I recently received a phone call from a close friend and frankly someone I’d consider to be a “brother from another mother.” He had been catching up on international news and came across updates regarding ISIS and its presence in the Middle East. ISIS, also known as ISIL, is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria aka the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; it’s a jihadist group in the Middle East that has self-proclaimed religious authority over Muslims worldwide and intends to bring Muslim-inhabited regions under its political rule, beginning with Iraq and Syria and eventually overtaking the Levant region which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Cyprus.
ISIS threatens citizens in the regions it controls with penalty by death for those who refuse to declare Islamic creed, resulting in violence against thousands of Christians and any others who deny their religious rule. International entities have classified ISIS as a terrorist organization and the United States has taken military action to thwart their efforts to destabilize the Middle East through violent ethnic and religious cleansing.
In response to the increased activity by ISIS, I posted a status update on my personal Facebook page that read: “ISIS ≠ Islam;” but after learning of the thousands of Christian’s who’d either been killed, tortured or mutilated and forced to convert to Islam by the radical jihadist group, my brother wasn’t so convinced by my status update. So he phoned me to express his shifting views about Islam amidst the spur of negative bustle by radical Islamic groups such as ISIS, Hamas, and Boko Haram. To his credit, my brother was also calling for more in depth insight and perspective to better inform his shift in thinking about Islam.
To be clear, my brother and I are both baptized Christians, but I’ve spent considerable time in the Middle East where Christianity is not the dominant religion as is in the United States. Understanding that I have lived-experience of being in community with Muslims, my brother was open to receiving my perspective on Islam before defecting to an Islamophobic posture that so many Americans share. For that, I’m thankful to have such thoughtful friends who actually engage in a process of critical thinking and analysis before adopting a certain position or stance on critical issues – in this case, religion.
By now you might be asking why, I, a Christian, am defending Islam when it seems as if so many terrorize Christians and others in the name of Islamic faith? The answer is in my Facebook status; allow me to add to it: ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, etc. ≠ Islam, and the practice of allowing the few to define the many far extends that of religion, and I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of the power-laden majority defining the perceptibility of the least of these, by the worst of them. I’m sick of all Black men being labeled as poor thugs and miscreants and all black women as objectified flesh, simply because the majority have portrayed Black men and women as such. I’m sick of all Latinos being referred to as illegal “aliens” as if they are from outer space, simply because the majority has portrayed Latinos as such. I’m sick of all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgenders being labeled as sexual deviants not safe to be left alone with children, let alone raise them, simply because the majority has portrayed the LGBT community as such. I’m sick of women being branded as weaker, less intelligent, and less capable, than their male counterparts simply because the majority has portrayed women as such. And I’m sick of all Muslims being reduced to terrorists simply because the majority has portrayed Muslims as such.
The truth is, all Black men are not thugs and criminals living out an inherited culture of violence exclusive to the Black community, and all Black women are not objects inviting physical and sexual abuse. In fact the Black community is one of respectable men and women contributing to a society that has reciprocated very little in return; an attempt by the majority to maintain its control by keeping the minority a powerless one.
The truth is, all Latinos are not illegal or aliens for that matter. They do not come from Mars or Saturn, but Mexico and El Salvador rather. In fact many Latinos who are undocumented citizens are people who fled violence and poverty to seek a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S; not to traffic drugs. They contribute to the American labor force daily but do not see the fruits of their labor from a government not interested in immigration reform; an attempt by the majority to maintain its control by keeping the minority a powerless one.
The truth is, all LGBT are not sexual deviants whose sexual identity predisposes them to sexual misconduct and classifies them as child predators, as if cis-heteronormative people are less promiscuous and therefore more sexually responsible. In fact some of the best people I know and some of the most noble citizens of this country are members of the LGBT community who I’d entrust with my kids over many “normal” people. Yet they are still denied equal rights under the law, including the right to lawfully wed and raise a family; an attempt by the majority to maintain its control by keeping the minority a powerless one.
The truth is, all women are not weaker, less intelligent, or less capable than their male counterparts as matriarchal subjugation would suggest. In fact women are not only more likely to be the primary caregiver in a family, but they are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinner as well. Not to mention that women are now earning more advanced degrees than men. However women are still less likely to be a CEO, or judge, or surgeon, or pastor over men, and if they do manage to fill those roles, women will be paid less than their male counterparts for the same work; an attempt by the majority to maintain its control by keeping the minority a powerless one.
The truth is, all Muslims are not terrorists and Islam is not a radical religion; no more than Christianity is. In fact, the only radical thing I’ve experienced from Muslims is radical hospitality. From Syrian refugees with virtually nothing to offer, I received hot tea in a gesture of radical hospitality while visiting Zaatari refugee camp. With college students in Jordan I shared laughs about American television over a traditional Arab dinner. In Palestine I was invited into Muslim holy sites to fast and pray regardless of my Christian faith.
If we must be honest, much terrorism has been carried out in the name of Christianity all over the world as well. From the Christian Crusades to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in Great Britain; in India – from the Tripura rebellion and religious violence in Odisha, and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and their religious cleansing in Manipur to the sectarian violence against Muslim civilians by Anti-balaka Christian militants in Central African Republic; from Maronite Christian militias in Lebanon to the Orange Volunteers in Northern Ireland; from The Lord’s Resistance Army led by infamous Joseph Kony in Uganda, to the Ku Klux Klan in the U. S. whose early goals included reestablishing Protestant Christian Values in America “by any means possible;” and the list of acts of terror executed in the name of Christianity goes on and on. But notice we aren’t stamping terrorist on the forehead of every Christian on earth; that’s because we control the narrative as the dominant faith in the World and I’m sick of us proclaiming to be holier than thou, on the basis of labeling the whole of another by a few of their worst representatives. I’m sick of it in religion, and I’m sick of it in society.
So if you’re equally sick of the practice of allowing the few to define the many, but find yourself being sucked into the black hole of control of mainstream group-think designed to further marginalize the marginalized, do as my brother did and seek understanding from those with different lived-experiences who can authentically speak to your assumptions. You might be surprised at what you learn, and in the process, you may aid in the equal redistribution of privilege around the world.