Moderate Muslims need a better PR Agency

There has been much made of recent reports that roughly half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam.  And as usual, there are those who will try to claim that Muslims really aren’t all that bad, and that Sharia is just set of nice, abstract principles which are all about the protection of life, family, education, religion, property, and human dignity.   And on the other side, we have people pointing out that using Sharias as justification, there are countries which are stoning women and chopping off poor people’s hands and then forbidding Muslims from arguing about whether such things are just.

Worst yet, some of the more public “moderate Muslims”, such as Iman Rauf, refuse to criticize organizations such as Hamas, on the ground that he is a “bridge builder”, and it wouldn’t help to criticize Hamas’s terrorist activities as being anti-Isalmic.  OK, so let’s grant for the sake of argument the claims that Shariah really is far more than just criminal sanctions, but mainly about exhorting people to live a moral life, and that of the 1,081 pages of the two-volume Arabic text which Sherman A. Jackson (the Arthur F. Thurnau Prfessor of Arabic and Isalamic Studies at the University of Michigan) used to study Shariah, only 60 pages were devoted to criminal sanctions (i.e., the stoning and the cutting off of hands), and only 19 were devoted to Jihad.   Let’s even further grant the claims made by Humaira Awais Shahid that most Muslims reject “Political Islam” and are not even arabs.   OK.   But that case, wouldn’t there be more Imans publically disavowing the people who advocate terrorism and suicide bombs as not being Islamic?   Not all of them are bridge-builders, are they?   And if so, some of them might be better deployed towards saying what Islam is not, and saying that perhaps people who espouse those beliefs are being profoundly unIslamic — and saying this loudly outside of their Mosques.

Oh, I understand that many Muslims feel that they shouldn’t be asked to repudiate the sins of “a few crazy terrorists”; just as all Christians shouldn’t be held accountable for disturbed crazy rants of a small-time “pastor” from Gainsville, Florida.   But at the same time, it seems to me that Islamic leaders should be eager to say, loudly, that what is being done in the name of their religion in Iran and Nigeria is wrong, and to denounce it.   Maybe, some would say, that they are doing that and the media isn’t paying attention to them.   Well, the Media is surely paying attention to people like Iman Rauf, and he refuses to denounce Hamas!   I would gently suggest to those Islamic leaders who feel that they and their faith haven’t been given a fair shake, to hire a better PR agency; and make sure that active denunciations of that which they claim does not represent true Islam is shouted from the rooftops; published in press releases; made in press conferences.   And actively denounce your fellow Muslims that you feel are shaming your religion, instead of complaining about American Islamophobia.   Trying to pretend that there is absolutely no truth in why Americans might be afraid of terrorists who have been hiding under the mantle of your religion is not going to help your cause.

There may be truth in the fact that many Americans don’t know as much as they should about Islam and Shariah.  And there may be truth that American unswerving support of Israel, despite the fact that they acted in profound and unjust ways against the Palestinians, is not only morally and ethically wrong, but has hurt American interests.  I certainly believe that to be to true; I am no friend to fundamentalists of any stripe, whether they are Christian, Jewish, or Islamic; and I think the Jewish fundamentalists have almost completely taken over the Israeli political discourse.  But all of that is irrelevant if the goal is reduce people’e negative views towards Islam.   And in any case, if you really believe that attacking innocents, and coercing religion by threatening Muslims who have fallen away from their faith with the death penalty is wrong, then it’s wrong regardless of whether those innocents happened to vote for politicians who have been influenced by way too much money from AIPAC.   So instead of trying to lecture Americans about their uncritical support of Israel, why not just stand witness to the fact that killing innocents is wrong, and that people who do that are not Islamic, no matter what they claim or how impressive their turban might happen to be?   And maybe it might be a good idea to speak out against those who would lend support, whether moral, or financial or logistical, to people who do these unIslamic things in the name of Islam?    And it may not be enough to say it once; it needs to be said again and again.  Which is why it’s important to hire a good PR agency.

37 thoughts on “Moderate Muslims need a better PR Agency

  1. I have to agree. It’s certainly not the fault of the majority of Muslims that there are a few crazies, any more than all Jews are responsible for some of the extremists in Israel, or all Christians for that book-burning nutjob who’s been in the press lately. But it would certainly help their cause if the moderates spoke a little louder to condemn the crazies, to more clearly stand apart from them.

  2. I live outside the US, so I can only say about the impressions I get. But the feeling I get is that maybe it is better for muslims in the US to keep a low profile in most circumstances. All the noise and protests against this muslim center near Ground Zero feels like a warning that some Americans still consider Islam a threat.
    So when most muslims prefer to stay quiet, who stands up and speaks “for them”? Only the restless, the loud, the fanatics. That’s who is heard.
    So yes, they would be better off with better representatives. But I think right now many of them just want to be considered regular citizens, and not a special group of people who happen to share a few religious beliefs (and not all) with a small bunch of terrorists. And it’s their right to be quiet, they are not guilty of anything, not until proven otherwise.
    And I wonder why it is that this crazy pastor in Florida is given so much attention! Isn’t there more important stuff to report on? That is what is wrong, not the fact that innocents are quiet.

  3. @2: Dave,

    This is why I think they need to have a better PR Agency. Where’s the web site run by Muslims? Why is it that you had to point me at a generic “religious tolerance” site?

