Radical Muslim Dudes!

In light of the recent extreme acts of the Illegitimate President of the United States of America, I’m thinking of how awful the terms “radical Muslim” and the related term, “radicalized Muslim” are. As a linguist and writer, I’m concerned about words and how they’re handled and understood. Words are symbols and so they mean whatever (social and psychological) power we give them, but words then hold that power and dispense that power. The power of a term such as “radical Muslims” – highlighted by its use in Trump’s defense of his Executive Order banning immigrants from Muslim majority countries – is phenomenal and changes how people not only see, but think about and then act on a group of people.

The word radical generally means “getting to the roots of.” This is at least how many self-avowed Leftist Americans (such as myself) read it. Of course that is not the predominant reading, that largely being somewhat negative and dismissive of activists, due in no small party to American acquiescence to passivity in relation to the status quo. In all of these understandings is a kind of root: That a radical really believes and believes very strongly. Also note when it is used–rarely for something that is considered the norm. We never hear the phrase “radical capitalist” as America and Britain are very radical and devout in their relation to the economic theory. Rather we tend to hear the phrase attached to something that is outside the norm. “Radical communist”. “Radical integrationalist” during the height of Jim Crow and “radical segregationalist” afterward. “Radical pacifist” during war time.

The term is often worn as a badge of honor, the bravery of going against the norms of society. The fundamentalist branches of Christianity that I spent most of my life in loved to be called “radical Christians”. “X Church trains up radical, fanatical Christians” was the motto from one of my churches for a couple years. Radical for Jesus was a way to live, to celebrate an insular community. Christian, Fundamentalist, Born-Again, Bible-Believer, Jesus Freak. A very popular Christian music song from the rap-pop band DC Talk put it, “What would people say if they found out I’m a Jesus freak?” Fundamentalist Christians, radical Christians, should not be afraid or ashamed of proclaiming their beliefs despite a seemingly hostile word. In the US, they were never criminalized nor extradited for stating these beliefs, but that’s what it is..

DC Talk then used the popularity of the song to sell a hip version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for the teenage church. The radical Christian is the real, true Christian who is then persecuted by the world for following the real God. This is interpreted as a  positive thing. The problem then isn’t so much the word “radical” but what it is modifying.

As one of my Facebook friends reiterated this phrase “radical Muslim terrorists” on my wall, I can’t help but notice the spread of that specific phrase used by Trump. IPOTUS himself picked it up from its reiteration by the Islamophobic industry before him (which helped propel him to political prominence both through his Birther controversy and then through his Islamophobic comments throughout the campaign) and has spread it like wildfire.

The stigma of the term is now connected insolubly with all those who observe, practice, or are even near Islam, its language, its practices, its appearances.

The term “Islamic radical” assumes that there is something inherently wrong with Islam. Or, more to the point, something wrong with Muslims. Muslims thus are viewed as positive in White Western eyes only in as much as they don’t really believe in Islam (New Atheists have long called non-fundamentalist Muslims “fake Muslims”; believing as Wahhabis do that there is only one legitimate form of Islam. This view does injustice to historical and current Muslims and Islam). And as much as Muslims accrue to Western modes of activity. This view erases Muslim feminism, Muslim liberation, Muslim science and whitewashes Western societies savageries of genocide, hyper-masculinity, and capitalist war-mongering, for starters.*

Islam is seen to be inherently dangerous in itself, despite the fact that it is as large and as diverse as Christianity, that it has many different forms, that most of what we recognize as “radical Islam” such as Wahhabism and related sects are post-modern, illiterate takes on a pre-modern religion and thus stripping it of its historical roots and valid interpretationsto promote a much more violent, reactionary and hyper-masculine version of the religion–not unlike the Fundamentalist Christianity of Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham. The comparisons don’t end there, either. Wahhabism teaches that whoever does not follow its version of Islam is damned, whether or not they were Muslims. Much as the Bible churches I grew up in believed that only those who believed as they do were saved from hell.

True Islam is not represented by the so-called Islamic State any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents true Christianity. In fact, these are not the sole faces of their respective religions, but only relatively small variants therein. The rest of Islam and Christianity should not be refracted through them, but only inasmuch as they differ from their more violent messages.*

Realizing how powerful and dangerous this linguistic term is is important not just against the standard Islamophobe, but against the entrenched Islamophobia, or rather Muslimphobia that is mainstreamed in standard Euro-American discourse and policy. Because if we’re being honest, this ostracizing, expulsion, and detention of American citizens and workers merely due to the predominant religion of their national origins (regardless of their desire to be US citizens) is making militarized versions of Islam more palatable to those being ostracized.

