This is three weeks old, but I just saw it, and it is worth examining. With Ali Eteraz I have had many exchanges in the past; you can judge for yourself about what they may or may not have revealed. In one of them, he stated feebly that peaceful Muslims should remain silent in the face of jihadist violence and supremacism, claiming that Martin Luther King, Jr., stayed silent in the face of racist oppression.
That was preposterous enough, but now Ali Eteraz has made an even more preposterous move, going from supine passivity to defiance:
“Muslims Should Raise the Other Finger,” by Ali Eteraz at True/Slant, November 26 (thanks to James):
During the salat, or prayer, Muslims raise their index finger to bear witness to the oneness of God. In America today, with all the calls for Muslims to condemn every little act of violence committed in the name of their religion, Muslims should start raising up the other finger. The middle one.
There is no need for one Muslim to condemn the crimes of another. Collective responsibility cannot, and should not, be accepted. Where one accepts collective responsibility one opens the door to collective punishment. Are Muslims individuals? Or are they one singular marionette that pirouettes each time its string is pulled?
One of the most egregious acts of kowtowing to the “massa” occurred recently in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings. At Huffington Post, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Salam al-Maryati wrote an article directed to Muslim-Americans, extolling them to “amplify our Muslim American identity.” No thanks. The only thing I’ll amplify is the length of my middle finger. A law-abiding American-Muslim has no need to do anything, one way or the other, when someone with a Muslim sounding name goes off the rail. The reason for this abstention-from-condemnation is not because “Christians don’t do it” or “Jews don’t do it.” It is nothing communal. Rather, it has to do with individual dignity, and individual accountability. We are all, each one of us, responsible for our actions, and liable for our mistakes. The ambit of our accountability cannot be allowed to extend beyond that. Why are the boundaries between one Muslim and another blurred and the individualities fused together? Muslims are not inkblots.
I have been against the notion of Muslims having to condemn this or that for years now, but previously my tone was restrained as I felt that calm persuasion was the right way to go about presenting this position. Not any more. Next time someone asks me to tell them why x or y Muslim murderer is evil I will bear witness in ways that are rated R.
Now in the name of Allah I’m going to go slaughter a turkey.
(As for the turkey bit, remember, this piece came out around Thanksgiving.)
The core assumption Eteraz makes here is that it is an exercise in collective responsibility that diminishes Muslims’ individuality if they are asked to condemn Islamic terrorist attacks. After all, Islam is not a monolith, as we are reminded endlessly. So if one Muslim believes that Islam teaches warfare against unbelievers and acts upon that belief, what does that have to do with Ali Eteraz, who presumably eschews such beliefs?
It’s a fair question. To what extent does membership in a group make one responsible for all the other members of that group? If one Christian does some evil deed and ascribes it to Christianity, are all Christians everywhere responsible for that?
Well, to a certain extent, yes. They wouldn’t rightly share any of the blame for it, but it would be incumbent upon them to show to those who might be concerned about a recurrence of such evil deeds that the way in which the evildoer used Christianity was actually wrong, and condemnable, and that they were working against such a recurrence by teaching against such false beliefs.
The point, in other words, is not collective responsibility at all. To blame all Muslims for the actions of jihadists would be asinine. But to take note of how those jihadists use Islam — its texts and core teachings — to justify violence and supremacism and warfare against unbelievers — and to ask peaceful Muslims what they’re doing to combat such teachings within the Muslim community is not asinine at all.
And it is not blaming anyone for anything he didn’t do. It is simply to ask someone like Eteraz this: “The jihadis say that they’re following the authentic path of Islam. If they’re correct, the implications of this would be many and ominous, for it would suggest that all Muslims, if they decided to follow the authentic path of Islam, would become jihadis — working either by violent or peaceful means to impose Sharia upon non-Muslims. You say you’re living out an authentic expression of Islam, and reject all that. Good. What case are you making against the jihadist understanding of Islam within the Muslim community? How are you combating it?”
I don’t think these are unreasonable questions. For if Muslims who profess to reject the jihadist understanding of Islam don’t fight against it, who will? And if they profess to reject the jihadist understanding of Islam but don’t do anything to stop its spread, of what ultimate value is their rejection of it? They may not be responsible for it, but since they profess Islam, shouldn’t they feel any responsibility to combat the jihadist claim to represent authentic Islam?
Apparently not. In years of calling for peaceful Muslims to present a viable alternative to the jihadist understanding of Islam, one that will convince Muslims not to take the jihadist path, we have seen numerous vague assertions that the jihadis are violating Islamic teaching; some vague condemnations of “terrorism” and attacks on “innocent civilians” that don’t define either term or rule out the jihadist understanding of Islam; some transparently flimsy constructions based on selective Qur’an quoting that will convince ignorant non-Muslims but not a single Muslim; and some “reformist” interpretations of Islam that roll out with much fanfare in the mainstream media but end up being only condemnations of attacks that kill other Muslims or attacks that don’t have state authority behind them (which latter point ignores the fact that in Islamic theology defensive jihad is incumbent upon every Muslim, state authority notwithstanding, and all contemporary jihads are presented as defensive).
And now we get the finger.
All right. I wouldn’t expect anything else from Ali Eteraz, but I do hope that some people who have been counting upon peaceful Muslims to work against the jihadists within Muslim communities will take careful note.