A Clash of Extremisms and The Wages Of The Sin Of Irresponsible Hate Speech

Once again the ugly consequences of irresponsible speech designed to inflame Muslim sentiment, have resulted in a tragic display of violence in a clash between extremists. The result was the wounding of a security guard and the killing of the two alleged shooters Sunday night in Garland, Texas. The assault highlighted familiar elements and activities with increasingly familiar results.

The event’s sponsor, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), is a group perhaps better known by its other name, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA).  It is an American extreme right-wing organization that describes itself as a "human rights organization dedicated to free speech, religious liberty and individual rights”. However the Southern Poverty Law Center, a credible group that authentically engages in the combatting of hate and intolerance in American society, has long since listed the AFDI as an Islamophobic group under the leadership of two anti-Muslim extremists, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. 

SIOA is perhaps best known to New Yorkers for its engineering of sensationalist events surrounding the opening of The Khalil Gibran International School in 2007 (resulting in the unjust targeting of local activist Debbie Almontaser), and Park 51 dubbed the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, in 2009. The climate of hate generated by the 2009 event reportedly contributed to an assault upon a New York City Muslim cab driver.

The AFDI is the group responsible for the anti-Islam, anti-Muslim subway and bus ads denounced by many New York City elected officials. The Metropolitan Transportation Agency is now contemplating the cancelling of all opportunities for advertisement that might be seen as controversial, which some see as an abridgement of freedom of speech, as the result of the on-going campaign by the AFDI.

Geller and Spencer are openly affiliated with rabid anti-Muslim groups in Europe, like the English Defense League — an offshoot of the neo-Nazi British National Party, reportedly composed in large part of skinheads and white supremacists. The hate teachings of Spencer and Geller mischaracterizing Islam and Muslims have inspired murderous acts. In 2011, Anders Brievik, an extremist in Norway, murdered 77 people including innocent children, after publishing an on-line manifesto railing against multiculturalism, feminism, and Islam. He quoted the two extremists liberally in his maniacal writing. 

  Geller’s response to the killing of Muslim innocents was to falsely identify the site of the mass murders as an anti-Israel “indoctrination training center.” She also wrote that had they lived, the victims would have grown up to become “future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with indolent Muslims who refuse to assimilate, and who commit major violence against Norwegian natives including violent gang rapes, with impunity”.

The event that served as the venue for the Texas attack was an art contest, with a $10,000 reward for the “best” cartoon caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Ever since acclaimed author Salman Rushdie, a self-avowed ex-Muslim turned “hardline atheist” wrote the widely-publicized book The Satanic Verses 25 years ago, offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other sacred personages from the Islamic tradition have inflamed Muslim sentiment in ways that have resulted in the loss of human life and destruction of property, as the result of acts of intentional murder, arson, riot, bombings.

As El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X would say, the climate of hatred generated by today’s Islamophobes produces 21st century examples of “chickens coming home to roost”. This is the result of the unrelenting attacks of anti-Muslim extremists upon the religion of Islam, and all Muslims except those who renounce their faith and align themselves with such groups as ADFI. The extremist reaction of some Muslims to cartoons and literature openly insulting the Prophet Muhammad with vile, obscene depictions of him and Muslims (have you ever looked at the Charlie Hebdo illustrations, and their denigrating racial and ethnic imagery of people of color?) is a current example perhaps, of this “hate that hate produced”.

By engaging in deliberately provocative speech and actions that target not just Muslim extremists but the religion of Islam and Muslims, Islamophobes are counting on the visceral, violent reaction of a relatively small group of Muslims globally. Islam does not condone the targeting of innocent people of any religion or none for death, even when they engage in acts of intentional degradation of that which 1.5 billion people hold sacred.

The open enemies of Islam and Muslims insulted the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during his time and he never retaliated against them with violence. Campaigns that denied the Prophet’s mission and demeaned his character were opposed by his followers, but with words,  not violence. Whenever the assaults upon their leader elevated to the level of physical actions however, the Muslims acted in defense of their faith and God’s prophet. Our scholars teach us that even today Muslims have a sacred obligation to defend the exalted character of the Prophet (peace be upon him) even as we seek to uphold his prophetic mission. The problem with Muslim extremists is that they seek to do so in ways that exceed the methodology of the Prophet himself (peace be upon him)

Their fellow members of Islamophobic think tanks have undoubtedly briefed Spencer and Geller that extremist violence is not sanctioned by the religion of Islam itself, or by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims. The visceral response of Muslim extremists to attacks upon their faith and its sacred personages is not Qur’anic. It is that of the Muslim “wretched of the earth” identified by psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon last century, in the aftermath of European colonialism of the so-called 3rd world. 

In January of this year, Muslims decided to hold a non-violent, public, indoor rally at the same site where last night’s attack occurred. Organizers of the event declared “ Prophet Muhammad inspires love and devotion in the hearts of Muslims, peace be upon him. Unfortunately, Islamophobes have turned him into an object of hate. The fight in defense of our Prophet against the $160 million Islamophobia machine is continuous, and groups like ISIS and Boko Haram only increase the media’s ammunition to incriminate Muslims.

The sponsors called their event “Stand with the Prophet, Against Terror and Hate”, and declared rectification of his image as their goal. Yet upon their arrival at the event, Muslims were greeted by hundreds of people whose perceptions had been informed by the Islamophobic propaganda generated by groups like ADFI. 

The propaganda included(s) liberal use of buzzwords and talking points common to the American Islamophobic industry. They called themselves “patriots” and Muslims sponsoring the event “Islamists”, “radicals”, and “Jihadis”. They used buzzwords like “Sharia law” and “ Muslim Brotherhood” (listen to current interviews with Geller). They denounced the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization who like all mainstream Muslims of good will , supported the conference .

