I've found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid ... and he gives me courage. ~ Gandalf
Sheila Musaji has been compiling a database of Muslim condemnations of terrorism since 9/11. This overwhelming pile of statements and fatwas have neither stopped terror attacks nor stemmed the anti-Muslim backlash.
Mosques in the U.S. and Canada continue to be targeted, visible Muslim women have been physically assaulted and Muslims are being told to "go home." Non-Muslim women and Sikh men have also shared the brunt of anti-Muslim bigotry. Online posters continue to blame "Islam" for terrorism. They reason that the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and ISIS, all of whom have perpetrated attacks across the globe, identify as Muslims.
Others counter that such an analysis is simplistic. They argue that extremists constitute a minuscule percentage of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims and that the bulk of the victims are other Muslims. They point towards Western imperialism in the Middle East that festers radicalism and allude to xenophobia and the 57 million dollar Islamophobia network, which leads towards incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry. In this context, some Muslims express fatigue on having to answer for the crimes of fringe groups thousands of miles away.
Stopping terrorism requires a proper understanding of the radicalization of Muslim youth, the determinants of which include perceived injustice, identity formation and romanticized adventures. The terrorists in Paris, both male and female have been associated with drugs and alcohol, both choices far removed from a conservative Muslim lifestyle. While, some may argue that religion should not be blamed, it is also true that radical ideologues employ a religious narrative to use misguided youth as canon fodder.
This is no time to deflect responsibility. Like the Taliban, ISIS is a product of both Western aggression in Iraq and Saudi indoctrination through petro-dollars. Muslims like Hind Fraihi in Belgium and Imam Soharwardy in Calgary have cautioned that government authorities need to do more. Logistically, this entails tracking cyberspace and finance supplies of ISIS and calling upon regional allies to end their geo-political games for a concerted action against ISIS.
However, this also means checking hateful literature, "celebrity" preachers and supremacist groups. Like any religious book, the Qur'an can be used to stoke supremacism or promote pluralism. As such, Dr. Abdullahi Naim has expressed repudiating principles on aggressive jihad, slavery and subordination of women and non-Muslims. Similarly, Islamic scholar Javed Ghamidi, has expressed that Muslim leaders have to develop a counter religious narrative to classical doctrines on death for apostasy and blasphemy.
Not all who uphold archaic draconian punishments and doctrines become violent extremists. But it is also true that all violent extremists uphold such a set of beliefs. Moreover, the negative stereotypes about Muslims, which partially instigate anti-Muslim bigotry, involve issues like blasphemy, apostasy, sharia laws, the treatment of women and minorities. This indicates that while allies of Muslims counter racism and xenophobia, Muslim communities will have to address the inertia in lslamic law to play their part in curbing anti-Muslim bigotry.
Strongly held beliefs have led to the manifold oppression of minority groups amongst Muslims including LGBT Muslims, ex-Muslims, and those belonging to minority Muslim sects. As such, in the aftermath of the Paris attack, British Muslims for Secular Democracy issued a press release, stating that "condemning acts of violence and terrorism is not enough" and that "we must reinforce our resolve to stand for secular values, ... by challenging extremist views within our communities, our homes and workplaces."
It is not umpteen condemnations that stop terrorism or anti-Muslim bigotry but concerted action by governments and leaders and simple acts of kindness by everyday people. Instances like the Beth Israel Synagogue offering Muslims a space to pray in Ontario, or the Cold Lake citizens coming out to clean the mosque graffiti, draws people together.
Recently, Jack Swanson, a seven-year-old boy in Texas reached out to the local Muslim community with $20 after the Muslim Centre was vandalized. The mosque management in turn gifted him with an Apple iPad, as he had been saving for one. A representative of the mosque management expressed:
"Jack's 20 dollars are worth twenty million dollars to us because it's the thought that counts...This gives me hope... it's not one versus the other. Our kids are going to grow up together... If we have more kind-hearted kids like (Jack) in the world, I have hope for our future."
The power of small acts of kindnesses should not be underestimated, for they are more powerful than military expeditions. Indeed, it is not the youth who are loved that are prone to radical indoctrination but those who are forsaken at the margins. It is also important to understand that strength lies in diversity, for if we unconditionally reach out to others, they will likely reach out to us in our time of need.
As such, Muslim communities can go beyond condemnations and unconditionally reach out to diverse communities, LGBT and LGBT Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Pakistani Christians in the Diaspora, ex-Muslims, any and all who are hurting due to the onslaught of horrible human beings in the guise of religious leaders. In doing so, Muslims will break barriers and draw people together; just as little Jack has taught us all.