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.)

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