On August 9th, 2018, Palestine became a litmus test for Muslim candidate Rashida Tlaib over accusations that she was not vocal enough about Palestine during her campaign. Electronic Intifada ran a critical piece on Tlaib — a Palestinian American and Democratic congressional candidate in Michigan — arguing that her words have not been “comforting.”
Speaking to Jewish voters at a Detroit synagogue, Tlaib was quoted saying, “We need to be honest about dehumanization on both sides … and more importantly, we need to not be choosing a side.”
For many Muslims (candidates and activists alike), the issue of Palestine becomes a litmus test of one’s loyalty to his or her Muslim identity. This summer, writer and media personality Wajahat Ali also faced intense scrutiny over his feature in The Atlantic that explored the perspective of Israeli settlers. Despite a laundry list of accomplishments that brought him immense support and a growing public platform, this one piece blacklisted him in the Muslim community (including a call to boycott Ali).
The Israel-Palestine issue is one of the most significant geopolitical multi-generational issues of our time, especially for Muslims. How Muslims respond to that conflict often determines how we respond to other issues: Will we bring dialogue or adopt a rigid mentality?
Western Muslims often discuss Palestine with religious undertones, turning a geopolitical issue into a religious one. Certainly, for many non-Palestinian Muslims, Palestine has become a religious cause.
Yet, we don’t see the same deep concern with Muslims over other foreign conflicts that involve Muslims, whether it be in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, or any other Muslim country or Muslim population facing exceptional challenges. When Islamists only care about the Palestinian issue with selective focus, the issue isn’t the Palestinian people — the issue is Israel and the anti-Semitism woven into the thread of our faith by propagandists over the course of 1,400 years.
This not only adds fuel to the fire but it complicates Islam by taking something that has nothing to do with religion and making it expressly about religion. Moreover, when we make the Israel-Palestine issue about faith, it becomes that much harder to discuss Palestine with honesty and nuance, without backlash, blacklisting or pegging oneself into a tight narrative that affords little opportunity for growth.