I hate Islam, as a religion, in its entirety” and “I hate all Muslims” aren’t two synonymous, inter-changeable statements. The former is a position a person may take against an ideology, a religion, such as Islam while the latter is a position against people who either consciously subscribe to or are born into that ideology. “Catholicism is a lie” and “Catholics are liars”, “Judaism is evil” and “Jews are evil” – the distinction ought to be clear. On one hand, we have statements targeting ideologies, which is fair, perhaps even necessary, for progress has always relied on challenging ideals perceived to be sacred, whereas on the other, we have unverifiable, unascertainable and obviously false generalizations against a people, which presuppose that all individuals belonging to a certain religion approach faith in identical fashion thereby emerging as identical believers, deserving of similar treatment.
In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, we are yet again witnessing people take extreme positions. On one side, there are those hell-bent to prove that followers of Islam, as a whole, are responsible for the violence unleashed in France. On the other side, we have people claiming that religious doctrine is completely irrelevant to the entire episode. Both camps are misguided. One quick to vilify and stereotype to cope, avenge and comprehend out of grief, anger and ignorance. The other unwilling to acknowledge problems in scripture, culture and the need for reform, defending what is indefensible, reinforcing fear and prejudice in the other camp. These two groups approach terms as “Islamophobia”, in line with their poor understanding of the issue. One defines it as a well-founded fear of Muslims, the other as unwarranted bigotry and hatred for Islam, thus its followers. Again, both are wrong. To be afraid of an ideology is reasonable, but to bracket believers under a single category and fearing or hating them is not.
As a result, in the aftermath of attacks such as 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo, calls are made for Muslims around the world to come out and condemn the actions of their fellow believers to prove their ‘peaceful, moderate Muslim’ credentials. The response to which are statements such as “Islam has nothing to do with this”, “what about the Muslims the West kills?” et cetera. What is needed is a nuanced discussion on foreign policy, religion, cultural bias and history, but instead we have people rushing to get on one bandwagon or the other. The few people – who wish to engage in a sensible debate – are condemned by both groups, for either being Muslim apologists or racist, prejudiced bigots. The media only perpetuates this divisive, misguided ‘debate’. It is either “defend Islam” or “attack Muslims”, which leaves little room for introspection and reform needed for all.