    Where are the public calls on that website to other Muslims not to support various Islamic charities that funnel money to terrorists and to the families of “martyrdom operations”? Where is the name and shame operations? If it’s happening, it’s not being done in a public way. You don’t think TV shows like The Daily Show wouldn’t accept speakers who had such a message to give?

    It may very well be that there are moderate Imans that are saying such things; but in that case, they desperately need the help of some better PR folks.

    P.S. Here is someone from my tradition arguing that we need to take back Christianity from the fundamentalists and literalists that have infected our tradition. Hopefully there are Imans who are preaching just as powerfully to their congregations.

  4. 70 years ago, you could not walk around Boston, wearing Jewish insignia without risking a serious beating (as in, permanent brain damage – happened to one of Nat Hentoff’s neighbors, or just some missing teeth – happened to Hentoff himself at age 12.)

    The thugs doing this were Irish Catholic.

    Only a tiny minority of Catholics were doing this. Only a tiny minority of Catholics were inciting this violence. But did all Catholics deserve to have this thrown at them at the time? Hell, yes. Because not only was the vast majority of Catholics in Boston silent about the issue, it was tacitly approving it by its silence. Worse yet, when an Irish Catholic reporter started investigating the violence, the archbishop of Boston, a Cardinal, prince of the Church, threatened her with excommunication.

    So, do Muslims deserve to have all this bad PR tossed in their faces? Yes. Not because of Rauf. His own behavior is far more understandable than that of other Muslim spokesmen, like, say, oh, Ibrahim Cooper, infamous for constantly being challenged on TV to condemn this or that Hamas atrocity, and responding “we condemn all terror” but never, ever, condemning any specific action by Hamas. When a sleazeball like Cooper is your faith’s spokesman, people are justiified in thinking there is something wrong with your faith.

    That said, I have to side with Rauf, simply because I am more disgusted with the opportunists who are attacking him, than I am with Rauf. Dammit….

  5. Not that I think planet.debian.org is the best place for these discussions, I dare to add my two cents.

    I wonder what you mean by a PR agency? Do you believe that, like companies who want to give themselves a good name in the american’s eyes, the muslims have a reponsibility to make themselves a good reputation to the eyes of the americans?

    The muslim religion has a long history and lots of variants that cannot be sumarized by quoting two leaders. During the middle age, the muslims intellectuals in northen africa in particular, were the one who kept copies of greek philosophy, through which europe dediscovered it in the renaissance. They were also the first to discover modern surgery and anatomy etc..

    It is worth argue that when some people pretend the muslim extremists want to bring us back to the middle age, actually, in the middle age, europe was in a deep age of obscurantism while the nothern afrian civilisation was much, much more evolved intellectually. So much for the knowledge of what the middle age exactly was.

    I was once in Istambul for christmas. When we went to the office on the 25th, in a small orthodox church, we were told that the night before, the locals from the hood had came by with presents to share with the christians. I was startled. I do not think anyone in Europe, and maybe also america, would go to a mosque for Aïd el-Fitr, which actually was some days ago…

    Anyway, the point that I get from this post is: you believe americans have a bad view on muslims and the muslims need to make up for that. Well, I do not want to hurt your feelings but other people in the world also have a bad view on americans.

    Do you consider hiring a good PR for the USA for people in europe, for instance, to understand the inequal health care system? Do you consider hiring a good PR for people in south america to understand why the US took down their leaders?

    I will stop here because I do not want to give you the idea that I do not like the USA. In fact, I enjoy it. But at the same time, there are things that I do not understand and make me angry, for instance the death penalty, the pro-life mouvement, etc..

    Two things, though: first you would probably not accept a generic judgement on the USA, you would tell me — I guess: “we have all kind of different people”. Yes, so it is for the “muslims”.

    And if I asked you if you need a good PR agency to enhance the people’s view of the US outside of it, you would probably also say: “We are an independant country, we are not accountable for anything in Europe or anywhere else.” Same goes here too.

    Finally, you would also tell me that I should know better your country before making bold statements about why Obama did not pull out the troops from afghanistan etc. Same goes here too for the “muslim” world, which is, again, much more, in both time and space, than the hamas or a couple of leaders.

    So, I would also suggests that perhaps, the good PR would be to actually learn more about what the “muslim” world really is before making general judgements. And the same for the USA.

  6. @6: I wonder what you mean by a PR agency? Do you believe that, like companies who want to give themselves a good name in the american’s eyes, the muslims have a reponsibility to make themselves a good reputation to the eyes of the americans?

    Toots,

    I don’t think they have the responsibility to do anything. They are under no obligation to do PR work. On the other hand, the reality is that it may be to their benefit to think about this from a PR angle. That’s what I’m saying.

    I remember being taught at an early age that part of being a minority was that people would generalize from my behaviour and ascribe it to all American-Chinese; and therefore it was my responsibility to my race that I be careful how I behaved in public. Was that right for people to do that? It never entered into the equation; it was what people do; it’s human nature; and so therefore, you adapt and act accordingly.

    It reminds of the story of Richard Stallman stepping out into the street, just as the crosswalk turned to “walk”, only to be grabbed by a companion because a car was running the red light. “Didn’t you see that car? You could have been killed!”, RMS was asked. His reply, so the story goes, was, “but the driver would have been in the wrong…” True, but utterly irrelevant…

    At the end of the day, I can only control myself, I can not control others.

