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A very simple explanation of why it's wrong to demand that Muslims condemn terrorism


One long week after the Paris attacks, as Republican presidential candidates mounted an arms race over who can express the most overt and virulent prejudice toward Muslim Americans, MSNBC's Chuck Todd did something pretty unusual for a cable news host. He invited on an actual Muslim American person, Dalia Mogahed, who also happens to be an expert on Muslim attitudes in the US and globally, to politely ask her about all this.

Their whole exchange is worth watching, but I wanted to pull out one particular moment, at about four minutes and 40 seconds, which came as Todd was asking Mogahed about American leaders who demand that more Muslim leaders come out to condemn ISIS. Mogahed, rather than pointing out that they already are condemning ISIS, made an important point: This is the wrong question entirely, and we need to stop demanding that Muslims condemn terrorism.

I think we should take a step back and ask a different question, which is: 'Is it justified to demand that Muslims condemn terrorism?' Now, that might sound a little radical. The reason I say that is this.

Condoning the killing of civilians is, to me, about the most monstrous thing you can to do. And to be suspected of doing something so monstrous, simply because of your faith, seems very unfair. Now when you look at the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States, according to the FBI, the majority of domestic terror attacks are actually committed by white, male Christians.

Now that's just the facts. When those things occur, we don't suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. We assume that these things outrage them just as much as they do anyone else. And we have to afford this same assumption of innocence to Muslims.

She's absolutely right. This ritual, in which Muslim leaders and regular Muslims alike are expected to repeatedly denounce terrorism, is bigoted. (Will McCants, a scholar of jihadist ideology at Brookings, thinks it might also be counterproductive.) It implies that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion.

What we're asking for isn't really a denunciation, it's an apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. This sort of thinking — blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals, assuming the worst about a person just because of their identity — is the very definition of bigotry.

Later in the interview, Todd asks Mogahed about Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim comments, for example saying he would consider putting all Muslims on a registry. What is the one thing that Mogahed thought Trump should read or do to better understand Islam?

Mogahed's answer, I thought, was pretty perfect: "I don't want him to understand Islam. I want him to understand the Constitution."

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