Islamism — the politicization of the Islamic faith — has been a thorn in the side of Islam since the faith’s early days. One interesting aspect of Islamism is that, across cultures and time, its presentation continually changes.
In America, Islamism has changed faces rapidly just in our generation — from the idea of “creeping shariah” to the lobbying efforts of Islamist organizations, a second Muslim “renaissance” coming out of San Francisco in the mid- to late-2000s, intersectionality and its alliances with the social justice crowd, to its current form of violence either through or excused by “woke” culture.
This new strain of Islamism should not be confused with the rise of Muslim civic participation and the mushrooming organizations around that initiative, which aren’t de facto Islamist activity. These do-good groups are very different from the rise of celebrity Islamist activists and their organizations like Linda Sarsour, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other umbrella groups such as the US Council of Muslim Organizations.
While some Muslims prefer their faith remain private, it’s neither a nefarious nor criminal act to represent one’s voice politically through the lens of faith. A Muslim securing office isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) automatically suspected and accused of Islamism.
And while there’s been plenty to say about Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, teasing out Islamism from unpopular opinions is a task layered with context, nuance and appropriate evidence.
Now those that do that work can add another layer to that task: the prospect of woke, violent Islamism.
Woke has largely been defined as a marker for identifying social injustices. Linda Sarsour’s activism made “wokeness” popular among the younger generation of American Muslims, particularly those under 40 years old and born in the United States.
It’s been popularized by fist pumps in the air, the rhetoric of defiance and sweeping associations marking Muslims as a victimized demographic (while often understanding very little about what the faith actually teaches).
Whatever an individual’s stance is on the value of woke culture matters less than the fact that woke is undeniably political. Now “wokeness” within the context of violent Islamism is starting to make its mark.
New information was recently released about the case where an ISIS jihadi attacked four students at the University of California, Merced. In 2015, 18-year-old Faisal Mohammad said “in the name of Allah,” entered a class and went on a stabbing spree before he was shot dead.
According to FBI reports, Mohammad planned to slit the throats of classmates while using a gun from an ambushed officer to continue his killing. He had a 31-point plan with names of people he specifically targeted. Though authorities claim Mohammad had no terror organization affiliation or past violent behavior, it appears he was self-radicalized and sympathetic to ISIS.
Yet, in keeping with the broadening concept of “wokeness,” the university excused and ignored the root cause or justification for his radicalization and instead blamed a new, popular “villain”: toxic masculinity.
While preventing violent extremism efforts encourage us to understand the process of radicalization — including looking at an individual’s human vulnerabilities — striving for compassion cannot discount ideological drivers that support the radicalization process.
Toxic masculinity certainly may be part of the conversation, but it is not the entirety of the conversation. When broadening interpretations of woke culture go from being aware to being intentionally unaware, the failure to have a good, hard and honest look at all the ideological drivers makes it much more difficult to get a handle on them.
It is simply not possible to address homegrown radicalization without looking at all the radicalizing elements respectfully and fairly.
Sajid Javid, a member of British Parliament who also served as the UK’s equivalent of secretary of state, recently warned, “We must not allow woke activists to stop us from confronting Islamist extremism.” Javid was specifically referring to the woke activists who “victim-blame the West” in an attempt to deal with the issue of violent Islamist extremism.
Whether through its activists or institutions, the value sought by woke culture dissolves when the desire for “issue awareness” and “sensitivity” creates a blind spot to critical fissures that ensure the problem will only compound in future generations.
Wokeness may be little more than a trend, a label to alert us that human civilization is writing its next chapter. But faith and human belonging — both driving factors in radicalization when their authentic manifestations are missing — stretch across a vast timeline and deserve to be treated with greater dignity, scholarship and curiosity than a momentary punctuation of limited awareness, which is essentially what “woke” is.