In 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes planted an enormous cache of gunpowder in a plot to blow up the English Parliament. In response, Russia banned all Protestants from entering Russia because of fears of importing English style bombing violence.
“Wait,” you may say, “that makes no sense. Guy Fawkes was a radical Catholic, and it was the entirely-Protestant English Parliament that was the target of his plan. It makes no sense to blame Protestants for that.”
You would be correct, and Russia did no such thing. To many in the Western or Western-influenced world, we are able to make that distinction because we readily can tell the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant. Why is that? Familiarity. We in the US all know several Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians. We don’t lump them all together (at least, unless we are talking about ecumenical issues). For many in the US, we don’t know many Muslims or many Middle Easterners, and tend to lump them all together and fail to readily distinguish between Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between Christian people from the Middle East and Muslims (and Yazidis and Mandeans and Jews).
In the USA, most of us KNOW more people who call themselves Methodists than who call themselves Muslim. We KNOW more people who are Dutch Reformed, who are Unitarians. We don’t lump them together. I argue that we shouldn’t lump the violent and genocidal brand of Islam that ISIS and Al Queda represent with the Islamic traditions of Sufi Mystics, with the Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan, or with Ahmed who lives down the street.
I guess the last one in the last is the big one, huh? I HAVE a guy who lives down the street named Ahmed. He’s a good neighbor. His kids need to pick the toys off the sidewalk more often, but they’re a great family to have on the block. I can’t lump all Muslims with the murderous bastard who bombed the concert in Manchester, because the majority of interactions with Muslim men and women in my life have been positive. One of my kid’s teachers is a Muslim lady. The guy in my old fantasy football league who won every other year is a Muslim. They shouldn’t have to bear the moral weight of a guy killing children in England. Not all Muslims are good neighbors, of course; Ibrahim from high school was a prick back then and he was a prick at our reunion, and Miriam from college always wanted to borrow other people’s notes and never gave you any of hers. My friend Samuel is from an Assyrian Christian family in Northern Iraq, and the Muslim neighbors he knew his whole life laughed and taunted his family when ISIS came to town and they all had to flee to the US and Canada. Muslims are good people, kindly people, and they are assholes and collaborators with evil, just like every. one. else. on. earth.
I can’t say “Islam is the cause of all this extremism” because I know too many Muslim people, barbers and cardiologists and cab drivers and stay at home moms and school teachers and liars and angels. Is Extremism an evil that the Muslim community has to contend with? Yes. And we all who oppose extremism, violence, and misogyny need to stand with members of the Muslim community who also oppose those things. For example, there are Muslim men and women in Pakistan who are fighting against persecution of non-Muslim minorities and apostates out of Islam, and we need to support them in their fight against increasing theocracy. Malala Yousafzai is a Muslim, and our familiarity with her story prevents us from lumping her in with the Taliban bastards who shot her. It should be the same for all people, Muslim or not, who are fighting their oppressors. It will take familiarity with Islamic philosophy, history, and with Muslim individuals for us to see the same differences within that community that we see between the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Franklin Graham, and David Koresh.
Don’t forget: it would be unjust for the English crown to blame all Catholics for Fawkes’ gunpowder plot. Punish the murderers and their accomplices; don’t punish people who are not the murderers. The enemies we must fight are murderers, are fascists, are those who dehumanize others to justify their own violence and tyranny. A peaceful Christian has more common interest with a peaceful Muslim, a peaceful atheist, and a peaceful Jew than any of them have with a murderer. The later must be opposed without demonizing any of the former.
*Ahmed is not the real name of my neighbor, and I’ve anonymized all the other names of people I personally know.