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The Cusp of Opportunity

The Cusp of Opportunity

Issue 85 October 2011

Recent events allow for the possibility of changing the discourse where Muslims are concerned.


Earlier this month, there was wall-to-wall coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11th. There is no denying that the consequences of that day have had a significant—perhaps defining—impact on the last decade.
But now that the 10th anniversary has passed, the coverage has receded and the spotlight has momentarily turned away, Muslims cannot afford to sit back complacently.

The last few months have brought us to the cusp of opportunity for Muslims. Muslims must grab this moment and build on the events of this year. These are unprecedented and unpredicted events that when taken together have created the moment to destroy the darkness which hangs over the discourse on Muslims.

There are mantras that keep popping into popular discourse, cast in the shadow of September 11th. Anyone following news coverage over the last decade will be au fait with the refrains, which were repeated parrot-like: “Muslims are inherently violent,” “Muslims are driven by jihad,” “Muslims are opposed to democracy,” “global Shari’ah domination,” “creeping Islamisation,” “all terrorists are Muslims.” Sound familiar?  Repeated ad nauseam in above-the-line news coverage, commentary and political rhetoric, they started to infiltrate below-the-line discourse amongst ordinary people.  If you have ever tried reading the responses at the bottom of any news or comment article about Muslims, then you will know how chilling the comments are: unbridled hatred for Muslims that repeats the same mantras above, irrespective of the content of the article.

This year, we have seen events across the globe, which inch by inch, have challenged the mantras that have been carefully planted by a few funding organisations and so-called experts. They have been cultivated by a handful of individuals. I encourage you to read more about this in a report released last month called, “Fear Inc. The roots of Islamophobia in America,” produced by the American Center for Progress. This in itself ought to challenge the anti-Muslim rhetoric with which the media-air is thick. But it is real life events that ought to dispel the malicious and dangerous myths.

The Arab Spring has shown Muslims coming out to depose dictators and work towards democracy. In the case of Egypt, violence was eschewed and we saw a peaceful revolution. Across social class, politics and religion, people came together.

The horrors of the killings in Norway were an object lesson in the fact that violence and extremism have many faces.
And the case of Tariq Jahan triggered reflection in Britain about whether Muslims really were the demons they had been made out to be. He was a father who lost his son in the British riots. He declared the fact that he was a Muslim was helping him in his grief, and he united the whole nation.

Muslims need to thread all of these seemingly disparate events together and put an end to the negative tropes that have been injected into our conversations since 9/11. First and foremost, we must keep compassion at the top of our list of values. We are not here to judge others and what has passed. Especially at times of hardship, there is a premium on compassion.

Next, we must be consistent in the application of our values. If we see oppression amongst our friends, we must say so, just as we do when it is our enemies who perpetrate it. 

Finally, we are free to express our views, even when they may be difficult for others to hear, but we must show dignity and respect in how we exercise those rights. The expression of our views does not need to deny others their opinions. As the Qur’an reminds us, “The servants of the Merciful are the ones who walk the earth modestly, and when those who are ignorant (of the truth) speak with them, they say ‘peace.’” (25:63) l

Shelina is the author of Love in a Headscarf, and writes a blog at

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