A few weeks ago, I attended a Busboys and Poets A.C.T.O.R. on Islamaphobia. Six local Muslim panelists talked about their personal experiences. Inevitably, the subject of what to do in the face of extremism came up.
As an atheist who keeps a toe in the atheist blogosphere, I have read quite a few posts challenging believers on extremism. Believers say that they should not be judged by the extremists within their religion. Many atheist bloggers have made the case that believers shouldn’t be able to get off so easily, that they do need to be held to account for what is done in the name of their ideology. At least they need to respond to it.
As an atheist, it is easy for me to agree with that. I don’t have anything invested in religion. I don’t get anything out of it. I just don’t get it. But as an anarchist, I somewhat understand the position that religious folks find themselves in. I very often find myself explaining that anarchists are not just molotov cocktail throwing tweens. I have to explain that people whom many would consider extremists are not the beginning and end of anarchism. And I find myself and my fellow anarchists are often at a loss as to how to respond to actions we find counterproductive.
Now I am not trying to compare the situation for Muslims in this country (and around the world) with that of anarchists. And I am certainly not trying to compare the people who flew into the twin towers with people who throw rocks through Starbucks windows. The differences are profound and, I hope, obvious. But Muslims and Anarchists do find ourselves in a few of the same conundrums.
Few people understand our beliefs or have any interest in learning about them. The media rarely speaks about us except when something destructive happens. We have very little voice to combat mainstream portrayals of us. And we don’t often do a very good job of using what voice we do have. Perhaps most importantly, the panelists indicated that Muslims have also been neglecting some badly needed internal discussions about divisions, rifts, conflicts, privileges, and prejudices.
For the most part, the panelists talked about being a good person, following their path, and demonstrating by their actions that Muslims are not all violent extremists. I get that. I often say that – as a middle aged, peaceful, dorky, woman – I just try to be an anarchist that defies stereotypes. But that doesn’t seem a sufficient response to the edges, the radicals, the fringe, the people whose actions make you cringe because you know your whole group will be judged by them.
None of the panelists were explicit about distancing themselves from extremists, but that was essentially what was meant by presenting a different image. Mazi Mutafa of Words Beats Life; however, did not distance himself completely. He said essentially that, while he may not agree with certain tactics, he will not disown people within his community just because he disagreed. People do things in desperation, he said. They are still a part of my community.
He owned the edges. And perhaps all communities need to own the edges, whether it is Muslims owning extremists, a southern town owning the KKK, or anarchists owning BANA (a racist, anarchist group that I will not link to).
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to delve into what that means in practice. So perhaps we can have that discussion here. Does a believer have a responsibility to own all the people who say they identify with their ideology? What does that look like? If not, how do you avoid it when people will just lump you together anyway? Do we have a responsibility to discuss the divisions and rifts and factions? Should those discussions be public?