    And BTW, I have spent time learning about Islam. And unfortunately, there is a lot of unfortunate fundamentalists out there who are stoning women and chopping off hands. Just as there are ignorant, stupid Christians who are trying control what children learn in school regarding evolution. I am willing to call out specific people in my tradition who I believe perform evil acts, whether it is shooting doctors with rifles or trying to interfere with public schooling. It greatly puzzles me that I don’t see much evidence of this from Muslims. (And I mean more than, “we all deplore terrorism”. Specific denunciations of specific groups for specific acts.) Maybe it’s the US Media’s fault. But I follow a lot more than just the mainstream media, and what I’ve seen is really pathetic. “Oh, we deplore violence against innocents — but you Americans aren’t really innocent because of your stupid policies in the mideast.”

  7. While the vast majority of Muslims will condemn Al Qaeda types of activity, I think you will find much less who are willing to outright condemn Hamas – for afterall they are teh democratically elected government of the Palestinian territories (but only control Gaza due to a US inspired (Dayton Plan) coup by the old powers of Fatah).

    Maybe some of the condemnation is lacking because the narrative is wrongly blaming the people? Its like when Israel carried out its atack on Gaza in 2008/2009 – the official line was that Hamas needed to stop firing its weapons. Which it had more or less stopped a year earlier and was respecting the ceasefire (which had been violated by Israel on a few occasions).

    In the same way, Hezbollah. the official line is that its a terrorist organisation. Most on the ground would not think that and both Hizbollah and Hamas would condemn Al Qaeda.

    “Oh, we deplore violence against innocents — but you Americans aren’t really innocent because of your stupid policies in the mideast”

    Its more than that – there are some reports that put the body count in Iraq at over a million. That is not something you can go “oops, may bad!” about. “but really, at heart, we’re good people” just does not cut it.

    Afghanistan is still a hell hole.

    Kyrgystan with its recent ethnic troubles also has US hands over it where the forces causing many of the deaths were only recently US backed.

    Another issue is that Muslim religious leaders generally aim their conversation at Muslims – and there have been many declarations about what is right and wrong over the times, but msot have not been aimed at the western media.

    Though, saying that, there is http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1969662,00.html which was plastered all over the place.

    In addition to that the late Shaykh Tantawi also condemned terrorism, Shaykh Qaradawi was spoken against it, Fethullah Gulen has and many many more.

    There are a lot of fatwas out there – many specific too. It probably needs “a better PR agency” as you say, but its not always an issueof PR – Islam is pluralistic and it has no head authority which can pretend to speak for everyone.

  8. Everyone else gets to define themselves in terms of what they _are_, not what they _are not_. Why does Islam have to define itself primarily as what it is not? Where does that get you in the end?

    I guess, by reductio ad absurdum, that Linux/Debian/Ubuntu/whatever should be responsible for all fringe open source lunacy, and that we’re terrible people and implicitly condoning shit code, by not constantly disassociating ourselves from fellow open source projects we don’t agree with?

  9. When religious nutcases do things that nutcases usually do (bomb off buildings, stone people, conduct crusades), other religious people wonder how do deal with the PR fallout.

    They should not forget that every single cult (or religion if you call it like that) has seen such consequences. Especially for monotheist cults, where having a superior entity to justify your acts gives you the moral excuse to bypass the humans’ judgement on your own acts.

    Religion is evil. It’s the negation of humanity.

  10. @9:

    I’m not going to defend the Iraq war; I can’t. But I can’t help noticing that no one is willing to stand up and defend burying a woman up to her waist, and throwing stones at her until she dies, slowly and painfully. Or the chopping off of people’s hands. I’m willing to say that the Iraq war was wrong, and I’m willing to fully disavow George Bush as a idiotic madman. Are you willing to say the same about the stoning of women and the chopping off of hands? Loudly? Heck, we have comedy troups in Washington D.C who were regularly mocking George Bush as a lunatic while he was in office.

    It may very well be that the Fatwas are being aimed more at Muslims and not aimed at the Western Media — if so, that just proves my point of Muslims desperately needing competent PR help.

    Islam is pluralistic and it has no head authority which can pretend to speak for everyone.

    This gets used as an excuse far too often, and it’s used to dodge responsibility. I can’t speak for all of Christianity; and Christianity is these days highly pluralistic; but this doesn’t stop people from saying, “Stop. This is not Christian. This is not a just war.” You don’t have to be the pope to say that something isn’t Christian. Which is why I think the “Islam is pluralistic” is really more of a dodge and an excuse than anything else.

    There may be those us who don’t perceive a particular sin as evil, and in that case, please pray for us — however, the assertion that keeps on being made is that in the case of Islam, the vast majority of Muslims are horrified by terrorism and who have a very different understanding of Shariah than those thugs in Iran and Nigeria; so presumably that means the vast majority of Muslims knows that there are wrongs being committed in their name — in which case, all I’m asking — is say something! Even if you’re nobody and can speak for no one other than yourself, saying something on your blog, and denouncing an organization or a nation which is doing evil in the name of your religion means that you’re standing up and being counted.

    As a Christian and as an American, I grieve and I ask your forgiveness for the many evils that have been done in my name. However, I can point to many web sites and many books written by the many Americans who stood up and said, “the war in Iraq was wrong; this is not our war”. There are many who say the war in Afghanistan is wrong and counterproductive. And while they didn’t stop the war, they at least did the right thing. I can point to the web sites; I can point to the books; can those of you who are Muslim do the same about the evils that have been committed in your name? How many web sites? How many books?

