We unfortunately live in an unfair world. Injustice is so ubiquitous that we can categorize it based on our neighborhood, our city, our region, our country and the world. Any kind of injustice, discrimination or otherization -- such as social injustice, class injustice, inequity in income distribution and a lack of equal opportunities in education, business and social mobility -- may rear its ugly head at any moment in our daily life. Not only the cases of social injustice we encounter in our daily life, but also the sentiments of rage and revolt stemming from national or international injustice may trigger reactions that are against the nature of people who normally have psychological integrity.
Revolts, uprisings, and acts of violence and terrorism in various parts of the world may be regarded as the consequences of concrete facts and justifications. The violence associated with such outbursts of revolt and anger may be seen as the manifestation of a total loss of patience. Therefore, it may be a flawed approach to treat them as if they were specific to a particular faith, religion, ideology or philosophy.
Of course, the existence of ideological approaches that legitimize ideological agitation, violence and state terror -- such as communist ideology, which seeks to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat -- cannot be denied. But it is impossible to think that any religion as a system of beliefs can justify harming or killing innocent people.
I personally cannot think of any divine religion -- certainly not Islam, which is a religion perfected by God for human beings -- that permits or promotes harming, damaging, injuring or killing innocent people. We know that religions of divine origins, or moral or philosophical systems such as Confucianism, do not encourage people to engage in evil or harmful activities. Religions essentially consist of a quest for the attainment of goodness and kindness. No religion endorses or promotes evil deeds.
That said, and given the fact that Islam is the perfected form of the true religion, what is the reason for the haste with which people tend to associate Islam with terror and violence? Can Islam be linked with violence, terror, bigotry and fanaticism based on the unbecoming remarks, acts and behaviors of some of its followers in spite of the fact that "Islam" literally means "peace?”
Muslims not the only victims of injustice in the world
As noted above, the rage and fury followers of Islam may feel regarding the injustices and victimization that stem from the fact that the Muslim world is not given the place it deserves in the international system may have increased to the point that they overshadow Islam's message of peace. We can hardly say Muslims are the only victims of injustice in the world. In certain regions, Buddhists, Hindus, and even Christians and disciples of other faiths are victimized to the same extent as Muslims in certain regions, are they not? So why are Muslims and Islam -- and not other religions or cultures, with some exceptions -- associated with terrorism and violence?
I must note in advance that it would be a gross error to hold Islam responsible for this. For their mistakes, we can safely criticize those Muslims who are miles away from correctly representing Islam. The evil process of the transformation of these so-called Muslims into bloodthirsty creatures that kill dozens, hundreds and even thousands of people indiscriminately with a terrorist or suicide attack can hardly be associated with Islam or with any other religion. But even a cursory look at any domestic or foreign media outlet will reveal a number of such incidents occurring simultaneously across the Muslim world, betraying the peaceful spirit of Islam.
I personally have difficulty comprehending how Islam -- a system that has no fundamental connection with any specific political regime or policy and that regards as Islamic any system that promotes good deeds and discourages evil ones -- can be wielded for political or profane purposes and turned into a raving monster. I am bewildered when I see how a variety of versions of political Islamism can construe Islam as an instrument of injustice, discrimination, otherization, violence and terror, betraying the peaceful and welcoming spirit of Islam.
Please, let us not try to deceive ourselves. Unfortunately, we Muslims are responsible for the worst damage done to the prestige of Islam and the virtuous memory of our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Of course, apart from the deplorable state of the Muslim world -- which suffers from prevalent ignorance, widespread poverty, commonplace injustice, worsening disunity and a high level of moral decadence -- we should also discuss the role of domestic and foreign media outlets in marketing violence and terror. But as the phrase goes, "There's no smoke without fire," and media outlets would not be able to say anything if it were not for actual acts committed by so-called Muslims.
You will have heard the odd rule in journalism that says, "Bad news is good news." The selectivity of the perception of the media errs on the side of criticism rather than praise, focuses on that which is negative rather than positive and prefers destructiveness to constructiveness. Now, let us take our conscience as our guide and take a trip across the world. Which region has the highest number of newsworthy incidents that fit the principle of "bad news is good news,” Europe, the Americas or the Far East? None of these, unfortunately! They are found in the areas that are densely populated by Muslims.
By nature, the media are not, of course, objective, but they are selective; and this selectiveness contains a high level of subjectivity. But even if you are equipped with the highest level of subjectivity you cannot do anything about something that does not exist. You cannot sustain a lie. If we pore over the output of international media outlets, can we say that all the blame for the news stories and programs about Muslims is strictly a result of the bias, partisanship, selectivity and subjectivity of the West? There really is a terrorist organization called al-Qaeda, isn't there? What about Boko Haram, a group that kills innocent people? There is the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which commits massacres and rapes and sells women, isn't there? What about Hezbollah and Hamas, which thrive in the gray area between self-defense and terror?
When 'bad news is good news'
Now, imagine you are a Western media outlet guided by the motto “bad news is good news." Imagine further that you continuously receive reports about violence, rape, aggression, massacres, beheadings, suicide attacks, arbitrariness, despotism, unlawfulness, poverty and ignorance from a region that is the seat of a civilization you see as a rival. What would you do? Would you cover up these reports? Or would you convey them to your audience with exaggerated details?
Yes, the Western media are prejudiced. They are utterly unfair and not objective. They are biased, Islamophobic and ill-intentioned. I have no objection to this description, and our media, too, deserve the same description. I also know that we don't have the power to ensure they change these reprehensible attitudes. Then, I guess, the first thing we should do is to start with ourselves. We should strive to make sure we don't engage in any hideous acts Western media can use to portray a garbled image of Islam or Muslims. We should be become paragons of Islam so that provocative incidents such as the cartoon crisis with Denmark can be foiled.
I know it is easier said than done. But we should certainly start somewhere. For instance, we can immediately stop blaming them to feel as if we have fulfilled our responsibilities and instead start to acknowledge our errors.
But I must note that as long as the Muslim world does not define ISIL, Boko Haram and others like them as terrorists, it has no right to complain about Islam's image in the Western media. On the other hand, we have the unfortunate experience of seeing Muslims -- including the Turkish government -- fail to safeguard the prestige and dignity of Islam when they refrain from denouncing ISIL as a terrorist organization.
Yet, just as Mr. Fethullah Gülen did, it shouldn't be difficult for Muslims to condemn terrorist acts and murders and keep our distance from such murders. Muslims, not Western non-Muslims, are obliged to safeguard and promote Islam and its image. Blaming others but failing to perform our duties amounts to good-for-nothing heroism.
Let us come together to lend full support to Mr. Gülen's stance and promote his voice around the globe. Let us say, "A terrorist cannot be a Muslim. A Muslim cannot be a terrorist."
The rest is empty talk...
Published on Today's Zaman, 11 November 2014, Tuesday
- Islamic scholar Gülen rejects bombings in the name of Islam
- Islam and Terror: The Perspective of Fethullah Gülen
- Fethullah Gulen on "Islam and Terrorism"
- The Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge (2)
- The Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge (1)