by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser
When it became clear that the suspects in the Boston terror attacks were the Tsarnaev brothers, two young Muslim men, media calls poured in for my thoughts into the motivations of these radicalized men. My life’s work has been dedicated to countering the narrative these brothers got swept into.
But even in the wake of Islamist terror, media wanted to focus on “fears” of a so-called backlash against American Muslims that could ensue following such attacks. In a free society, violence may certainly breed further violence. But, thought leaders in media, government and academe play a major role in shaping what are the dominant narratives.
In the end it’s all about the narrative, and for too long the narrative in the Muslim community has been one-sided.
In the U.S., the Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have dominated the American Muslim narrative. Their strategy and constituency demand an obsession on “Muslims as victims” or “Muslims as misunderstood” especially when attacks like those in Boston occur. Almost universally, the current predominant narrative is: “Muslims are victimized by American hate at home and abroad.” Nowhere to be found is the counter-narrative that “Muslims love American liberty and law more than that of ‘Muslim nations.’ ”
These groups may not preach violence but they have developed the Islamist grievance narrative into a monopoly on the Muslim consciousness. They ignore the fact that our best protection against anti-Muslim bigotry would be for the public to see us Muslims actually take ownership beyond the denial. America would then see us as assets rather than as liabilities.
This victim narrative played a profound role in creating these monsters. Recently, Boston saw two high-profile convictions of American Muslims for aiding al-Qaida: Aafia Siddiqui from Brandeis in 2010 and Tarek Mehanna from MIT in 2011. In response, far too many local Muslim leaders decried them as victims and portrayed them as such in area mosques and the community.
The first story in The Arizona Republic about local American Muslims after the bombing gave leading Islamist apologists like CAIR-AZ’s Imraan Siddiqi a venue to selfishly admonish Americans not to victimize innocent Muslims by seeking “retribution.” That seems hardly an appropriate talking point in the wake of terror committed by Islamist radicals on our watch. America needs to see us own the problem.
Attacks like those in Boston need to be a unifying point for us to address the underlying root of Islamist extremism — political Islam. We must start by looking at what starts them down the path to radicalization, not what ends that path. The bombing is not just about the brothers Tsarnaev. They are the tip of the iceberg of a global battle between narratives.
The battle of narratives needs to give Muslim youth an alternative that helps them fall in love with their American identity while also staying strong in their faith and fully rejecting the intoxicant that is political Islam.
Muslims need to take ownership of this fight and not allow the Islamist grievance narrative to monopolize the identity of our youth. True non-Islamist Muslims need to present a louder voice that says we are proud of the totality which is America, our nation, and would rather live nowhere else or in no other way.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam. Dr. Jasser served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy and was Staff Internist for the Office of the Attending Physician to the U.S. Congress.