Are Muslims Afraid of Their Own Shadow?

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown ~ 25 Sept 2010 ~ The National, Abu Dhabi

(This is the full, unedited version)

When we used to be American Muslims we hated our own freedom. In the phrase

of the time, “they hate our freedom,” American Muslims were both the “they” and

the “our”. Such a contradiction in terms is probably a good sign that there’s

something awry with the original premise. Not that that helps much in a country

that counts amongst its most popular shows, “Are you smarter than a fifth


Now that the fear mongering in American right‐wing circles has gone viral

amongst the entire public, will Muslims succumb to the same fear? Will Muslims

begin to fear Islam just as much? Will they begin to fear their own selves? The

symptoms have begun to manifest.

The reason for this escalation of what is being called “islamophobia” is all too

familiar. Historically, when societies have gone through disaster or crisis they

have turned on their minorities like the pogroms of 19th century Russia or

Japanese internment in the 1940s. It is an almost ritualistic scapegoating

exercise that hearkens back to ancient times.

Americans are going through a period of uncertainty. Economic downturn and

joblessness are causing them to feel scared and question their future. It is

unfortunately unsurprising that they would seek out a scapegoat when the

impotency of right‐wing politicians to provide the promised solution shows


But if Americans are uncertain about themselves and their future, and happen to

lash out in desperation, it shouldn’t be a cause for Muslims to be uncertain about

their own selves or spiritual culture.

Unfortunately, in an unprecedented loss of nerve, many Middle‐class and elite

Muslims have contracted more islamophobia than the islamophobes. Distancing

themselves from their own religious and cultural identity in a bid to “pass” or fit

in. Even some Muslim countries are trying to marginalize religious practice and

culture or sweep it under the rug altogether as if it were a condition to prove

their worthiness to be picked from the line outside on the pavement to cross the

velvet ropes into the club of glamorous nations.

With the rapacious bellicosity of the state of Israel, the “self‐hating Jew” is a

historical relic. You now have the self‐hating Muslim all decked out for the

minstrel show.

Muslim elites have always tried to distance themselves from their religious and

cultural identity. But never to any avail. Leaving Islamic institutions and native

cultural discourse to embarrassing “lay‐readers” or fixated radicals eventually

backfires on us all.

Instead, Muslims should embrace a robust identity and invest in a rich heritage

that promotes a dynamic, effective, and ‘switched‐on’ discourse. When tomorrow

they sit at the table when company comes, everyone will see how beautiful they


Muslims could gain from the advice of francophone American writer James

Baldwin, in a letter to his nephew in America, “Please try to be clear, dear James,

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no

basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The

really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that

very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these

innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history

which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be

released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable

reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know

better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they

know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this

case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their


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