We need to stop conflating 'Muslims' with Islamists

We need to stop conflating 'Muslims' with Islamists August 29, 2016

It’s insidious how the Islamist narrative has become mainstream everywhere – in the media, in social policies, in discussions around minority communities and human rights, in ‘progressive’ politics … it’s also very much part and parcel of how some freethinkers view ‘Muslims’ – homogenised masses whose default is always the Islamist no matter how many refuse and resist – often at great risk to their lives.
Identity politics ignores this dissent and plurality (even vilifies it – to the extent that ex-Muslims, for example, are considered “native informants”).

But Islamic rules and Islamism are so antithetical to 21st century living that you don’t need to draw a cartoon of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, or be an atheist and blaspheme to be at loggerheads with the theocrats.
Take Valentine’s Day. In 2014 in Saudi Arabia, 5 Saudi men arrested sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes for holding a Valentine’s Day party with “unrelated women, drinking and dancing.” In Islamic schools here in Europe, Valentine’s Day is frowned upon as un-Islamic.
Iranians shop for Valentine's Day gifts at a shop in Tehran in 2001. Iran says it is cracking down on Valentine’s Day celebrations and shops engaging in them will be guilty of a crime.Photo: Getty Images
Iranians shop for Valentine’s Day gifts at a shop in Tehran in 2001. Earlier this year Iran said it was cracking down on Valentine’s Day celebrations and shops engaging in them would be guilty of a crime. Photo: Getty Images
Take music. The Islamic State beheaded a 15-year-old boy for listening to Western music on his CD player at his dad’s shop.  Confess have been accused of “satanic” metal & rock music; writing “anti-religious, atheist, political and anarchist lyrics” and sentenced to death in Iran. In Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain advises Muslim parents to ensure that their children avoid “harmful” music.
If there were no clashes, Islamic states and movements would not need absurdly named “morality police” and “Commissions for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”. If it were people’s culture, Islamists would not need to exert such indiscriminate and targeted violence to try and keep the population at large in check.
There are countless examples of this huge fight back against the Islamists by those deemed to be “Muslims” but these contestations are ignored in the West with only Islamism’s narrative given credence.
In Iran, for example, women are fighting hard to enter sports stadiums where they are banned due to gender segregation rules.
In Britain, however, gender segregation is actively promoted. One good example of this is when in December 2013, Universities UK, a regulatory body, endorsed gender segregation in its guidelines on external speakers, saying:

Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.

(The familiar separate but equal arguments we heard during racial apartheid in South Africa.) UUK was eventually forced to withdraw its guidance after women’s rights campaigners and secularists protested the guidelines.
Sharia family codes are another area where women’s rights campaigners have fought hard to oppose discriminatory laws. Under Sharia’s civil code a women’s testimony is half that of a man’s, women have limited right to divorce whereas men have unilateral right to divorce, child custody is given to the father at a pre-set age irrespective of the welfare of the child and marriage contracts are entered into between the man and the woman’s male guardian.
An Islamic  Sharia court in Britain explains why a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s:

If one forgets, the other can remind her.
It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.
A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.

It goes on to say it is not “derogatory” but “the secret of women’s nature”.
Despite attempts to portray these courts as people’s rights to religion, including by some humanist organisations, black and minority women are contesting these courts in Britain and elsewhere.
In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

I am telling you a story
Of what the powerful have done
Of rules, a code of despair
A code obsessed with women…
“This law must be undone … !

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death … But here, the British government has so far failed to defend women’s rights and one law for all.
Also, despite its discriminatory nature, the Law Society in Britain issued a practice note for solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that:

… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…

The note was withdrawn only after the protests of women’s rights campaigners and secularists.
It’s the same with regards the veil, burqa and niqab. In Iran, there is an unveiling movement though improper veiling and unveiling is punishable by a fine, arrest, and up to two months in prison. Despite this, “progressives” here in the West often defend the hijab as a “right” and a “choice” when, socially speaking, it is anything but.
Seeing “Muslims” as homogenous aids and abets the Islamist movement and the far-right in general. Only when we stop conflating “Muslims” with Islamists and begin to see the immense dissent will we be able to ally with and show solidarity with progressive social and political movements and see the commonalities in our fight for secularism and against Islamism in Europe and across the globe.
This is key if we are to link up and strengthen the international front against theocrats of all stripes. And not a moment too soon.

