claimed to know what was best for “Othered” women as it universalised a specifically privileged white subject.

Those interested in overturning the stifling powers of patriarchy might see their energy better spent questioning men in power, rather than spend most of that energy in focusing on marginalised foreigners. But that’s precisely the point of this controversy. It’s a classical displacement, focusing on a foreign patriarchy to ignore the local patriarchy. It is less threatening to challenge the Other than to challenge oneself.

And while it might be comforting to dismiss the above outrage as political opportunism (on the part of both conservatives and feminists), the unholy alliance points to a deeper underlying issue: namely that Left and Right politics, while agreeing on little else, can be relied on to come to a common agreement on the exclusion of Muslims. The ideological marriage of Abbot and Jeffreys also represents the marriage generally of the Left and Right on this particular issue.

Within the public’s imagination in these continuing discourses, the Muslim is not simply a Muslim. It is a name that ratifies an anxiety about the Other’s intrusion. This anxiety is the underlining and common link that will tie together such an unholy alliance. All things work on their state of exception, and the Muslim is today that exception that can suspend political disputes about issues of national security and culture, prompting cooperation in the face of a common Enemy.

Islamophobia is not simply an irrational hatred of Islam. It is the over-determining and inappropriate heaping of suspicion on all things Islamic.

The rare bipartisan support for the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 is a prominent example of this relationship, as is the ongoing mutual cooperation of the ever-expanding anti-terror measures, whose discriminatory effects on Muslims have been noted consistently. And neither is this trend confined to Australian politics, as the French demonstrated with the bipartisan support of a Bill banning the Burqa, which was in fact drafted by the leader of the Communist Party.

But there is still a problem here: how do we know whether these acts are in fact Islamophobic and not merely issues of gender equality or security? Modern forms of racism are less explicit than their historical counterparts, and so are sometimes more difficult to discern for the untrained eye. One technique for distinguishing Islamophobia from legitimate concerns is to analyse whether such concerns are applied consistently, and this is where the abovementioned outrage shows its true colours.

A quick glance at the society we live in shows segregation along the lines of gender to not only be heavily entrenched, but also widely accepted and respected. Many gyms offer women-only sections, many of our most respected schools are separated along lines of gender and even our most private public space, the toilet, is dictated along gendered lines.

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