City of Brass

City of Brass

Let’s do something

One of the oldest voices in the Islamsphere, Umm Zaid, has penned a courageous screed excoriating her fellow muslims to take a stand and do something (paraphrasing Todd Beamer, hero of Flight 93) about extremism and terrorism. I will not excerpt it, it deserves a full reading on its own. This is my response to a dialog that I think we do, as a community, need to have with ourselves.

I think that the overall sentiment of muslim Americans is in line with her call. But saying “let’s do something” is not, in and itself, doing something. What looks on the face of things to be doing nothing – living our lives as loyal citizens, teaching our kids the true universal values of peace and tolerance of Islam, striving to contribute in a civic sense to our communities, muslim and non-muslim alike – is actually doing Something, a great deal of something.


It is because muslim Americans are so integrated into the fabric of our beloved nation that we are not as fertile ground for extremism as, say, muslims in the UK (recall that the London subway bombings were a home-grown Islamist act of terror and not akin to 9-11 in that regard).

When a muslim American calls themselves a moderate muslim, that is doing something – its emphasisizng the extremism of the jihadists’ claim to faith. When we argue against the term Islamofascism, it’s doing something – it’s objecting to giving the fascists the use f the term Islamic to cloak their actions. When we objectto racial profiling and the increased curtailing of our rights and civil liberties, that is doing something – it is fighting for the very ideals of freedom that the terrorists would deny all of us.


Where Umm Zaid’s argument goes astray is in ascribing too much importance to the dissonant voices of counterculture Islam, the equivalent of the Che Guevara idolism that is more heir to the radical leftism of the Vietnam era than of any true mainstream muslim doctrine. She points to voices on the internet defending bin laden and shrill attacks by email, but the Internet is a tool for amplifying the extreme. Go outside, visit a mosque, talk to people in the Islamic community and you will see a people united against the threat, resolute and vigilant.

In a sense, Umm Zaid is recycling the silence libel. But at some point we as a community need to stop being obsessed with what our fellow countrymen think or fear, and look inwards, and strengthen the core. And rising Islamophobia also plays a role here in obstructing all of us from our common objectives.


I thank Umm Zaid for raising the issue, and I am sure the Internet trolls will punish her for it, but I think we as a community are mature enough to have a discussion about it without falling into the stereotypes that the Islamophobes have prepared for us.

UPDATE: Discussion at Talk Islam.

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posted September 13, 2008 at 9:38 am

Salaam akaikum and Ramadan Mubarak,
This is an interesting development. Here and elsewhere in the Islamsphere, I am now seeing these references to “counterculture Islam,” which I see as a useful political whipping dog imported from American politics where everyone decries the DFHs (dirty f***ing hippies) of the liberal left, with the effect of pushing the entire political spectrum to the right.
In making an analogue of the DFHs, would you also acknowledge and dismiss the positive developments of the 60s counterculture in the West, such as the rapid acceleration of the feminist movement to deconstruct patriarchy and reform gender relations, the development of the multicultural paradigm (that diversity makes us stronger, and should be appreciated and celebrated), expansion of civil rights to previously unrecognized groups (the disabled, gays) etc, etc. Would you welcome such developments here among the Ummah?
I understand the attraction of creating the DFH scapegoat. With it, you can identify yourself with the ‘Muslim everyman’ by distancing the DFHs. I can see the utility of such a rhetorical construct in making yourself more persuasive to a broader audience, but I can’t really believe that you truly think the Ummah would be better off if this thing you call “counterculture Islam” disappeared, or even was marginalized so completely that it was silenced.
Also, I find it interesting that Umm Zaid pretty much identifies herself as a member of “counterculture Islam” in her comment at TalkIslam (comment 14).

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posted September 13, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Its always reassuring to me when I read some of your postings and realize i am not the anomaly in our community who thinks we need to do more than just “be” and live within our own circles.
“…striving to contribute in a civic sense to our communities, muslim and non-muslim alike – is actually doing Something, a great deal of something.”
I am convinced we must think outside of ourselves- and by ourselves i mean not just the smallness of our community but the greatness of our deen. Its always enough to be inherently Muslim. But its much more to extend ourselves to practical tasks- as you say, “doing something. a great deal of doing something.”

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posted September 15, 2008 at 11:28 am

maybe i overread what the “something” might be in your (or Umm Zaid’s) mind. Umm Zaid says “let’s do something” but it’s not clear what she means! To be honest i’m ‘doing’ the same thing i was doing before 911 and hopefully i’ll be able to do after this date and forever which is to stand for what’s right (yeh, isa i’ll be able to see that clearly every time) and speak out about it.
I don’t have to burn a candle and i don’t have to march through the streets. I simply have to be truthful in what i believe and what islam orders, specially i.e. not killing mankind, not harming anyone without cause etc.. This goes for Israelis (or Jews), Americans, Palestinians, Chinese, Russians and Afghans alike without qualification and without any suggestion of an order of priority.
What more should we do in your opinion?
Salam and thnx anyway.

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