#NotAllMuslims: The One Thing You Need To Know After The Brussels Attacks

A boy holds a placard expressing sympathy for the victims of the terror attacks in Brussels during a protest at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants at the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, on March 22.
Editor's note: Sally Kohn is an activist, lawyer, and political commentator. The views expressed here are her own.

Every time a terrorist attack is carried out by Islamic extremists — especially when it happens in a predominantly white, Western nation that gets disproportionate media coverage, as with the tragic incident in Brussels this week — the world of watercooler chit chat and social media hot takes divides into two camps.

There are those who want to implicitly or even explicitly condemn the entirety of Islam as though it is inherently violent, evil, and anti-Western. Then there are those who protest that not all Muslims are terrorists, that in fact most Muslims abhor the violence and ideology of terrorism, and that if we as a global community fail to appreciate that distinction, we only isolate and alienate the moderate Muslim majority.

The cruel irony is that violent extremists like ISIS embolden our ideological extremists in America. They fuel each other's hate.

Wajahat Ali, Affinis Labs
Actually, there’s probably a third camp — those among us who don’t necessarily feel one way or the other, or don’t speak up because we think we don't know enough or that it’s not our issue or our problem. But in the age of Donald Trump — the Republican frontrunner for president whose campaign has taken aim at the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims by vowing to bar any of them from entering the United States if he is elected — it is no longer a time to stand on the sidelines.

Terrorist attacks carried out by a handful of extremist Muslims will be politicized, by Trump and others, to incite fear among voters and impel discriminatory and draconian policies. All of which, it’s worth noting, will help Trump's chances of getting elected. And none of which will actually make us any safer.

Don’t believe me? Listen to the Muslim leaders who challenge the orthodoxies of radicalization within their own faith — not from the comfortable distance of an armchair, but as organizers and activists for pluralism, progress, and reform.
Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
A Palestinian American demonstrator holds a sign at a rally in New York expressing grief for the victims of the November 13, 2015 attacks by Islamic State extremists in Paris.
“Discrimination breeds radicalization,” foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal told Refinery29. “And the unwillingness to address the root cause of extremism is resulting in mass radicalization and world destabilization.”

ISIS rationalizes its violence “by saying they are doing it in the name of Islam and to defend Muslims, and yet Muslims are the number one victims of their terror and violence,” Wajahat Ali, writer and creative director of Affinis Labs, told Refinery29. “The cruel irony is that violent extremists like ISIS embolden our ideological extremists in America. They fuel each other's hate.”

Ali notes that Ted Cruz, Republican presidential candidate and senator from Texas, “responded to the Brussels attacks by saying Muslim neighborhoods in America should be patrolled.” That’s using hate to fuel more hate. According to one study by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim American informants have in fact been responsible for foiling 2 out of every 5 al-Qaeda-related terrorist attacks. Shouldn’t we be embracing America’s moderate Muslim majority rather than ostracizing and angering them?

But the fact that non-Muslim Americans don’t seem remotely as outraged about the thousands of Muslims killed by ISIS (who make up most of the group's victims), but only seem to take note when far smaller numbers are killed in European cities, speaks to another aspect of this troubling dynamic: the sense that white Westerners are only ever victims of terrorism, and Muslims are only ever perpetrators of it.

Shouldn’t we be embracing America’s moderate Muslim majority rather than ostracizing and angering them?


Thus, when a white man spews racist hate speech and kills nine parishioners in a Black church, he is not considered a terrorist. And on the same day that attacks by Islamic extremists on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a Kosher supermarket in Paris killed 17 people, 2,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Nigeria. But only the attacks in France received blanket media coverage.

“At some point we have to ask, why aren't we aligned with victims in other parts of the world? Why do the jewels of Europe merit our sympathy, but the jewels of Africa less so?” asked Negin Farsad, a social justice comedian and filmmaker.

“I am outraged when any innocent people are murdered at the hands of terrorist groups like ISIS or white supremacists in the U.S. I want fellow Americans to condemn all forms of terrorism — whether in a church in South Carolina or an airport in Brussels or in the streets of Istanbul,” said Linda Sarsour, cofounder of MPower Change. Sarsour is referring to a terrorist attack in Istanbul that took place this past weekend but received far less media coverage than those in Brussels.

“If the terror is global, so is the victimhood,” Farsad said.
Photo: AP Photo/Asim Tanveer
Pakistani civil society activists chant slogans during a rally to condemn the Brussels attacks in Multan, Pakistan on March 22. The sign on the left reads: "We want peace in the world."
But, Sarsour added, “for some reason — based on region and race — some lives seem to matter more than others, and that is wrong.”

“This is not a fight between Islam versus the West, but rather all of us versus ISIS,” says Dean Obeidallah, host of SiriusXM radio's The Dean Obeidallah Show. The media, and politicians, need to act accordingly — and strategically — instead of fanning the flames of divisive hate.

“As a Muslim American, I despise ISIS. We can't give in to the politicians who want to divide us by faith,” said Obeidallah.

“The one thing you should know about Islam is that it is not, nor has it ever been, one thing,” said Reza Aslan, a scholar of religions. Islam is as diverse as every one of the world’s ancient and revered religions — there are gay Muslims just as there are Jews who eat pork, there are Muslim feminists just as there are pro-choice Catholics.
Photo: Albert Llop/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Muslims gathered to condemn the November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris by holding posters at Placa Sant Jaume in Barcelona, Spain on November 16, 2015.
In fact, there are only two groups in the world who aspire to portray Islam as monolithic — ISIS and the Western far right, both of whom are invested in spreading the idea that the only true Islam is violent, fanatical Islam. Want to fight ISIS? Then believe in pluralism and diversity — of both people and their beliefs about their religion and the world around them.

Because the fact is that repressive religious fanatics fight against tolerance and diversity. And we don’t defeat them by encouraging their marginalizing stereotypes, but by holding up and embracing the truth, again and again and again. No more standing on the sidelines. It’s high time we all join the chorus of voices around the globe speaking up for tolerance and diversity and truth: #NotAllMuslims.

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