Fair criticism means looking beyond the faults and failings
By Fedwa Wazwaz
On October 22, The Minnesota Daily published my commentary “Islamo-Fascism a very racist concept.” On October 23 and 24, a couple of letters to the editor responded to my artcle. A common thread in the letters was the right to criticize Islam. Do people have a right to criticize Islam?
Let me begin by quoting a couple of lines of Islamic poetry:
“The eye of Love to every flaw is blind,
While the eye of hatred reveals all flaws.”
Hatred is a disease that is manifested by an eye that seeks faults and flaws to condemn the other by defining them by these flaws and personal failings, dismissing any and all contributions or value.
In the eyes of those who use the term Islamo-fascism, Islam has been defined as a race – the Semitic race with the exception of Jews, in particular the Arabs. Islam is not an ideology or a race; it is a divine religion, a way of life meant to connect a person to his or her creator. But we do not see any understanding of Islamic spirituality, and rarely do we see a white European or Malaysian Muslim on TV. The racists – and they are racists – have reduced Islam to Hamas, Al Qaida, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the latest Middle Eastern enemy who is equated to Hitler.
Some people think of only the physical manifestations of abuse. They are not aware that there are many forms of abuse. Shaming is a toxic, insidious form of abuse that uses mental and emotional attacks to get at humans’ core identities. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, taught us: “Do not look for the faults in people; you will condemn them.”
In the eyes of the organizers of “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” Muslims are shamed into seeing themselves as flawed and defective, which creates feelings of worthlessness and pushes them into emotional rage or isolation instead of dialogue and peacemaking. They have not only been defined as Arabs, but as violent Arabs who never get it right. The books written by IFAW’s supporters are a catalog of all the social ills in the Arab world.
This awareness week was portrayed as rescuing the oppressed Muslim women. Are Muslim women oppressed? Yeah, but oppression of women exists in every culture and faith. Some examples they cite are honor killing and female genital mutilation. These are social ills practiced by people in certain areas and by many faiths in that area. For example, as a Palestinian, I have never heard of FGM amongst Palestinian Muslims. And I have heard of cases in which Palestinian Christian girls were victims of honor killing. So what does this have to do with Islam?
Why wasn’t this week properly called “Oppression of Women Awareness Week”? Why didn’t the organizers invite all faiths to join forces to end the abuse of women from practices such as honor killing and human trafficking?
They argue, don’t we have the right to criticize Islam? The question is not whether they have permission to criticize Islam—but whether they are capable of doing anything other than criticize Islam and Muslims. All we hear is constant criticism or condemnation of Islam. And is it fair to criticize a religion they do not understand or want to understand?
In addition, these antagonists ask, can people reject Islam? The question is not whether free people have the right to personally reject Islam in favor of another religion or none; the question is whether these demagogues will grant Muslims the right to accept Islam for themselves. The prolonged, constant criticism denies Muslims that emotional space of self-acceptance.
As Susan Forward says in the book Emotional Blackmail, “It’s scary telling another person, ‘This is who I am. This is what I want.’ Scarier still is standing by the truth about ourselves – our integrity – as we must when we give the other person a choice to accept or not accept our decisions and differences.”
The logic of “Awareness Week” supporters is summarized in two words: projection and blame. Their evidence is to reveal all flaws. Their solution is to “bomb their countries” and “kill their leaders.”
These so-called protectors of American values use valid grievances, but their aim is to seek power and glory. How can you decry the stoning of women to death in Muslim societies, and then support bombing an entire country “back to the Stone Age”?
This does not imply that Muslims should be free from criticism.
However, the criticism should be devoid of shame tactics, disgust, ridicule, and it should not overlook the good things in Islam or in Muslim societies.
Second, the criticism must be raised within a platform where Muslims can fairly respond to the critique or voice their own valid criticism of Western societies.
If people sincerely want to see change happen, then let them use their influence to call for a platform where Muslims are seen, understood and engaged in the public square as valuable human beings. Let them open a door for empathy and compassion toward each other and let them allow each to feel valued, instead of only ashamed of the human and imperfect societies that we all have in common.
In that setting, by all means feel free to criticize and, as the Quran says, “Let those who will believe and let those who will reject it.”
–Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.