You’re either with us, or you’re with the Islamists

I referred to this article in the comments section of my piece on the coverage around Samira Laouni’s candidate for NDP MP of Montréal-Bourassa, but I thought it deserved its own post as well. I debated whether it was really worth talking about it, because I don’t think that the author is really worth our time. However, I think that some of her comments are symptomatic of the ways that certain Muslims get listened to in our society and our media.

Raheel Raza. Photo Karen Paton-Evans.

Raheel Raza. Photo Karen Paton-Evans.

The article focuses on an event in which three speakers (Raheel Raza, Tarek Fatah and Salim Mansur) spoke at a press conference on the topic of “Political Islam – A Threat to Our Freedoms.” The speakers are lauded as “three brave hearts,” whose “courage and eloquence” should be “saluted” by “grateful Canadians.” This is, apparently, because they have spoken out against Islamism, and (it seems that this is a crucial element) have received flack for doing so.

Raheel Raza, the only woman in the trio, is introduced with a reference to the backlash against the mixed-congregation prayers that she led a couple years ago. The fact that this backlash comes from as far away as Saudi Arabia seems to give her additional credentials. We also hear about why she likes the freedom of Canada, and her explanation of “political correctness” as the reason that politicians don’t address the issue of Islamism.

The short paragraph that we are given about Ms. Raza is a typical example of many of the problems that arise in media coverage of those who portray themselves as dissidents or rebels within Islam. It seems that the most important credentials these days for Muslims to get taken seriously by some media outlets are based on how much the rest of the Muslim community (apparently) hates them. Their actual knowledge of Islam or Muslim communities is brushed aside. The actual impact that they have had in doing anything to fight “Islamism” (however the author understands it) is equally irrelevant. I am not saying that any of the people profiled have no knowledge or haven’t been active in these issues (even if I may vehemently disagree with many of their ideas). What I am concerned about is that we’re being asked to take them at their word simply because certain key people disagree with them, and we’re being implicitly told that their own thoughts and actions are not especially important as reasons to pay attention to what they say.

This is problematic in itself, because it means that many Muslims end up being represented by people that they may not agree with. Not to mention that the mere fact of Islamists saying that you’re wrong doesn’t automatically mean that you’re right. More importantly, it’s problematic because it constructs everyone else in the Muslim community as tacit supporters of Islamism unless they agree with these people’s positions. Any attempts to critique their comments end up being painted as evidence that the person making the criticism must be brainwashed by the Islamist, and as a further enhancement of the image of these people as martyrs who bravely stand up, despite the criticism that they face. This process manages to construct them as beyond criticism, and any Muslims who may have often very valid reasons for taking issue with things they say risk getting painted as extremists.

But, what do I know? I probably haven’t come anywhere near that threshold of making enough enemies for me to be really worth listening to.

On a serious note, what do we do about this? How can we critique people whose authority within mainstream media is built on the apparent hostility that they have faced by other Muslims, without putting ourselves into that category of extremists or Islamists?

(Remember to focus on media representations here. This is not the place to debate the politics of Raheel Raza, Tarek Fatah, or any of the others mentioned in the article.)

  • Philip

    Some people still believe in the “my enemy’s enemy, is my friend”. Also i can’t help but think back to that “RAND report”.

  • Sobia

    Thanks for writing this Krista! Great analysis.

    As I’ve said before I do respect what the aforementioned people are trying to do, at its most basic level. And they have the right to say what they want. However, the fact that only they get positive media coverage and are painted as “good” Muslims is insulting to the rest of us if we do not agree with them or say exactly what they are saying.

    This black and white thinking is dangerous wherever one may be or whatever one may be talking about. We see this with extreme or super conservative Muslims who say there is only one way to follow Islam and thus if you follow it that way you are a Muslim, if not then you are not. We see this thinking with Bush, who said you are either with the US or the terrorists. And now we see it with the media coverage of Muslims in Canada – you are either with a small group of people or you are an Islamist.

    In developmental psychology this way of thinking is considered to be undeveloped or immature thinking. It is the way teenagers are expected to think but outgrow if they have a “proper” upbringing (Of course this has quite elitist connotations and could be critiqued on its own but it’s to show that considering ‘gray’ areas requires a little more practice and work and reflects more mature and nuanced thinking

    Overall, this form of media attention does nothing but create fears of Muslims, especially when most of us are painted as wanting to take over Canada and implement the Sharia. It’s fear mongering and over exaggeration of the presence of Islamists in Canada and dangerous for Muslims. The only thing this type of media coverage does is encourage Islamophobia.

    Plus, this is a National Post article. They are very right wing.

  • Fatemeh

    Exhibit A: Irshad Manji.

    Great post!

  • Anon

    What the fuck is islamism anyway? They term ‘islamism’ is ridiculous and to see muslims slander other muslims by using the word islamist is laughable

  • Sobia

    Islamism is the political use of Islam. Islamists are those who support the state and the mosque working together and perhaps even being one. Islamists believe that Islam should be the basis of all laws and thus believe in the implementation of the sharia.

  • Philip

    islamism= political Islam.

  • Krista

    I actually read Anon’s point to be a reaction the way that the word “Islamist” gets thrown around, and used more as a way to discredit certain Muslims than actually as a meaningful label about those people’s politics (rather than an actual question about what the word means.) Am I understanding you properly, Anon? Either way, I think the way the term is used does get a bit ridiculous sometimes. The implication in this article that both Samira Laouni and El-Farouk Khaki are Islamists is laughable to anyone who knows anything about their politics… But I’m sure that the use of that label against them ends up being damaging, and the word “Islamist” becomes more of a tool for slander than any kind of real reference to the candidates’ political beliefs.

    @ Fatemeh: agreed re: Irshad Manji!

    @ Sobia: thanks for bringing in the psychology angle! And yeah, the National Post is pretty hopeless…

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  • ae


    anon got pwnd by sobia

  • DrM

    There is no such thing as an islamist. Islamist is up there with jihadist and now wahhabist.A totally stupid meaningless word that attempts to Anglicize an Arabic word, advertise it as intellectual and with deep meaning while actually only superficially pretending to bypass the connotations that are invariably associated with it by its religious context. In reality, it’s those connotations and the religious context which are being manipulated to put the religion of Islam in new, hateful, bigoted, misrepresented terminology.

    Time to smarten up people. Do your research.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • Anon

    looks like sobia got pwned by DrM

  • Sobia

    What is going on here? Why are you referring to me when I didn’t even say anything? Please let me speak for myself.

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