The blame Islam mantra, a favorite pastime for the media and political talking heads, got a new lease on life after the horrific attack at the Pulse Club in Orlando, Florida. Immediately after news of the attack spread, media talking heads and political pundits began to pontificate on Islam’s supposed responsibility and the homophobic nature of the religion. The narrative fits conveniently, and Islam is again uniquely situated as the source of the problem and supposedly rooted in a refusal to conform to the precepts of the modern world. Whenever a Muslim individual undertakes any violent or illegal action, Islam stands accused and is assigned responsibility. Is Islam responsible? How do we assign responsibility to a set of texts or to a faith practiced by some 1.4 billion people?
The “Islam is responsible” mantra is always ready and is deployed to explain myriad issues, problems and circumstances. Knowing anything about Islam is not a handicap and the ability to read or use any of the primary texts, in reality, is deemed as a drawback since no such careful examination is needed when Islam is determined to be responsible.
Critically, the divergence in framing the problem and whether to use Islam in the context of attacks reflects a different vision of America and the West in general. The “clash of civilization” thesis plays a prominent role in the framing and prescribes a fundamental difference between Islam, Muslims and the West in general and America in particular. In addition, the same “clash of civilization” thesis is seamlessly applied to the Latino population in the U.S. and the demographic threat they pose to white America moving forward. At the core, the demand for specific terminology is intended to draw the clear distinction between the imagined white America and those that fall outside the constructed racial and cultural walls.
As such, Donald Trump’s demands to frame the problem in relation to Islam is an appeal to a racial paradigm that is masquerading under the rubric of national security and opposition to political correctness. The fight over terminology is rooted in a deeper conceptualization of the problem we face with terrorism and the possible remedies to be deployed to address it. Insisting on using “Islamic” in the context of violent extremism is an important ideological construct for a cluster of individuals and groups who are champions of the “clash of civilization” thesis. The problem is defined through unresolvable core differences that are civilizational in nature, according to Trump and his ilk. If the starting point is a clash between Islam and the West, then every violent act is interpreted and viewed through the lens of an already constructed conclusion.
Islam is responsible because it is on a collusion course with the modern and progressive West goes the clash of civilization thesis. The constructed binary fits neatly into this worldview, and no further analysis is needed to understand the motive behind any violent act. Islam is held responsible because it is deemed to be the negative opposite of the West, which has all the positive and progressive attributes.
After the Orlando attack, Trump demanded that we must use “radical Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic radicalism” to point at those responsible, while implying that U.S. President Barack Obama is soft or possibly secretly involved with the terrorist. In a Sunday Twitter post, Donald Trump demanded that President Obama “mention the words radical Islamic terrorism” in reference to the Orlando attacks and to “immediately resign in disgrace.”
The Republican presumptive nominee made sure to very quickly wade into the blame Islam terrain and again called for restrictions on Muslims entering the country. Trump then attacked his Democratic counterpart by stating, “The bottom line is that Hillary supports the policies that bring the threat of radical Islam into America and allow it to grow overseas.” Furthermore, according to Trump: “Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country. They enslave women and murder gays.”
In a CNN interview, Hillary Clinton inched closer in Trump’s direction by stating, “Whether you call it radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing.” Clinton clarified by stating: “I’m happy to say either. But what I won’t do, because I think it is dangerous for our efforts to defeat this threat, is to demonize and demagogue and, you know, declare war on an entire religion. That plays right into ISIS’ [DAESH’s] hands.”
Trump’s insistence on the terminology comes directly from the Islamophobic and “clash of civilizational” warriors’ cookbook, and the recipes fit perfectly into this distorted ideological box. There’s no need to look for causes, stimuli and factors that motivated a violent act or ascertain the intent behind it. The reason is always simple: Islam is responsible, and there’s a mad dash to ascertain the level of Islamic adherence by the perpetrators even when none is found. Here, we are not saying that they are not Muslim or that they lack adherence to Islam; on the contrary, that is to be accounted for but the real motivation is glossed over and not ascertained. Examining the intent behind actions and the steps leading the individual to undertake violent actions is the first step toward beginning to decipher the source of the problem. Assigning responsibility to Islam is wrong and does not lead to solving the problem of violence in the world; rather, it helps obfuscate the real causes.