Maybe what we’re talking about isn’t Radical Muslims but Militarized Muslims. After all, the US and its allies are pushing militancy upon Muslim communities with the hyper-surveillance, the drone warfare, the police raids, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the nearly-universal suspicion. The turning away and detentions. This racist militancy by the United States, by European allies, and especially by the neo-fascists such as UK’s PM May, French pol Le Pen, and our own Illegitimate One work to create a reaction of entrapment that will be worth all the trouble of breaking international treaties because, LOOK MUSLIMS DOING BAD THINGS! never mind the fact that we forced them into that situation.

It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Never-ending War on Terror. Muslims do bad things because we expect them to and then force their hands until a small segment of them breaks off to do bad things. If only we had ended this racist, fake war eight years ago when we had the chance to.


*I know that some reader somewhere is going to get the idea to tell me that The Muslims did and do all these horrific things, etc, etc. Yes, they are human. Yes, they were involved in wars and empire-building and slave trades of their own. This isn’t a zero-sum game.

**As a Christian, I’m well aware of portions of mainstream White Evangelicalism that readily connect to theologies that the Klan practiced. It does not delegitimize Christianity as a whole, but helps to pinpoint how theological practices can remain in pockets and cause violence.


On Liberalism, Radicalism, and Criticism

I tend to look at politics and society through a telescope with lenses for equality, liberation, and justice (Maybe if you’re all good, I’ll tell you about it sometime) . And having only taken one poli-sci course (it was a good and transformative one), I may not have the best vernacular or tools to grapple with what I see, but I sees it hows I’s sees it.

I agree with Corey Robin that the conservative movement is reactionary and defensive (a line from his book The Conservative Mind goes, “Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes”). Its job is to defend the power structures, institutions, hierarchies, powerful, elite and – above all else – patriarchal system from the forces of equality, justice, and liberation. If it defends democracy, it defends a certain way of doing democracy – a very limited way.

Being reactive, however, is not to say that one acts instantly or without thinking. The funding of conservative think tanks and SuperPACs, or the systemic breakdown of workers’ rights over the last four decades are reactive responses to justice, liberation, and equality, but they are neither immediate nor brash.

Nor is it to say that the Left – and all that implies – is intelligent, thoughtful or unified in its approach toward equality, justice, and liberation. Or that the Left even seeks equality, justice, and liberation for all. Within the broader Left bank there are two camps (some would argue interchangeable, but not necessarily) that seek to reform society and politics rather than uproot and fundamentally change them. These groups are liberalism and its less moderate sister progressivism.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll address the more left-ist groups/movements as radicalism. Radicalism, it should be noted, is the digging deep into the roots of society in order to enact fundamental change. Radical Leftism, then, is about changing society and politics toward equality and liberation through fundamentally critiquing and changing how society and politics function. Radicalism should be looked at as something apart from extremism – though there are extremists in radicalism as there are extremists in conservatism. Radicalism isn’t about blowing up shit or people. Very few of us throw Molotov cocktails. And we can argue stringently and widely and fiercely about policies and methods towards those policies. Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X, the Weathermen Underground, Fredrick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were radicals of their times, although King is hagiographically accepted now into the very liberal circles he widely criticized in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And the Weathermen, despite accidentally killing one of their own while protesting a war that killed hundreds of thousands, are still looked at as “dangerous terrorists” by mainstream politicians and press.

Because, you know, property and decorum are far more important than sterilized, systemic war by the state.

Swallowing the Ruins

Oh, forgive this graying radical for his tangent…

This is also not to say that radicals always seek justice for all oppressed/marginalized groups. Many radical groups are primarily concerned about economic systems and disregard sexism, racism, ableism, and other forms of White/Male/Straight/Able-Bodied/Able-Mind/Wealth/Educated Supremacy. Many radicals cannot see beyond their privileges even if they (we) acknowledge we have them.

A couple of examples why I think that liberalism/progressivism ultimately fails to enact the kinds of changes our societal structure needs and the important distinctions between conservatism, liberalism, and radical leftism.

One such is seen when I showed a general malaise-al dissatisfaction with the US and the Democratic Party (and particularly its neo-liberal leadership) over the last couple days. Conservatives of course, know that everybody on the left of the dial hates America and babies and that we won’t be happy until everyone gets gay-orgy married under Chairman Mao. Or at least that’s the perception that liberals try very hard to fight – so they work extra hard to tell radicals to not act all crazy in front of the neighbors. In truth, liberalism believes that the structures of society are basically good, they just need to be tweaked. So expressing dismay over the Clintons or Democrats or the US as a whole is not acceptable. Because, don’t you know, the USofA has its problems but it’s still the #greatestnationintheworld4evah and the Clintons have had their problems but let’s be practical and reasonable and, oh yeah, they’re the best anyway and have and will always do the best with whatever they have. And Democratic Party is better than the Republicans and they’re #theonlyrealisticchoicewehave. This is like saying that the only two choices we have are to be homeless and starving or have a bullet lodged through the brain.

