In light of the news today of the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a recently naturalized US citizen of Pakistani descent, who is charged with attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, the last Inside Islam radio show on Jihad becomes even more timely. Jean spoke with Michael Bonner and Faisal Devji on the meanings of jihad and how many who claim to be jihadists are actually operating outside of Islamic law. Devji, in particular, emphasized that those involved in violent operations are acting as individuals, unlike in the tradition where jihad is a collective activity ordered by a leader like a caliph. Moreover, these individuals are not necessarily acting out of religious motivations, although they use religious discourse as the framework, but out of ethical reasons, like problems with US foreign policy.
After hearing the news last night about the arrest of Shahzad, I was immediately reminded of Devji’s argument and like many others extremely frustrated by the damage these acts do to the image of Islam and to the vast majority of other Muslims who do not condone these acts. In the media, not enough is done to highlight that these acts do not represent Islam or the loyalty of Muslim Americans just as the Hutaree militia does not represent Christianity. It is very frustrating to me the conspicuous difference in coverage between this story and the Hutaree militia plot. For example, it is disconcerting that there so much focus on his US citizenship when there did not seem to be the same on focus on the citizenship of the 9 Hutaree militia members. Moreover, since he is a Muslim, it becomes acceptable to call it terrorism while with the Hutaree, Christians, it is extremism.
I do not condone in any way these kinds of acts, but I also do not accept explanations that place Islam at the center. For example, by Sunday, Representative Peter T. King of New York, said that a possible reason for the attack was the South Park controversy of showing the Prophet Muhammad in the 200th episode, even though they still had not named a suspect. Thus, the general assumption was that it was a Muslim. The fact that the producers of the show were threatened is completely unacceptable, but for people not to understand that many Muslims may be offended, but will not use violence to express it, is really frustrating. Why are these explanations so readily at hand when it comes to Islam and Muslims?
I do not know why Shahzad, the Hutaree, or anybody who chooses to use violence makes the decision they do. What I do know, however, is that it is becoming even more necessary to avoid generalizations and assumptions that alienate and generate fear. This kind of violence does not only target non-Muslims; Muslims are its victims as well.
What was your reaction to this story? Should Islam be blamed? Do you think there is a difference in the media coverage between the Hutaree story and this story? If so, why do you think that is? Please share your thoughts below.