  11. @10: I guess, by reductio ad absurdum, that Linux/Debian/Ubuntu/whatever should be responsible for all fringe open source lunacy, and that we’re terrible people and implicitly condoning shit code, by not constantly disassociating ourselves from fellow open source projects we don’t agree with?

    Daniels,

    Linux does have organizations such as the Linux Foundation whose spends a lot of time worrying about PR issues around Linux. And ten years ago, there were many people who did use the intemperate words of the Slashdot Kiddies as an argument (well, as a scare tactic, really) about why corporations shouldn’t use Linux. So it’s not a matter of being responsible for the idiotic words of the Slashdot Kiddies, but understanding that those people can actively cause harm to the community — and that perhaps as much harm can be done by people who claim to be your friends, as opposed to people who are outside of your community.

    To bring it back to the example of Islam — which did more harm to Islam’s reputation? That Danish Cartoonist? Or the Muslims who threatened to send assassination squads to murder him? (Which ironically confirmed his thesis in the eyes of many?)

    So part of being successful is to have groups of people organized who worry about such things. The Linux Foundation doesn’t speak for all of Linux, but it is well-funded and has decided to take on that mission. Sometimes you can educate the Slashdot Kiddies; sometimes you can just ignore them, and just make sure you have a louder (and constantly repeated) PR message that drowns them out. Sometimes you have to disavow them, and say, “this goes against the spirit of the community”. There are many techniques and strategy involved with Public Relations. But it’s not just a one shot thing; sending a URL about a statement made months or years ago isn’t effective PR. The question is how can you get something which hits the media at least once a month? And how do you work towards making sure the Slashdot Kiddies (or the fundamentalists/literalists) don’t end up spreading mud all over your reputation?

  12. @14 not a muslim, but a simple google “muslims against terrorism” gives a good list of links. even the google completition suggestions for “muslims against …” shows quite few other variations of the same theme.

    A major reason why dont see much of the antiviolence critisism is that it comes out in arabic, persian, pashtun, .. eg. not in english, thus not visible in google searches and anglo-based media.

    Also (and a much bigger worry!) is that literature in muslim countries isn’t held in same value and interest than in western countries. I didn’t find the original link but see here for discussion:

    http://www.theworld.org/2010/04/14/lack-of-reading-in-the-arab-world/

    Which such reading rates, no wonder that critical books aren’t written – there is no market for any kind of books!! And illiteracy allows religous extremis grow as message is passed word-of-mouth distorting the original meaning.

  13. Moderate Muslims don’t have a PR department, just like moderate Christians and moderate whatever’s don’t have one, and all for the same reason: they don’t care about religion all that much, let alone they’d care about anyone else religion.

  14. @ #17 – Here, I would say that there is a difference between “moderate” muslims and “moderate” others, or that the definition used for moderate is anything but moderate (a better word may be lax?).

    Moderates do care, but they may not know what to do.

    On the issue of terrorism, there is an overwhelming body of fatwas and edicts being built up and my link in #9 mentioned the cases of the 600 page “historical reference manual” type fatwa that aims to be comprehensive along with earlier fatwas such as the one signed by 6000 clerics in india.

    There may be a lack of good PR, but I think this is not something that needs to be fixed by an agency, but on an individual level. I would think that Muslims always come across better when you talk to them on a one to one level, so what we need is more Muslims who advocate their positions.

    There is a separate issue of other corporal punishments – since the scholars have not presentted a unanimous view on how they are to be enforced and practiced, lay people like me become uncomfortable taking a specific stance. Professor Tariq Ramadan mentions how Limb chopping was from earlier customs that was first brought under control and then process was followed to virtually eliminate the practice, and that it should not be considered as an option at all, but others will say that it was used, so you cannot rule it out.

    Without a clear majority view from the scholars, it is hard for many moderate Muslims to stand up and take a stance in such things, especially as not all parts of the world are civilised – in some parts of the world women are attacked by throwing acid in their face.

    I will unabashedly say that I support like for like punishment in such cases. More, I do not see how else people can be taught that there are consequences to their actions.

    I understand that in a fully civilised such crime and punishment should not exist, but that is not where we live.

    A solution to all this could be a stronger more confident turkey. It has 6 centuries of heritage as the leader of the Muslim world, but has in the past century lost all credibility due to its obstructionism and (forced) abandonment of its history. However it seems to be coming out of the dark century now and if it ever gets to a place where it is comfortable with being Muslim again, it can show its moderate Muslim heritage and stand proud and be taken seriously both by Muslims and Non Muslims. It is not there yet.

  15. @18: There may be a lack of good PR, but I think this is not something that needs to be fixed by an agency, but on an individual level. I would think that Muslims always come across better when you talk to them on a one to one level, so what we need is more Muslims who advocate their positions.

    I would suggest that instead of it being an either/or, it needs to be a both/and. And the reason why you need both is because if you are Muslim, and you live in the US, and you are worried about 49% of the people in the US having negative feelings towards Islam, there are specific things you can do, that involve basic PR principles. The 1-1 approach doesn’t hurt, but the sad fact of the matter is that there aren’t enough of you to make a difference. It’s the difference between “retail politics”, which is what you can do if you want to get elected by the local school board, where the number of voters is small enough that you really can meet everyone face-to-face and shake their hands and let them get to know you — and “wholesale politics”, where such tactics simply don’t scale.

