July 27, 2015

The increasing burden on the shoulder of regular Muslims

Sevgi Akarçeşme

Given the news report coming from Turkey's border with Syria, fears have been realized.

For a long time now, numerous observers have warned the Turkish government of the potential a spillover effect as a result of Turkey's engagement in with almost any opposition group in Syria just to topple Syria's embattled president, Bashar Al Assad. Unfortunately, it is going to be the people of Turkey as a whole who will pay the heavy price of the AK Party's mistaken Syria policy. The deadly terrorist attack in Suruç and the assault by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) against the Turkish army are probably just the beginning.

We will have to debate the consequences of Turkey's underestimating, to say the least, radical Islamist terrorism for weeks to come, but this week I would like to emphasize another heartbreaking issue especially for Muslims. Whenever I hear of an armed attack in a Western country, particularly the United States, I pray that the attacker would not have a Muslim name. After all, when a non-Muslim shooter commits an act of terrorism -- as in the case of the Charleston church shooting that took place with an obviously racist motive in June -- the incident is considered an individual case, but when the attacker is Muslim the whole religion is labeled and all Muslims are associated with violence.

On the eve of Eid al-Fıtr, a man named Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed five military servicemen in Tennessee. The motive for the heinous attack is still unknown, but given the rising ISIL threat, which is a menace to Islam, as one might expect once again debates over Islam and violence are all over the news. While there are stories saying the attacker sent a verse to his friend hours before the attack, he does not seem to have lived a pious life. On the contrary, he seems like a confused guy as some described him an aimless young man. The attacker was even arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Had he not had a Muslim name, his actions could have been considered those of a disturbed person since he also quit taking medication for depression.

Regardless, Muslims around the world -- especially in Western countries in which they live as minorities -- face problems after each such attack. Their lives become more difficult every time a “normal looking Muslim man” turns out to be the perpetrator. Even the most “regular” Muslims become responsible for proving that she or he is not a terrorist, but a normal person with similar life expectations to peers. Yet, given the unbelievable atrocities of ISIL, which claims to commit those cruel attacks in the name of Islam, I cannot blame the ordinary Western audience for having a negative perception. After all, all they see in the news regarding Islam is nothing but violence.

There are many reasons to be worried about the perception of Muslims abroad and at home. The recent surveys reveal that while conservatism is on the rise in Turkey, piousness is in decline. A pious-looking Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has turned out to be the most corrupt in the nation's history, not to mention their oppression of anyone who is critical of them. As a result, many people are disillusioned by not only the AK Party, but also religion because of the party's identity.

In such a domestic and global climate it is such a difficult to task to show the true face of Islam, which is about peace, tolerance and the utmost respect for rights and justice. At times like this the presence of the Hizmet movement gives me relief. Fethullah Gülen, even before the emergence of ISIL, had unequivocally stated that terrorism and Islam cannot coexist. While radicalism is on the rise, scholars like Gülen, who considers killing a human being equal to rejecting God, are like oases in the desert. The global efforts of Hizmet volunteers who are committed to peaceful coexistence might not be sufficient, but they are naturally welcomed since they are the antidotes to radicalism. What matters more is that Gülen's words are reinforced by the actions of Hizmet volunteers in the field. In other words, there is consistency in their words and behavior, which is a reason to be hopeful about future of Muslims. Consequently, the efforts of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to label such a peaceful movement as terrorist are simply ridiculous.

The fact that I appreciate the contributions of the Hizmet movement to Turkey and the world does not mean that I consider myself one of those committed souls. Mine is nothing more than expressing my observations.

Published on Today's Zaman, 25 July 2015, Saturday