If you were born and raised in the West, think back to your textbooks on world history. Chances are, you remember learning about historical periods like the Birth of Civilization (Mesopotamia), the Classical Age (Rome and Greece), Renaissance and Reformation, etc.
If you heard mention of Islam or major events in the Islamic world, it probably constituted a single chapter amidst dozens, if mentioned at all. In his book “Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes,” Tamim Ansary writes, “Throughout much of history, the West and the Islamic world have been like two separate universes, each preoccupied with its own internal affairs, each assuming itself to be the center of human history.”
Western education has so thoroughly ignored the role of Islam in the world since the Middle Ages that it has allowed the worst elements on the political Left and Right to define Islam. Like the Islamic world’s terrorism problem, the West’s manipulation of the world’s second-largest religion for political purposes threatens to do lasting damage to the idea of Islam and its innocent followers.
Just Consider Our Public Debates
Look around and consider what’s being debated about Muslims in America and who is doing the debating. The role of Islam in the West has become an omnipresent source of debate in virtually every newspaper and major TV news network in America.
What groups are currently presumed to represent Muslims? The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Muslims for Progressive Values, to name three. If you aren’t familiar with the political leanings of those organizations, try following them on Twitter for a few days or check out their websites.
How about individuals? Linda Sarsour, Ilhan Omar, Keith Ellison, Noor Tagouri, and Omar Suleiman, to name a few. If you aren’t sure what the political leanings of those individuals are, follow them on Twitter for a few days or read some of their statements.
You’ll find that these individuals and organizations are all part of the political left in America. In fact, for many of these people, it seems Islam is but a mere casual interest. What really gets them out of bed in the morning is politics, not religion or spirituality. Yet cloaked in allegedly religious intentions, their politics become sacrosanct and immune from criticism.
The political Right in the West, ever on the lookout for society’s next boogeyman, accepts this idea of Muslims as leftists at face value. It’s convenient, even as it’s incredibly shortsighted. Overwhelmingly Christian, the political mouthpieces on the Right are not in a hurry to find philosophically kindred spirits among Muslims. Among other things, it would complicate their steadfast support for Israel.
Right and Left Play Both Sides of a Deception Game
Observe: if one of the talking heads on the Right actually invites a Muslim guest on his or her TV show, it’s either one who sounds like he just missed the cut for President Obama’s drone kill list or an exceedingly rare Muslim culture warrior whose views are somehow indistinguishable from those of an evangelical Christian.
At virtually all non-right-wing media outlets where prominent Muslims are regularly invited as guests, the Muslims they choose are, almost without exception, highly partisan, dyed-in-the-wool leftists. Moreover, their singular purpose for appearing on the show, rather than attempting to educate the West about Islam, is apparently to bemoan how aggrieved women, minorities, and the environment are because of free markets.
Even apolitical, solutions-oriented Muslims have a difficult time finding a platform for their ideas. Zain, a telecommunications company based in Kuwait, recently broke through the media blackout of good ideas coming from the Muslim world with a brilliant YouTube ad calling on fellow Muslims to end extremist violence in their communities. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and watch it.
The Right and Left are both playing opposite sides of the same game, and happily so. The Left gets to use its identity politics wedge to create yet another special interest group, and the Right, masochistically, gets a new boogeyman to justify spending more money on police and the military. It’s hardly a fair trade for the Right, but don’t tell Sean Hannity that.
What’s missing from all this are conservative and libertarian Muslims, who do exist. If you don’t believe me, check out the Minaret of Freedom Institute, Istanbul Network, or the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs. The fact that we almost never hear these perspectives is the fault of left- and right-wing media (apolitical media hardly exists), who both ignore them for their own political reasons. This has to stop.
So Let’s Stop It Right Now
Diversity of thought is an essential component for achieving broad-based acceptance of an otherwise marginalized group. Traditionally marginalized groups like gays or Jews simply do better when there are prominent gay or Jewish voices on the political left and right. By broadening the spectrum of things we can agree on, people with different backgrounds magically get along better.
To use a sports analogy, imagine bumping into your worst enemy (within reason) on the street and being surprised to see him or her wearing your favorite sport’s team’s jersey. If you’re like most people, you’ll probably set aside your differences for a minute to talk about your love for the team.
The Left has done an impressive job of finding marginalized groups and quickly activating them politically. There’s a reason Jews in America and Jews in Israel are so far apart on the “Israel” issue. In the previous two presidential elections, Jews voted Democrat at a rate of 71 percent and 69 percent. Divided and mobilized into neat, ideologically monolithic political interest groups, these members of our society stay on the fringes because half the country can find nothing in common with them. Good for one political party, bad for America.
How About Stop Treating People Like Caricatures
Looking outside of America, consider the Arab Spring. What began in Tunisia actually led to major uprisings against oppressive regimes in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Now in 2017, it’s safe to say the Arab Spring was a huge disappointment for all countries involved save for Tunisia, where a budding democracy is alive and well. Why Tunisia? Largely because its political system includes and empowers a diverse range of voices, from secularists to Islamists.
Inviting Muslims with a variety of different political and non-political perspectives to have a voice is essential to achieving a harmonious balance between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. For those on the Right who sometimes hold unfair biases against Muslims, hearing a Muslim share political or economic philosophy can go a long way towards erasing the lines that have kept them apart. Did you notice how quickly many on the American Right took to openly gay individuals as soon as they found out they favored tax cuts and limited government? The Right’s prejudices are often shorthand for “people in your group tend to be left-wing.”
For those on the Left, hearing a Muslim with a different political or economic philosophy can help them understand that Muslims are not some monolithic political interest group whose sole purpose is increasing Democrats’ voter turnout.
On December 17, 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his wares and repeated harassment from local government officials for trying to make money to feed his family without a proper permit. He was 26 years old when he died two and a half weeks later. His death became a catalyst for a liberty movement that had been simmering beneath the surface of Tunisian society and eventually led to the only successful democratic revolution of the Arab Spring.
Western media outlets largely ignored Mohamed’s story, especially those on the political right. Why? Mohamed’s story is the quintessential libertarian or capitalist narrative of man’s struggle for economic liberty and the right to earn a living. An oppressive government of central planners made his existence so miserable that he decided to take his own life rather than live in constant humiliation.
Could Mohamed’s story be the sort of tie that binds people from diverse backgrounds in political cohesion? Maybe, but only if we deliberately give voice to Muslims from across the political spectrum, and perhaps a few from outside of it.