Khalid Latif, a chaplain for New York University, here complains that moderate and peaceful understandings of Islam are being unfairly discounted: “As much as Muslims need to acknowledge the existence of a minority voice that is radicalized, so too does a broader society need to acknowledge the existence of a majority voice that is not radicalized and more importantly condemns radical thought.”
That’s just great, and I am happy to accommodate him in this. It is also worth noting, however, that a few years ago, when NYU students planned to display the Danish cartoons of Muhammad at a campus event, Latif wrote a letter to NYU President John Sexton, asking that he “not allow these cartoons to be displayed in any shape or form.” Why not? Because “the potential of what might happen after they are shown is something else that should be considered and not taken lightly.” For “the repercussions that would take place outside of the university setting are potentially huge. All over the world Muslims have been coming together over this issue and in New York they would not hesitate in doing the same thing.”
This has been widely interpreted as a veiled threat, but let’s give Latif the benefit of the doubt: let’s just say that he was simply noting the possibility of violence, not threatening violence, if the cartoons were displayed at NYU. Even if that were the case, another problem remains: he was asking Sexton to make sure that non-Muslims changed their behavior to accommodate violent Muslims, rather than directing his efforts to violence-minded Muslims to try to get them to stop the violence.
And that has everything to do with what he is saying here. Because here again, he is saying that it is up to non-Muslims to take due notice of peaceful Muslims. But how effective or helpful are these peaceful Muslims when one of their foremost exponents refuses to stand up to his violent coreligionists, but instead demands that non-Muslims curtail their activities to accommodate them? If Latif is really concerned that non-Muslims don’t believe his protestations of peace and moderation, this is why: his unwillingness or inability to stand up to the “radicals” either casts doubt upon his sincerity or demonstrates his impotence.
“My Take: Islam is a religion of peace, or it isn’t,” by Khalid Latif for CNN, October 11:
Last week, New York University hosted the Intelligence Squared Debates at its Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Four panelists, two for and two against, presented arguments on the motion of “Islam Is a Religion of Peace.” About 800 showed up to learn the answer.
Problem is, there is no one answer.
The Muslim community is by no means monolithic and viewing us as one is problematic. We are diverse.
Yet we find ourselves in a moment in which we are very narrowly understood. That normative understanding is equated to something radical, despite the fact that 93 percent of Muslims are found to be far from radical according to recent Gallup surveys.
What becomes more problematic is that typically when one of us from that 93 percent steps up to speak, we are vehemently told that we either do not represent Islam or even more absurdly that we are not truly practicing Islam’s teachings.
Zeba Khan, a panelist for the “Islam Is a Religion of Peace” last week, was met with such a response. She started off the debate by sharing her personal story about growing up in Ohio, attending a Hebrew Day School, and being raised by Indian parents in a Muslim household. “Just because you may not hear us,” said Khan,” doesn’t mean we are not speaking.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali , speaking against the motion, followed Zeba and immediately said, “The problem with Islam is who speaks for Islam.” She went on to say, “I concede (the radical voice) is a minority,” and expressed her desire that someone like Zeba Khan actually would speak for Islam, but, in her opinion, could not and does not.
And so Zeba’s voice, her interpretation, and all of her efforts were collectively dismissed since she did not fit into what Hirsi Ali believed Islam to be.
Maajid Nawaz, Zeba Khan’s co-panelist for the motion, was dismissed just as easily. “This debate is not about making excuses for terrorism,” he said. “This debate acknowledges that Muslims bear a responsibility in reclaiming their faith from a minority.”…
Despite this, those opposed to the motion told him that it is his peaceful understanding of Islam that is rooted in misinterpretation, since it does not match up with the interpretation put forth by the radical minority, and thus somehow ignores the fundamentals of Islam since those groups somehow are the end-all be-all of what Islam actually means.
That a peaceful interpretation of the religion, or even one that is non-radical, can only exist by ignoring fundamental texts is flawed in its logic.
Characteristic of any text – whether religious or not – is its ability to be interpreted through the lens of its reader. Interpretations of the Quran that espouse ideas of tolerance, compassion and mercy have existed and continue to exist in the majority of Muslim communities since the advent of Islam 1400 years ago.
As much as Muslims need to acknowledge the existence of a minority voice that is radicalized, so too does a broader society need to acknowledge the existence of a majority voice that is not radicalized and more importantly condemns radical thought. There are those who make Islam to be something restrictive and radical, but there are many, many more who do not.
Moderating the panel last week, ABC News correspondent John Donvan said speaking to those against the motion, “You are making it sound like Islam is what you make it to be. Why then can it not be the peaceful Islam that we see being practiced by so many around the world?”
The answer, Mr. Donvan, is that it can be, and for the majority of us, it is.