Islamophobes continue to this very moment to perpetrate  the decades old mischaracterization of keynote speaker Imam Siraj Wahhaj as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1995 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Rather than identify him as one of 171 persons whose names appeared on a flawed list as unindicted persons who “may be alleged as co-conspirators”, they imply that he was involved, just not apprehended. The fact that Imam Wahhaj has never been associated with, accused, alleged, or charged with terrorism or violent crimes by law enforcement officials is never mentioned by them. Rather than be described as an expert witness who testified under oath on more than one occasion in U.S. federal court, as to the illegitimacy of Muslim extremist claims of terrorism as justifiable under the laws of jihad, the imam was called “a close friend of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman” (indicted on terrorism charges connected with the 1995 bombing)*.

Such lies and distortions as repeated ad infinitum over the years not only by ADFI but news outlets like Fox News and their global media affiliates and various Internet resources, bore fruit. Hateful un-American speech, and placards conveying bigoted, jingoistic sentiments and beliefs were in abundance outside of the venue for the peaceful January Muslim event. Further, the organizers of the event (Pamela Geller was present) decided to counter it and the goodwill it sowed not only with their talking points leading up to it, but by subsequently instituting a “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” at the exact same venue less than six months later.

Such non-Muslim Islamophobic extremists who not only opposed a peaceful event mostly internal to the Muslim community, but designed a deliberately provocative gathering like the contest, did so hoping to incite an instinctive, unreasoning response not from the moderate Muslim majority, but from an extreme decidedly Muslim minority. The bloodlust of Muslim extremists for those who continue to degrade and insult their way of life and that which they hold dear is rooted in values common to all people – love for their God, their faith, their families, their community, and their nation. But they are equally motivated by hatred of the other (which incidentally includes those whom they victimize - both Muslims and Christians) , as are the Islamophobes.

Imam Abdul-Malik Mujahid, the organizer of the Stand with the Prophet event has said "We need to understand this abuse against the Prophet for what it is: a form of psychological violence intended to hurt and harm. Our response when we encounter such attacks must be to seek God’s forgiveness and respond with what is better: prayers on the Prophet and Duas for him."

In light of the most recent attack by Muslim extremists, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has declared, “Bullets against cartoons are bullets against the Prophet” (Muhammad). They further stated in a publicly released statement, “The perpetrators of this shooting violated the principles of Islam by reacting to offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad with far worse actions - the intent to kill. Countering the hate of the organizers and attendees of the event with violence is reprehensible. There are numerous instances in the life of Prophet Muhammad where he continuously responded to insults and hatred with mercy and forgiveness, and sometimes just plain silence”.

These sentiments reflect those of the Muslim mainstream. However groups like the ADFI continue to play “chicken” with Muslim people influenced by extremists in their own camp, and people are dying. The latest tactic of Geller and Spencer , to place their bigoted unrelenting attacks upon a religion and global faith community within a constitutional framework emphasizing freedom of speech, fool no one. Geller is on public record as opposing the opening of Al Jazeera America two years ago
( http://www.usasurvival.org/home/ck07.15.13.html#axzz3ZQcIQcL3), demonstrating that her commitment to free speech is selective at best. No matter, satanic speech is what it is. In America people have the right to speak satanically and others have the right to denounce their words, and those who speak them. After all, the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi parties spew their vitriol here so why shouldn’t Geller, Spencer, and others? 

But an observation gleaned  from social media is relevant in this discourse.  When the Klan and other Christian White supremacists engage in acts of domestic terrorism , it is understood that they neither represent all Americans of European descent, nor all Christians. But why is it that people like the leaders and employees of ADFI don’t extend that same reasoning to Islam and Muslims, when El Qaeda,  ISIS, Boko Haram or whoever else engage in acts of terrorism at home or abroad?

Muslims should remember and obey the Word of Allah, Who states in the Qur’an “ Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better”. (Q 41:34)

However the problem with extremists is that they only listen to themselves. This is evident not only from the rantings of Muslim , Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist fanatics, but also Islamophobes. One thing is certain though. It is a dangerous game of stratagem that both the leaders and employees of ADFI are playing, with the lives of innocents as their kitty. We see this to be so from the Chapel Hill, North Carolina murders.

Human history teaches us that hatred and bigotry are  fires that cannot be contained. It is better to extinguish them before they rage out of control. Further as the old saying goes,  “people who play with fire inevitably get burned”. This time it was the perpetrators of violence who lost their lives. Usually it is innocent people who are killed. Who is to say who it will be if there are further deaths? People of conscience call upon all  extremists to desist from their hateful words and actions. Hateful actions are much worse than hateful words or expressions of speech (like cartoons), of course. But the problem with hateful words is that they influence minds, and always lead to hateful actions.

One wonders if the extremists of the ADFI want to be martyred in the name of their extremist cause, or only want to endanger the lives of innocents? In either case, if so then they aren’t much different from other religious, secular,  or atheist extremists, whose actions are loathed by all reasonable people .

*Such tactics are commonplace in the Islamophobic industry, which delights for instance in identifying the mosque which I serve as religious and  spiritual leader as “The Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood” (instead of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Inc.), thus implying a (non-existent) link between us and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood ( Ikwaanul-Muslimeen, or Society of Muslim Brothers). Further, they reference our use of the Ikhwan’s motto while ignoring that is it simply an articulation of universal Muslim beliefs and values. Ridiculously, Islamophobic writers depict our social justice activism as unpatriotic, when what we're actually practicing and striving to follow is the tradition of “prophetic patriotism” demonstrated in the Bible and Qur’an by Noah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).


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