    For example, why is it that many people think the Sharia code of law is barbaric? Because every month, it seems, there’s another story of someone being poor in Africa getting their hand whacked off. Or some woman in Iran getting stoned. Each one is a new story, and it gets played as a new story. In contrast, if an Imam writes a Fatwa saying how this is horrible and barbaric, and in the case of Nigeria where many of these people were doing this just to feed themselves, against Koranic principles itself. But that’s the same story, and so to a journalist, it becomes “old news”. So the question is how to generate some kind of novel angle so you can get something reported as news, and then make sure that when someone is quoted, the managed to insert into the quote the message you want to make about “most Muslims in the reformist/modernistic camp find this horrifying and barbaric, and we are horribly against taking a flying leap back to the seventh century”. And, to get something in the media as often (or preferably, more often) than those Muslims from the Literalist school of interpretation can commit another atrocity and get themselves back to the front page of the newspaper. That is what a PR professional can help you achieve.

    I also think Muslims are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, you try to claim that the faith is one, and that everyone who claims they are a Muslim, is a Muslim. On the other hand, you try to say that, well, those people who are setting off bombs aren’t quite the same as us, and they have a cultural context, and that the world is a complex place, blah, blah, blah. OK, that’s fine. As an intellectual, I’ll read an article by Tariq Ramadan about Islam Today: The need to explore its complexities. But as a PR message, it’s simply disastrous. You can wag your fingers and call people Islamophobes; you can call them stupid. But at the end of the day, that’s the sort of tactic that will result in 49% of Americans being wary of Muslims. Because the fact of the matter is, there are terrorists and people who chop off hands and stone women, and when we see a mosque, how are we supposed to figure out whether there is someone recruiting the next Times Square Bomber, or someone who is thinking great and holy thoughts, helping the poor, etc.?

    In Christianity, we talk about one set of scriptures, and one Jesus — but we also have different denominations. Perhaps it would help if someone were to create a “Reform Muslim” trademark, or a “Modernistic Muslim” trademark, and use that to denote people who are against terrorism, for example. Various Christian churches do this; they have statements of belief which you have to sign in order to be considered a member of that church. If you refuse to sign that statement of belief, you won’t be considered a member of that church — but you will still be a Christian.

    Better yet, reporters love conflict. It makes for great storylines; such as the innocent woman, versus the corrupt Islamic Judge who rules in favor of having her stoned despite the evidence exonerating her. So change things around! If instead there were a “Reform Muslim” movement, now you have a storyline about conflict between Reform Muslims that are absolutely against terrorism as a tactic, and will not allow an Imam from preaching at a Reform Mosque unless he has Reform Muslim credentials, versus the Literalists who thinks that martydom operations which kill innocents resulting in the martyrs going to paradise.

    Labels matter. And sometimes, unfortunately, if you don’t or can’t control people who use the label and create horrible connotations with that label, you can ultimately lose control of that label altogether. For me, I genuinely regret that word “hacker” has changed from its noble meaning in the early 1970’s, to a word that means someone who destructively attacks computer systems. But it’s done, and there’s nothing I can do about it. If I try to use the word “hacker” to describe myself, I will only cause confusion and perhaps cause people to fear me. So I know longer use that word to define part of who I am, certainly not among people who are likely to be confused by what the word “hacker” means. Calling them ignorant, or “hackerphobic”, isn’t going to help.

  16. Just a disclaimer – I am not from the US. But being from the UK, I assume some of the issues are smilar if not anywhere near the same scale.

    I have followed some of the Park 51/”Ground Zero mosque” media furore and I do notice that initially there was an attempt to sell it to the media, but it turned out to be weak willed.

    I agree that something needs to be done and there needs to be good advocacy.

    Going away from the topic of PR, I think there is another issue that needs to be addressed: Labels such as modernisers and reformists – I personally think they are dangerous. One thing that may not be common knowledge to many is that groups like Al Qaeda are the reformists. This is different from the western world where tolerance tosome degree was introduced through reform/modernisation and it seems to throw a lot of people.

    The big people behind the al qaeda ideology are not scholars (Osama is/was an accountant, Zwahiri a pediatrician) and have used a fatwa from a few centuries ago to back their ideology. The problem is that the copy of the fatwa they had had a typo where one word in it was replaced with another (“live with” was replaced with “kill/fight”) in a specific reprint of the book.

    In the same way, in Turkey, a centruy or more ago, the capital of the Muslim world, Istanbul, had more non Muslims living there than Muslims and there was peace and harmony. It was attempts at modernisation and protecting the esteem of the empire and later of the people that introduced ideas of fascism and racism taken from the then modern fascist regimes in parts of Europe.

    The movement that lead to the creation of saudi arabia was also a reformist movement that once again decided to reject the common orthodoxy and went on rampages and committed massacres in its way to power and destroyed many heritage sites, including in Makkah.

    In short, Muslims have had a bad experience with “modernisers”. While reform itself has and always will be needed (and is supported by the source texts, the hadith which mention how people will need to reform themselves to return to the correct message, to stop it being corrupted), doing it out of a need to modernise and to be to the standards that others demand rather than the source texts will make many wary and such labels will carry baggage within the community, even if they mean the polar opposite to the non Muslim community.

  17. A couple of other points – yes, there needs to be more material aimed at the Non Muslims that do not fall into the same categories as it asks the Non Muslims to not put us into.

    We can’t ask “don’t put us into camps like moderate and extremist and moderniser (because they dont fit well)” and then put the audience into their own camps like islamophobe etc. It is not helpful, though there does need to be a word to describe some bloggers out there that shows them to be in a special category of nutjob.