So I get chided for admitting that I feel like the US is an abusive parent and that I approach the Fourth of July like some who have felt abandoned approach Christmas and family-oriented holidays.

It’s not that I think they are mean people or ignorant or whatever. But USian reformers are more invested in and therefore attached to the narrative mythos of the United States and its politicians than radicals are. The myth that the United States, a nation built on and through slave labor and injust labor on the backs of the poor and that still largely relies on wage slavery for its food (particularly from immigrants) and products (through purposeful extractions and extortion of Third World people) can represent truth and justice . Radicals, in rejecting that mythos (or at least parts of it), can be so disinvested in the lives of ordinary people we seek to draw that 1) we can ridicule anyone who does not share our behaviors and values and 2) we do not consider any political action but revolutionary action to carry political weight – this is in itself problematic for the majority of poor people in the US who cannot afford to be arrested, or people of color who are already being beaten down and subjected by the police, or people who are just trying to do what they can to physically, emotionally, and psychologically survive through the next day.

So, while I actually appreciate the tug from reformers, at the same time I do not appreciate being talked down to like a simple child who can’t begin to comprehend the big, bad world and the complex choices one has to make in navigating it.

Oftentimes, those who suffer from the workings of the world are the ones being told they do not understand how the world works. It is the unnecessary suffering that arises in us; that suffocates us; that tells us, “No, you cannot have that which is necessary to live, that is for the wealthy and bourgeois”; that silences us for we have not suffered up to their expectations.  *

Sorry to make people feel uncomfortable, but the oppressed have suffered long and deep and far and wide enough. It is time for the world to join together in the cries of solidarity, feeling together the deep woes of pain and inflicted violence and moving through that to a swelling and sweet symphony of justice.

It is time for, for another example, white liberals to stop ignoring and talking over the concerns of people of color. No, you don’t know better about their suffering than they do; no, you do not get to set the agenda; no you do not get to say, “But that’s past!” or, “That’s trivial compared to THIS crisis!” You do not get to pretend to care about the concerns of dark-hued people during election season or call them to your agenda and fight only to turn your back when they note real, systemic oppression  just because you haven’t faced it and don’t quite understand it.

I’ve come to find that when racism is mentioned in a large liberal forum, there are about three groups of reactions:

  • there are those who know, who’ve lived under the thumb of racism due simply to the color of their skin, or who’ve studied and ally themselves with people of color. These are not always nor exclusively radical leftists (nor are radicals exclusively allies or race-conscious POC), for there are many conservatives, moderates and liberals/progressives of all races who recognize their privilege and ally with people of color (as there are who ally with LGBTQ even if they themselves are not cis-gendered, straight and conservative).
  • there are those who react wildly, fiercely, bitterly, and oppressively (being angry isn’t the problem on its own), who begin to metaphorically throw shit, who are indignant at the thought that black and brown people are fully human beings and should be treated as fully human beings. The reactive racist conservative demands that the black person succumb to her way of thinking, on her terms, and using her language to further her causes.
  • and then there’s the colorblind – a legacy of US progressivism and liberalism. The colorblind is not far removed from the reactionary conservative though he fancies himself as being so. In fact, the colorblind progressive also demands that the black population be judged according to the standards of his culture, that the people of color succumb to his way of thinking, on his terms, and using his language to further his causes.

The colorblind sees racism only as a problem of conservatives and the GOP. He doesn’t look on the system of racial oppression inherent in US society and perpetuated by his own “blindness”.

As Rod from Political Jesus notes, colorblindness is a colonial gaze, looking upon people of color under the rubric of the White EuroAmero-normalized perspective. At the very least, the colorblind discounts and tries to silence the perspective and voice of the marginalized, critical person of color.

Again, I don’t want to turn away my co-farmers. I just want to challenge them to look more critically at some of these plants on our fields – they are rotten to the core, carrying all sorts of disease. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should pluck the weeds out by the roots a bit more. Even if these weeds are really, really big.


*Of course, I say this as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, USian, educated male. I have many roots of privilege that I fully acknowledge. But that doesn’t keep me from being severely underemployed, working-class, Taino-descended person with untreated depression. In these areas, I strike with solidarity. In my humanity and in the intersections of my privilege and oppression and in neighborliness, I identify with the oppressed, while recognizing my own privilege.