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  • L.Long

    I don’t see muslins as homogeneous, as there are as many of them being hypocrites as there are xtians doing the same. Its their books o’BS that I lump together. If their book o’BS says hat-kill-bigotry then they can CLAIM anything but their book still teaches BS!!!! If they think parts of their book o’BS is wrong ???? Then change it or quit!!! Or you are a hypocrite and a future enabler of a criminal that will hate-kill-be a bigot!!!! But I prefer not to call a killer a TERRORIST or RELIGIOUS FUNDY they are KILLERS!!! CRIMINALS!!! Stop using empowerment words to describe them.

  • RussellW

    How many Muslims actually ‘refuse and resist’?
    Not many, otherwise majority Muslim nations wouldn’t be such as they are—oppressive and conservative. The West succeeded and Muslims have failed to modernise. Why? The most plausible explanation is that there isn’t the support for reform in Muslim-majority countries, despite the references to the ‘moderate majority’ by Muslim apologists.

  • Peter Sykes

    I’m a big fan of Maryam Namazie and One Law for All, but I still don’t see the difference between “Muslims” and Islamists. As L.Long says it is just which bits of their books of BS they chose to ignore?

  • Daz

    It’s not difficult.
    A Muslim is a person who is of the the religion of Islam.
    An Islamist is a Muslim who seeks to create or perpetuate a theocracy based upon that religion.

  • Leonard Ostrander

    We need to stop conflating Christians with Christianity.

  • John the Drunkard

    Well, the examples would seem to demonstrate that Western ‘progressives’ are much more committed to Islamism than the people who actually have to live under it.
    And still, the question of WHICH ‘shariah’ is left dangling. The non-stop centuries of bloodshed between conflicting infallible, divinely revealed Laws is still begging explanation.

  • Brent Cheetham

    An interesting article — Brimming over with , illuminating information ( I did not know that Valentines day was in effect banned in Iran )–it would appear to me both the far right AND the regressive left both conflate Muslims with Islamists — and in this respect only are two peas from the same pod

  • Brian Jordan

    “Conflate” rather implies that “we” are denying a dichotomy: that Islamists are not Muslims, almost. So that with the “Islamists” out of the way, “Muslims” can be homogeneous after all.
    I think a better view would be of a spectrum, with a distribution-curve envisaged. Probably, if rather mind-bogglingly, multidimensional.

  • nogbad666

    @ Daz:
    “A Muslim is a person who is of the the religion of Islam.
    An Islamist is a Muslim who seeks to create or perpetuate a theocracy based upon that religion.”
    Absolutely right. We also have “Christians” and “fundamentalist Christians”, it’s just that we don’t have a single word to describe “fundamentalist Christians”(except bigots, religiots, etc!).
    I have travelled in many Muslim countries and can say that the vast majority of Muslims I have met, as also the vast majority of Christians, are normal, decent people who either (a) haven’t read their “holy” books thoroughly and are not aware of the nasty bits, or (b) HAVE read the nasty bits and choose to ignore or rationalise them away. It may well be argued (as I do myself, and others on this site do) that those parts of their holy books are just as “sacred” as the rest, and by ignoring them the followers are hypocrites or “cafeteria Christians” (or “cafeteria Muslims”), but I’m happy to let them carry on that way if it stops them trying to blow me up. I have recently returned from a trip to Iran, and I can tell you that the majority of educated people there are not Islamists or even serious Muslims. They are intelligent, outgoing people who see all the flaws in religion that we do. I would say that on average Americans are far more religious than Iranians. The GOVERNMENT of Iran may well be Islamic – the PEOPLE, by and large, most certainly are not.

  • Debbie

    The problem with Cafeteria Muslims (or rather with the idea of Cafeteria Muslims) is that it perpetuates the idea that those who don’t set aside the extremes of the Quran are the devout ones, the “real Muslims.” Particularly if those cherry picking the nice bits can’t, or are unwilling to, state out loud that the Quran is wrong. And if you reject parts of the book – do not believe them and do not follow them, then you do think the Quran is wrong. And please don’t think I am blaming people for choosing to protect their safety is cultures/states where saying the Quran is wrong could get you killed. But when a moderate or non-practicing Muslim cannot call out unchangeable dogma and state simply that it’s wrong on this point or that, people will always conflate Muslims with Islamists, because they appear to tacitly support the things the Islamists support out loud.
    And it’s true to say that Islamists often go far beyond what their “sacred book” says, but that book does have enough horror in it to justify terrible acts, if that’s what someone wants to do.

  • barriejohn

    Daz is absolutely correct; Islamists want a theocratic society, and many will resort to terrorism to achieve that aim. I don’t see the problem here at all, as no one has any problem distinguishing between Jews and Zionists, even though Menachem Begin and his compatriots have been called “The Fathers of Modern Terror”. Also, these movements are always more complicated than they might appear – part religious, part nationalist, part political,and so on – but the moment you point that out you’re accused of being a “Muslim sympathizer”!

  • get

    E-vil West gave birth to ISIS……………..
    E-vil white race is responsible for Orlando. Nice and Iraq …………….
    E-vil Christians and e-vil Jews LIED about Saddam Hussain’s WMD and invaded Iraq to slaughter Iraqis ………….
    (sectarian killing and the BIRTH of ISIS) Iraqi Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims were living peacefully for 1400 years until NOW……….
    So why are they killing each other NOW like they NEVER live in peace before?……..
    American and European E-vil Christians and E-vil Jews divided Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims for their OWN advantage in war with Saddam Hussian……….
    (American and European Christians and Jews) UNITED with Iraqi’s Shia Muslims AND Iraqi’s Christians AND Iraqi’s Yezidis AND Iraqi Kurds and THEY ALL started KILLING and RAPING Iraqi’s Sunni Muslims and ALL ARABS dictators watched SILENTLY….. the SILENCE of Arab’s dictators gave BIRTH to ISIS
    Please click on my name to read my other comments

  • Cali Ron

    barriejohn :. .or as Russell W said,”Muslim apologists.
    Daz: Simply and accurately explained, but your point will be lost on most of the commenters here. Ex: L.long’s comment didn’t seem to have anything to do with the point of the article, just his usual islamaphobic rant.

  • Cali Ron

    “(sectarian killing and the BIRTH of ISIS) Iraqi Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims were living peacefully for 1400 years until NOW……….” Your full of shit. The Sunni’s and Shia’s (and the many other iterations of Islam) have been bickering, fighting killing and maiming each other since their inception. Trying to blame the ceaseless killing of your fellow Muslims on Americans and Europeans is comical it’s so untrue. Go ahead, give yourself and your fellow murderer’s their due.

  • Remember that a violent revelation allegedly from God say the Koran or the Bible (the Bible in fairness is far worse than the Koran ) asks for interpretation. Thus if a violent interpretation is possible then the writers and promoters of the scripture must take responsibility even if their own interpretation is peaceful. A peaceful interpretation is not truly peaceful when the book gives mixed messages on violence. It is just a cover-up for the truth.

  • barriejohn

    Patrick Gormley: Do you think that the original writers of the Biblical books envisaged any “interpretation” of their words – except perhaps where “prophetic works”, written in a sort of code, were concerned? I very much doubt this personally, even though some of the Early Church fathers certainly looked upon passages like the Creation story as mythical.