    There is another problem – that all of this is within and affects the Muslim community too. It is not just a job of PR. I read some survey which suggested that 98% of the victims of “Islamist terrorism” were also Muslims. So the problems that you are mentioning are also being faced by the Muslim community, as they are the primary people that such actions (including beheadings, amputations, stoning etc) are aimed at.

  18. @20: I have followed some of the Park 51/”Ground Zero mosque” media furore and I do notice that initially there was an attempt to sell it to the media, but it turned out to be weak willed.

    Indeed; I’m glad Imam Rauf has finally started pointing out that “how can this be sacred ground if there are strip joints on the street?” I would have been much more aggressive, and had a press secretary (i.e. PR professional) firm put out photographs of the “so-called hallowed ground” — with just enough humor in the presentation to defang the rather sharp and blunt message. This is the kind of messaging spin which the Republican party and AIPAC in the US have been absolute masters at doing; and it’s pretty obvious the people at Cordoba House were completely flat-footed in terms of not responding right away to the right-wing attacks from the Republicans.

    Going away from the topic of PR, I think there is another issue that needs to be addressed: Labels such as modernisers and reformists – I personally think they are dangerous. One thing that may not be common knowledge to many is that groups like Al Qaeda are the reformists. This is different from the western world where tolerance tosome degree was introduced through reform/modernisation and it seems to throw a lot of people.

    OK, so I don’t know what the right labels should be. Some Muslim Authorities have pointed out that there are three distinct strains of Islam in this world, the “mystics” (i.e., the Sufi tradition), the “Modernists”, and the “Literalists”. If the term “Modernist” has bad connotations in parts of the Muslim world, then the trick is finding some word that has good connotations in both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. But I do think that it is critically important that there be some kind of label that you can use to say that “those of us who believe that Terrorism is not OK” is separate from “those misguided Muslims which are actively practicing and condoning Terrorism”.

    The message, “all Muslims are one big happy family”, and “anyone who wants to call themself a Muslim, is a Muslim”, is (as I’ve said before) a PR disaster. You don’t have to pick a label which means “Muslims who reject Terrorism”; and you don’t have to try to make the claim that people who resort to terrorism have no right to call them Muslims; but if you don’t, it willl result in the term “Muslim” becoming horribly ambiguous as a result.

    And the confusion, I would submit, is not just something that confuses non-Muslims; I suspect it can confuse Muslims as well. As you’ve already pointed out, a huge number of the victims of the “Martyrdom operations” are in fact other Muslims. But when you contribute money to a Muslim charity, how can you be absolutely, positively sure the money won’t get diverted to “those people who call themselves Muslims but who like to strap bombs to themselves?” Western laws that prohibit funding terrorism aside, I would think that “moderate muslims” wouldn’t want to fund acts of terror, especially if they might end up harming innocent Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

    If “Muslim” as a term is ambiguous with respect to whether or not someone who uses that label supports or rejects terrorism, the resulting confusion is bad for everybody. I can’t tell you how to solve the problem, but I can point it out. And the first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem in the first place….

    Just trying to claim that “most Muslims just want peace”, and “Islam means peace”, and “jihad refers to the internal struggle to become a better person”, really sounds thin when Iran and others who are a minority have a huge megaphone, and apparently are getting enough funding and support from somewhere — and in fact, are numerous enough that they can carry out some pretty serious acts of violence. In fact, when there are Modernist Islamic leaders who have spoken out quite frankly that it is not clear whether the Modernist or Literalist school of thinking inside Islam will end up carrying the day, can you see how it might cause at least this non-Muslim to think his intelligence is getting insulted when people try to tell me that jihad only means the internal struggle, and no really, when people talk about wanting Sharia recognized as law in the UK, no Muslim means they are talking about chopping of limbs and stoning people?

    In fact, there are Muslims who talk about wanting to establish a global Caliphate where these criminal sanctions would be enforce everywhere, and consider a mission to do that to be part of the Devine Will. If they are also part of Islam, and there is no mechanism by which the global community of Muslims can reject such beliefs as not part of Islam? Then to say that Islam is only about peace, and Sharia is only primarily more about a moral exhortation to do good rather than a set of barbaric set of punishments, is ultimately a lie. The truth is that it is a controversial topic, because there are some Islamic leaders, in Iran, Nigeria, and other places, that do think Islam is at war with the West, and have forbidden Muslims from disputing whether their criminal punishments are just, because that would be insulting to the majesty of the Islamic Law. There may be plenty that do not so believe, but there are some who do, and many of the ones who do, are armed with enough weapons to enforce their beliefs on at least parts of the world. And, unfortunately, at least some Muslims believe that there is nothing that can be done about that — not even denying that the people who do these things are Muslim. Personally, I hope that is not true.

  19. @9 and @author:
    Israeli attacks during 2008 resulted mainly from a Hammas operation in which they attacked an Israeli outpost and kidnapped an Israeli soldier and preceeded 8 years of missile attacks on Israeli civilian cities. Those missile attacks, by the way, continue till this very day even during peace talks, and not reported at all in global media. (if you want to read what I’m talking about read this and notice the date: http://www.jpost.com/Home/Article.aspx?id=188167 ).

    So I think Israel needs better PR as well since the world sees a twisted picture and not realize that all of Israeli attacks result from defensive reasons. Iran and Hammas (which is directly supported by Iran) call for the destruction of Israel and will never accept it existance so the war will continue until Israel or Hammas will disapear.

