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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tagging Sunnis ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ is offensive

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Nicky Andrews

The Western media no longer reports hard facts in its coverage of the Muslim World, but rather seeks to shape the perceptions of its viewers or readers by using blanket adjectives, especially when reporting on Sunni Muslims. US administration figures, including the President, are also guilty of stereotyping and using words like “moderate” or “extremist” in an attempt to pigeonhole believers. I’ve been seriously annoyed about this hurtful ‘classification’ trend for a very long time, but now Nathan Lean, the Research Director at Georgetown University, has taken the words right out of my mouth.

Writing in the New Republic under the headline “Stop saying ‘Moderate Muslims’ you’re only empowering Islamophobes”, he accuses Newsweek, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Time among others for using “moderate” to describe Muslims who fit a certain preferred profile. Lean contends that “the idea of a ‘moderate Muslim’ is intellectually lazy because it carves the world up into two camps: ‘good’ Muslims and ‘bad’ Muslims. Such categorisation infers that “until proven good - or in this case ‘moderate’ - all Muslims are perceived as ‘bad’ or potentially extreme.”

In reality, terms like moderate or extremist cannot be applied to Sunnis that make-up almost 90 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. There is no such thing as progressive Islam and Islam’s tenets cannot be watered-down to fit contemporary lifestyles or cherry-picked to suit personal preferences. The Quran, as the word of God, is unchangeable. Therefore the term ‘moderate Muslim’ is patently false as those applying it know only too well. It’s being used as a euphemism for ‘non-threatening’ or to label a Muslim embracing western values i.e. someone who won’t cause any trouble.

“That’s the problem with this ‘moderate Muslim’ nonsense,” says Nathan Lean. It implies “that the degree to which a Muslim digests their religious faith is indicative of their status as a potential terrorist. Thus, ‘moderately subscribing to the teachings of the Quran is OK, but should they cross over into the world of daily prayers, Friday afternoons at the mosque and, God forbid, Ramadan, they are suddenly flirting with extremism.”

In a nutshell, there are no moderate Muslims; there are only Muslims. And there are no Muslim extremists, only power hungry terrorists using their own distorted version of Islam to fireup a bunch of wild-eyed losers into strapping bomb belts around their waists. The question is whether or not those are grass root aberrations or are their strings being pulled by unseen hands?

Is there a secret white paper locked in someone’s drawer in Washington strategizing how to weaken or divide-up Muslim countries into toothless entities? Is this the implementation of long-held US plans to break-up Iraq into three, leaving its neighbours to fall, one by one, like skittles? As the award-winning author, Professor Michel Chossudovsky, points out, the chaos in Iraq could be by design, with the goal to break-up the country.

“Washington’s intent is no longer to pursue the narrow objective of ‘regime change’ in Damascus,” he writes. “What is contemplated is the break-up of both Iraq and Syria along sectarian-ethnic lines. He maintains that there’s a carefully orchestrated US military intelligence agenda at play and says the US is supporting both sides. “America’s military occupation of Iraq has been replaced by nonconventional forms of warfare,” he writes. “Realities are blurred. In a bitter irony, the aggressor nation is portrayed as coming to the rescue of a “sovereign Iraq”.

Worse, the categorization - moderate or extremist - has been politicised and is mainly being applied to Sunni Muslims as opposed to Shiites. Until Sunnis became victims of foreign interference/occupation, for example, in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran they lived peacefully within their communities, coexisting with people of other faiths and exemplifying the Quran’s message of tolerance. The anger displayed by Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, for instance, has nothing to do with religion but all to with oppression, marginalisation, disenfranchisement and state brutality leaving them vulnerable to those who would manipulate their distress for their own ends.

While the US State Department is cosying-up to the Iranian President, discussing the future of Iraq behind closed doors, and Britain’s Foreign Office is planning the re-opening its Tehran embassy, Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr has called-up his disbanded Shiite militia vowing his supporters will “shake the ground”. That guerrilla group has blood stained hands, yet I don’t hear the White House complaining that its firepower represents a state within a state or labelling its members as extremists. There is a Shiite group holding a sword over Lebanon’s government - and others working to overthrow the Bahraini monarchy, proppingup the Assad regime’s killing machine and scheming against Yemen and Saudi Arabia which manage to escape being tagged ‘extremist’. On the contrary, they’ve been embraced by suspiciously-backed human rights groups.

It was shocking to learn that US Secretary of State’s remedy for the Iraq crisis is to enlist “moderate” Syrian rebels - it’s unclear whether he means the Free Syrian Army - to fight ISIL in Iraq when their main priority should be to rid their own country of a dictator who has slaughtered, imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands of his own people. “Obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq,” he told the leader of the Syrian opposition Ahmad al-Jarba. On Saturday, Kerry announced that the US has now deployed drones in Iraq, which will, no doubt, end up killing not only ISIL fighters but also Sunni civilians as they are intermingled in heavily populated areas and distinguishing between the two will present an impossible challenge as it is in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

This is just another example of the US getting others to do their dirty work, others who’ll apparently be the recipients of US $500 million if President Obama can convince Congress to release the funds. Does this indicate that the White House prioritises Iraq over Syria and is content for Assad to remain on his soiled throne while using Sunnis to assist the unpopular Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister to pacify a Sunni uprising in which ISIL is only one component?

Sunnis have been slandered for far too long without speaking out loud and clear in response. Given the dangerous environment in which we now live, we must put our hands together and stand tall. We should completely reject being branded by those who know nothing at all about our faith or who we are. Be proud and strong! Muslims have been reaching out and endeavouring to be understood, fearful of being judged, but we must stop apologising for things we had nothing to do with and people we’ve never met. It’s about time we rejected pandering to those self-appointed judges in western capitals and began delivering a few judgments of our own.

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