Sep 14 2014

Why Don’t Muslims Condemn Terrorism?


By Ramy Osman
September 2014

This question is frequently posed by non-Muslims in the media and in public forums. At times it’s non-Muslims asking each other this question. And at times it’s a question posed to any Muslim they encounter. Rarely is the questioner genuinely wondering why they haven’t seen Muslims condemning terrorism. More often than not, the questioner is attempting to vilify Muslims as a whole.

There are many assumptions that a person makes that contribute to them actually posing this question. One of the most popular assumptions is that terrorism is an exclusively Muslim thing. Another assumption is that most Muslims are either complicit with terrorism or are in approval with its tactics. Some people assume that Islam actually teaches its adherents to commit terrorism; Or assume that the actions of a few (thousands) is a reflection on the whole (almost 2 billion).

I will not try to address these assumptions. When someone makes these assumptions, it’s an indication that they have other (hidden) issues which are triggering their question. Argumentation and evidence simply won’t work as a response. Someone posing this question is as absurd as someone asking “Why don’t men condemn rape?”, or “Why don’t white people condemn murder-suicide?”, or “Why don’t Latinos condemn drug cartels?”, or “Why don’t poor people condemn thieves?”. There’s something behind these questions that the questioner isn’t saying. It’s as if they’re trying to make a statement without actually making the statement. It’s as if they really want to say, “Muslims accept terrorism”, or “Men accept rape”, or “Whites accept murder-suicide”, or “ Latinos accept drug cartels”, or “Poor people accept thieves”. These statements are absurd. And these statements would expose anyone who says them to be an ignoramus. So instead of making such an ignorant statement, people instead hide behind a foolish question.

So how does one respond to someone asking “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism”? Make it about yourself. Re-imagine the question to be “Why don’t you Muslim condemn terrorism?”. This simplifies the question, removes any abstraction, and immediately makes their assumptions irrelevant. By making it about yourself, your response would be short and simple; “I have nothing to do with terrorism” or you can say “I personally condemn terrorism”. And there you have it. A Muslim has just condemned terrorism.

When you make the question about yourself, you empower yourself to handle the question with confidence. You’re under no obligation to mention elaborate statistics, or to quote verses of the Qur’an or statements of Muslim scholars, or to give a list of Muslim websites or organizations that condemn terrorism. Just speak for yourself. If you want, you can say something like “I never voted for bin Laden”, or “I never raised funds for Al Qaeda”. These types of answers might make the questioner angry, where they might say, “I never said you were a terrorist, or that you support terrorism”, etc. That’s good. They shouldn’t have asked such a foolish question to begin with. Maybe they’ll get the point, or maybe the conversation will end there.

Of course you can always answer the question by saying “Muslims do condemn terrorism”. But don’t get your hopes up that this’ll work. A quick retort is almost always “Well show me who. I never see Muslims condemning terrorism”. Don’t waste your valuable time trying to prove anything to them. If they try to make excuses about what other Muslims are doing, then your response is “I have nothing to do with those other people”.

But maybe the person you’re talking to isn’t satisfied that you’re answering only for your own actions, and that you don’t want to answer for the actions of others. Maybe the questioner thinks that someone (like yourself), who isn’t implicated in any terrorism, has a responsibility to explain why other people (who are also not implicated in terrorism) don’t condemn terrorism. If that’s the case, then your response should be, “Go ask them”. This way the questioner will continue on their endless journey of encountering Muslims who condemn terrorism only to ask them why other Muslims don’t condemn terrorism.

Such an open-ended question as “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?”, must be modified by you in some way in order for it to be answerable. The question must be modified and made to be directly connected to something tangible. If you choose not to modify the question to be about you, then the only other option is to modify it so that it’s about a specific Muslim organization or about a clearly identifiable group of Muslims. Your Initial response would be “What do you mean?”, “Which Muslims are you talking about?”, or “Can you please be more specific?”.

If the questioner agrees to make the question about someone specific, then you can simply say “Go ask them”. This way you’ve successfully redirected their question away from you, and you’ve proven a point that there’s no need for you to account for the actions of others. If you don’t redirect the question, then you’ll need to know something about that specific organization/group of Muslims, or you’ll need to direct the questioner to someone who can speak about that specific organization/group of Muslims.

But whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be pulled into discussing an abstract and unanswerable question.


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