  20. @shlomil,

    You mean the completely ineffective rocket attacks that killed no one? I won’t say that the Rocket attacks are justified, but Israel’s responses to past rocket attacks have been completely out of proportion.

    The conflict in the middle east, starting with the Britain’s feckless set of conflicting commitments made as it withdrew from Palestine, to the use of that regiion as a stage for the US and the USSR to engage in its cold war conflict, has produced some incredible tragedies. So if we are going to go back and forth with a “well, they did this” and “well, that was in response to that“, it’s not going to be very productive, because ultimately, a lot of the blame I think goes all the way back to the British Empire and the incompetence of the British colonial administration, both in what they did, and did not do.

    At the same time, the reason why the conflict has continued has been due to wrongs committed on both sides — but I think it’s pretty clear that Israel (through brute force military superiority, much of which has been supplied by the US) has inflicted far more misery, death, and destruction on the civilian populations of the Palestinians that has been caused by the Hamas on the Israeli civilians. Am I happy that my taxpayer dollars are being used in this way? No. But the AIPAC is a very effective lobbyist force, unfortunately.

    Fortunately, the younger Jewish-Americans have started waking up the to fundamental ethical lapses of Israel, and are no longer supporting it whole-heartedly. Maybe this will finally cause the Israeli leaders to wake up, and realize that they aren’t going to have carte blanche support from American forever….

  21. Well I am a muslim and i have to say that. I do not need to defend Islam because it is perfect but we Muslims are not perfect. There will always be people who will slander Islam by lieing or misrepresenting it. Id like to point out one fact to you that after 9/11 more ppl have converted to Islam than the same time previous to this event. I am one of those Americans who did convert afterwards so. Its not matter of giving PR to Islam. There will be those who have a seal on their hearts eyes and ears, meaning they will never want to know the truth. Just like it will be always ppl that are prejudiced. Just my thoughts.

  22. Dear all Muslims in the world: I’m not saying that you’re in any way responsible for the atrocities committed by various nutjobs, but we’d really feel a lot better if you’d publicly condemn them. We’re not saying it’s your responsibility, since you have no significant connection to them whatsoever!

    We do not in any way suspect that you’re all secretly terrorists, but we’d all feel a lot better if you allayed these (completely nonexistent) suspicions.

    [Or, to put it another way for those of you that need a cluebat: asking people to publicly denounce mass murderers isn’t all that much better than walking up to a random brown person on the street and casually asking, “By the way, you don’t secretly support the 9/11 hijackers, do you?”]

  23. tytso,
    Good thing, you are not an anti-Islamic, your words about Israel bring in some balance, but as a person, who lives in Israel I have some comments about “completely ineffective rocket attacks that killed no one”.
    They do kill here and there, but, yes, not in hundreds, mostly they just keep people in shelters. Then, Israel tries to prevent Hamas from importing “effective” rockets. Then some guys from Turkey try to break the sea blockade, Israel stops them, there are casualties. Turkey follows Iran’s anti-Israeli hysteria. Iran tries to develop nukes. Hamas, Hizballa call to wipe out Israel, clear Eur.. Middle East from Jews. Hundreds of millions listen to them. There no escape from it, it’s on TV, Radio, printed media, the Internet. My country is 20 kilometers from the sea coast on the west to its east boarder (with Palestinian Authority). No place to run, no one knows what destiny to raise children for. It’s not like “United We Stand”.
    And “good souls” around the globe call Israel to stop its aggression, in order that peace and happiness will come to the region. Indeed, how didn’t we, people of Israel, think about that before?
    Good thing, there are the western democracies to remind us about the Human Rights. All the western democracies respect the Human Rights , when UK’s right to exist was challenged, in bombarded Drezden without killing a single civilian, didn’t it? Wasn’t the bombardment of Heroshima a proportional response? Or, may be, it wasn’t and US generals died in prison for crimes against humanity?
    I beg your pardon, I believe that my family and my nation have right to exist. And, if there is no chance, I want my life to be as expensive as possible. That is what I expect from my state. That is what I pay taxes for, and serve in the army, whether you like it or not.
    And don’t forget, when talking about Al-Quaeda to condemn Israel. Otherwise your position will be unbalanced, anti-Islamic, some may say racist.
    And Israel doesn’t live on account of US taxpayer. Forgive me, I am not an expert in the details of the deals, but your country isn’t a Santa. If Israel buys weapons from US, it creates workplaces. That’s one thing you can be happy about.

  24. @24, though I do see worth in your line of thought, clearly you must see that there is a none too subtle suggestions that Muslims placate a demand for a public penance. That would be the WRONG thing to do, even though it may make (a very real, and very material) Islamaphobic trend wane to some degree.

    Your call for PR is a bit naive, as there will be the likes of Pamela Geller et all who will simply any (sincere) attempt at birding misunderstandings as religiously sanctioned lies. Of those 49%, how many are of the opinion that the only good Muslims are those who don’t practice Islam? There’s no winning against that kind of sentiment because it is what it is…bigotry.

    The fact is, Muslims need to rely on rational people who understand nuance, who understand complexity, and who don’t live by empty labels. Sure, let’s not call these people stupid, but it is a stupid mentality that is feeding the paranoia. And only a rational discourse will make that apparent. There are constructive ways to go about that, and no doubt PR techniques can be used to carry a point across effectively. Acknowledge the fear, but to consider the fear valid is self defeating.

  25. @30: Evgeny:

    And Israel doesn’t live on account of US taxpayer. Forgive me, I am not an expert in the details of the deals, but your country isn’t a Santa. If Israel buys weapons from US, it creates workplaces. That’s one thing you can be happy about.

    Actually, the US is a Santa to Israel. Depending on how you count the figures, anywhere from a bare minimum of $3 billion dollars of my taxpayer dollars (in direct aid — $1.2 billion dollars of economic aid, and $1.8 billion dollars of military aid), to anywhere upwards of $5 or $6 billion dollars (if you include indirect aid).

    So the question I have to ask, is as a US taxpayer, whether I think those $3 to $6 billion dollars of aid to israel is money which is being ethically spent. If it isn’t, then my duty as a voting citizen is to try to elect legislatures that will cut off that money to an unethical, apartheid state…

  26. Why place this burden on “moderate” Muslims? Why should the problem be defined such that all Muslims are extreme unless they “speak out” against the crazies and so show themselves to be moderate. This is highly hypocritical particularly coming from westerners who live in democracies that are responsible for far more mayhem, death and destruction around the world than are Muslims of any stripe.

    How many “moderate” Americans speak out loudly against the depredations of the US war machine around the world? The US is a democracy, Americans are far more responsible for the actions of their government than moderate Muslims are responsible for the actions of their fellow Muslims. The actions of democratic governments are carried out in the names of their citizens. The actions of terrorists are only claimed to be carried out in the name of whatever group the terrorists claim.

    Life for life, far more innocents are killed by the western democracies than by terrorists. Once you add in the tyrannical governments around the world which, but for, the support of said democracies would not exist, the numbers of innocents killed grows exponentially.

    Before pointing fingers at Muslims western Christians should pay heed to the words of Christ:

    Take the log out of thine own eye before seeking to take the mote out of thine neighbor’s eye.

    emk

  27. @33: emk,

    I don’t believe that all moderate Muslims should be required to “speak out” against extremism. And I do believe that there are moderate Muslims that speak out but which are not covered by the media. But that’s why I titled my original post, “Moderate Muslims need a better PR agency”.

    As far as how many innocents are killed by terrorists, I’m not sure where you are getting your figures, but I will note there is often a lot of disputes about who is at fault when various groups of innocents are killed. Sure, if a bomb is dropped in the wrong place, or if a plane is flown into the World Trade Center, and civilians are killed that’s pretty easy to assign blame.

    But in the case of people who die of malnutrition in a war zone, whose fault is it? If there are people killed by crossfire in the middle of a fire fault, especially when some of the combatants duck inside a church or a mosque or a hospital, whose fault is it?

    Clearly, war is a terrible thing, and is something that should be best avoided. And a lot of Americans did speak out against the Iraq war, both before, during, and after George W. Bush’s march to war.

  28. @34
    I believe I understand where you are coming from. What I reject is the whole moderate muslim vs. extremist muslim framing. We have created two baskets that represent Muslim to us. One is labelled extremist and the other moderate. All Muslims must fit into one or the other. It is the particular Muslim’s responsibility not to be miscategorized. The default is that all Muslims go into the extremist basket and as a moderate Muslim you better speak up or you might accidentally go into the extremist category.

    Notice we don’t use the same formulation for other groups. So we don’t divide white people into extremist/moderate based on the existence of the Aryan Brotherhood etc. Nobody has to speak up or do anything so as not to be labelled a white extremist.

    The extremist/moderate characteristic is not inherent in the race. Nor is it inherent in the religion. There are plenty of examples of “moderate” Islam in fact they are the norm. It is the rest of us who must educate ourselves about them. The responsibility lies with us to dispel our own ignorance about Muslims not with Muslims to educate us.

  29. @28 saying that is like preaching to the choir. Everyone will say their understanding is correct and is the perfect ones. Whatever it is, if anybody wants other people to understand their own point of view, then they have to explain it to their audience of choice.

    Else, no one else would get it.

  30. I think Americans need to step out and see the world more. If you look around, you’ll find that everywhere the forces fighting right wing Islamists are overwhelming also Muslim – whether it is in Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, etc. These are people who are fighting not because they are “moderate Muslims” but because they are people who believe in dignity and freedom, and therefore fight for them.

    ” Trying to pretend that there is absolutely no truth in why Americans might be afraid of terrorists who have been hiding under the mantle of your religion is not going to help your cause.”

    Actually, there is no truth to it at all. Americans’ “fear” has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with their inability to fight against their own right wing and racist forces in their society, which equate a fascist force with the community it represents. What you are saying is like asking Germans to repudiate Nazis or Britishers to repudiate the crimes of colonialism. And before you leap up with examples, the fact is that they haven’t; Germany has a very poor record of prosecuting ex-Nazis and Britain has never paid reparations for the inhuman crimes it committed across the globe (compared to which the current “terrorism” is child’s play). *But that doesn’t change the fact that anti-British or anti-German attacks would be racism and it is the responsibility of anti-racists, not those nations, to fight that.* It is your responsibility as Americans (all Americans, Muslim or not) to fight against racial and religious prejudice, including and most of all the tarring of Muslims with the same brush. And no amount of better PR will make any difference to that until liberal Americans take up that fight and stop this sickening transfer of responsibility on to the weak. The fact is that all the PR in the world has never made any difference to racist prejudice (witness anti-Semitism’s long and glorious history); only a determined fight by all people, especially those from the racists’ own community, defeats it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>