How do we outsiders (i.e., non-Muslims) interpret the polling numbers recently published by Pew and Populus? Despite the positive spins that both Blair and Altikriti tried to give them, the numbers are troubling, especially when considered in the context of the more substantive responses of Muslims to both the numbers and the phenomenon of terrorism in their midst.
I think that one of the major approaches to interpreting both the polling data and the articulated reactions of Muslims to critics comes from considering the dynamics of “honor-shame cultures.”
When dealing with honor-shame cultures, one cannot expect people to show more solidarity with outsiders than with their own group. Indeed, one might paraphrase an honor-culture’s sense of solidarity with the expression, “my group (family, clan, nation, religion) right or wrong.” When it’s a question of someone killing your brother, you don’t ask yourself, “did he do it on purpose? was my brother responsible for provoking him?” You kill him. If you don’t, you lose your honor.
Civil society is built on the principle that justice trumps personal loyalties at least a significant amount of the time. When we speak of “moderates”, we basically mean people who are willing to acknowledge the justice claims of others, especially when it’s obvious… as for example the claim of a civilian not to be made a target by someone disgruntled with the way his government acts. The evidence for solidarity among Muslims — not necessarily ideological, but sentimental — is quite strong, and forbids the assumption that just because people don’t approve of the suicide attacks, that they a) “utterly oppose” them, or b) that they will condemn them.
Take the case of Marie Fatayi-Williams, whose son died in one of the 7-7 blasts (Hat tip MTL). She has asked Maniza Hussain, the mother of her child’s murderer, Hasib Hussain, to declare publicly that the attack was “wrong and her faith does not allow it.” The response so far has come from Hasib’s father, Mahmood, who claimed that, had he known what his son planned, he would have broken his legs to prevent him from doing it. But instead of making the declaration that Marie sought for, he takes refuge in denial that his son did it.
We are the victims, too – and in the same position as you are… We are decent people. I worked hard all my life. Please, please, please don’t say it’s something to do with me or that I know, my son knew, my wife knew. We are very, very decent people… I think it must have been somebody else on the bus. Not Hasib. He was a good boy. There’s not a shred of evidence that he was involved in it.
This isn’t quite conspiracy theory, but it operates as such. The father need not take responsibility for his son’s deeds; he can paint himself as a victim and solicit sympathy; and, apparently, he can avoid declaring the deed un-Islamic. Why this claim of innocence is a reason not to decry the deed — even if by another person/Muslim — is not clear from a moral point of view. But from the point of view of honor-solidarity, it is clear: There is only so far the Hussain parents will go in deploring what their son did, and declaring that it is un-Islamic is apparently too much. Recall the Dutch rapper Yassine SB who wanted to sing a song against the murderer of Theo Van Gogh and decided not lest he be shunned by his fellow Muslims.
We see this particular dynamic which lies at the heart of all the troubles the West in dealing with its Muslims. It’s not clear just what moderation is; not clear just where loyalties lie; not clear, when the peer pressure from radical Muslims is on, just how many “moderates” will resist. Nor is this even clear to the Muslims involved, caught between a civil society in which they find many advantages, and the atavistic call of tribal and religious loyalties enforced by an increasingly aggressive “community” of zealots.
(Note: Dual loyalties are not unique to Islam. Jews also feel them, as in the case of Jonathan Pollard. The issue is not so much whether they exist, but what the threshhold to abandoning the commitments to civil society. In Islam, that threshhold seems very low. Even denouncing terrorism — something the vast majority of Jews will do when a Jew commits an act of terrorism, like Baruch Goldstein — seems too high a price to pay for the tribal loyalties to fellow Muslims. Alas!
No one can say just how bad (or good) the situation is. But what we can say, is that spotting the demopaths and discrediting them, and thereby serving notice on those who inhabit the zone between being (willing) dupes of demopaths — those who support Qaradawi and insist they’re moderates — and knowing demopaths, is of utmost importance.