I recently had an exchange with a Muslim Dartmouth student who came to a talk I gave. I had made the point that American Muslims, rather than complain that Americans were treating them with suspicion after 9-11, should rather have explored what is wrong with Islam that it could produce people who, in its name, and believing themselves to be (the only) “true” Muslims, would do such a deed.
He responded by commenting that, as a Muslim, he feels no obligation to do anything of the sort. For him, these men had not behaved as Muslims should and that was the end of it. I found this attitude remarkable, especially given the sense of solidarity (asabiyya) that Muslims are enjoined to feel towards each other.
In thinking about this, I’m struck by what one might call the difference between integrity and honor in the matter of solidarity. A person driven by integrity feels solidarity with his group in matters of morality, and breaches of that morality concern him or her. In some senses, the behavior of self-degrading Jews exemplifies an extreme version of this, in which the immoral behavior of other Jews so dishonors them that they must denounce it in the most ferocious terms.
A person driven by honor (in the tribal sense), feels solidarity with his group in matters of survival, self-defense, power. In the doctrine of Walla wa bara, love [for fellow Muslims], hate [for the enemies of Islam], we find a large array of attitudes that enjoin such solidarity – my side right or wrong – that a Muslim is not to help an infidel against a fellow Muslim, even if that Muslim is a criminal.
Thus, for helping convict five Muslims who were plotting to kill American soldiers in the Fort Dix terrorism trial, Mahmoud Omar has been ostracized by the Muslim community. Why? Because “in a twisted way…their [the terrorists'] actions are understandable in the Muslim community.” Omar adds, “For Muslims, we are all brothers, and I betrayed a brother”— echoing Muhammad’s injunction: “A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim.”
I’m not sure my interlocutor at Dartmouth has thought these matters through. I did not get the sense he was a demopath so much as genuinely unreflective. But I do think that, unconsciously, he reflected an attitude which needs to concern Muslims and infidels alike. In this sense, the Obama administration’s attitude – that to even speak of radical Islam is an insult to Muslims – enables and empowers this attitude. Rather than worry about “insulting” Muslims who insist that their religion is one of peace and thus zealots who use violence in the name of Islam are not “true Muslims,” we should be worrying about why Muslims don’t agonize over these men who – if we had the moral courage to assert the proper response – actually shame Islam.
It’s as if we were embarrassed about shaming Islam even when it deserves to be shamed.
I remember a dialogue session during the height of suicide bombing in 2002. I stated that suicide terrorism was morally repugnant. A Palestinian, a very nice and sincere man, objected that I was “dehumanizing” his people. It never occurred to him that his own people were dehumanizing themselves. And all the Jews in the group told me to shut up and stop provoking the Arabs in the group.