In response to the horrific attack on Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem by two Palestinians, right wing political commentator Ben Shapiro claims that Islam is at war with the west.
Shapiro, in his recent article published in Brietbart News, alleges that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is a religious war between Jews and Muslims, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Chirstians who have suffered in this conflict based on the policies of various Israeli governments. He also asserts that the Palestinian “Muslims” who were depicted in the media rejoicing in the killing of five innocent men, which is detestable, is somehow consistent with Islam.
This is a blatant slap in the face the overwhelming percentage of Muslims who believe in peace. When you try to group an entire religious population as extremist based on the actions of a few, you risk creating a powerful stigma and a culture of oppression. If left alone, this can lead to serious repercussions.
Adolf Hitler created a stigma by convincing the Germans that Jews were the root cause of their misery. A powerful stigma against African-Americans in the United States resulted in widespread discrimination and decades-long suppression of human rights. In Pakistan, so-called religious scholars stigmatize minorities, such as Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are then targeted and killed.
What we say and how we think, gives rise to powerful cultural forces that can result in grave implications. We must learn to distinguish between peace-loving Muslims and bloodthirsty extremists.
In my view, the two Palestinians who barged into the Jerusalem synagogue and proclaimed, "God is great," belong to no creed, let alone Islam. They are corrupted by extremist groups, like Hamas, who want to exploit Palestinians.
Shapiro, who bills himself as an expert on all things Israel, fails to understand the true nature of the conflict. Palestinians face immense economic and political turmoil and extremist groups like Hamas understand how to take advantage of the vulnerability of Palestinians.
Matthew Levitt, an expert on Islamist terrorism explained at a conference titled, “The Roots of Terror: Understanding the Evolving Threat of Global Terrorism,” how Hamas manipulates its constituents. Levitt explained that, "Hamas has one supreme objective, it is to mutate the essentially ethno-political Palestinian national struggle into a fundamentally religious conflict."
How does Hamas accomplish this? Hamas provides social welfare in the form of clinics, schools, mosques and financial assistance to the families of frustrated Palestinians living in sheer poverty, according to Levitt. “Projects like these play a critical role in building sympathy and support for the group among the local population,” Levitt notes.
Some Palestinians rally around Hamas because they depend on the social welfare program the group is able to provide. In return, Hamas then targets the vulnerable Palestinians, persuading them to be suicide bombers and other perpetrators of violence. Hamas is preying on its own people. This is human exploitation at its finest.
Shapiro also claims that if the western nations do not recognize Islam as a violent force, we risk losing more lives in the future. By making such a claim, he is negating the existence of millions of peace-loving Muslims residing in the West. In fact, the most common victim of these so called Islamic terrorists in terms of numbers are Muslims-by far.
As a Muslim, I am deeply troubled that these types of attacks are becoming increasingly common in the Islamic world. However, I find comfort in the fact that my faith does not condone such acts of violence. The Islamic scripture, the Holy Quran, says that killing one person is like killing the entire mankind (5:32).
And Shapiro, whose views are so extreme on certain issues that Fox News has even condemned them, clearly has little understanding of American Muslims. For example, I doubt he has any idea about my own community, the Ahmadiyya Muslims. We have been holding blood drives on 9/11 during the past few years to commemorate the loss of innocent lives. For decades now, Ahmadiyya Muslims have invited people to interfaith events around the nation to spark intellectual dialogue about true Islam. Since its inception in the 1920s in America, the community has denounced terrorism.
There are, of course, numerous American Muslim organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who have publicly and passionately denounced all forms of violence. The work of groups like CAIR is intended to counter negative stereotypes in the hopes of fostering understanding.
In a survey concluded by the Pew Research Center this year, the numbers show that Muslims around the world view extremism as a growing threat. In Palestine specifically, 65 percent of the citizens see terrorism as a major concern and only 35 percent see Hamas favorably, down significantly from 62 percent in 2007.
If we let dangerous stereotypes fester, we consciously give way to oppression. We cannot remain complacent in the face of this injustice. In a society where education is easily accessible, we must keep exploring and questioning what we know. If we remain willfully ignorant, we also play a part in creating stigmas and perpetuating stereotypes. If western nations decide that Islam really is a threat to the West, then we condemn peaceful Muslims to silence—a death in itself.
Huma Munir is an ESL teacher in San Antonio ISD, Texas and a member of Teach for America, San Antonio. She serves as the local media secretary for Ahmadiyya Muslim Women Association in Austin, Texas. You can follow Huma on Twitter
Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter