Congressman Keith Ellison wrote an interesting article for the “On Faith” section of The Washington Post. He raises the question, “Is it fair to expect Muslims to explain or condemn the actions of Islamic terrorists just because they’re Muslim?” He makes his point by comparing media depictions of black people with that of Muslims:
No serious journalist would ask a random black guy with a briefcase on the street to explain the pathology of an African American criminal because of the coincidence of shared skin color. But serious journalists [call] on ordinary Muslim Americans to explain the behavior of homicidal maniacs and extremists, thereby making [a] link between the crazies and the mainstream community.
To add insult to injury, too often journalists ask people who are critical of Islam to explain Islam. For an example of what I mean, watch this video:
In all fairness, Christiane Amanpour was trying to present both sides of the argument. But the ones that were critical of Islam are so off the charts that they cannot be considered to be credible critics. There is such a thing as constructive criticism and then there is unfair or even hurtful criticism. Too often the people that the media use to present the negative side of Islam have an agenda: they dislike (or even hate) Islam and want to present it in the worst possible light. Ellison writes:
The non-Muslim experts – Robert Spencer (leading anti-Muslim advocate in the Park51 Project controversy), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (prolific anti-Muslim writer), and Franklin Graham (said Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion”) – are well known, even famous, for spewing anti-Muslim hate.
I have often heard it said that Muslims don’t do enough to explain or condemn terrorism. But I resent the implication that I would have any idea what motivates terrorists simply because they call themselves Muslims. In fact, I don’t consider them to be true Muslims. They have nothing to do with me or my religion as I understand it. So why should I have to explain them?
Of course I condemn their actions, but there’s a difference between condemnation and apology, and I think the latter is what people really want. But that would be like expecting blacks to apologize for criminals who just happen to share their race. I share national origin with Timothy McVeigh but should I have to apologize for, let alone explain, his actions simply because we might have had a common ancestor?
Muslims should be prepared to explain their faith, but that’s not the same thing as explaining aberrations of the faith. I don’t know why Iran uses stoning as a method of execution or even why they execute adulterers. Or why some Muslims (but not only Muslims) perpetrate “honor killings” and female genital mutilation.
There is only one reason I can see why Muslims should be able to explain terrorism and that is to help people understand why it is incompatible with Islam. So, my answer to the title question is, Muslims should not have to explain terrorism because they themselves are terrorists, but because they want to educate people about what true Islam is.
Here is a good article about one source of Islamic extremism (found, of all places, in About.com’s topic of Agnosticism/Atheism). I particularly like the opening paragraph:
Too many critics of Islam, including atheists, fail to appreciate just how diverse and varied Islam can be. There are things you can say that apply to all or most Muslims, as is the case with Christianity, but there are many more things which only apply to some or a few Muslims. This is especially true when it comes to Muslim extremism because Wahhabi Islam, the primary religious movement behind extremist Islam, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere.
I believe it is important for Muslims to be well-versed in religious and political matters so that they can have intelligent conversations about Islam with those who are truly interested. But we shouldn’t have to answer those who are belligerent in their opposition to Islam. They aren’t seeking truth; they are only interested in broadcasting their version of it.