Against Islamophobia (A Black Christian* Response)

Silence will not protect...

There are times of laughter and frivolity. There are times of tears and melancholy. But these are not those times, or not those times only. These times demand that we stand up for what is good and right and just. The times, our times, are indeed urgent. We cannot sit idly by as brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles — kith and kin alike — are beholden to all forms of violence. Not in our names. There is no one way to be, perform nor live out Christianity. There are conservative, moderate and liberal Christianities, there are apocalyptic eschatologies and agnostic ideologies. Christianity varies, has texture and weight, has difference internal to its logic. We speak desiring a modality of Christianity to be heard that is restive, that is resistant, to Islamophobia as against our ethical and moral worldview. Though we identify as Christian (*or have deep roots in Christian traditions), which informs the ways we exist, which informs our pursuit of justice, we will not allow Islamophobia to be perpetuated in the name of Christians, particularly Black Christians and those of us with deep roots from within — even if we have left — this tradition. Targets of Islamophobia are kith and kin alike. But even if they were not, what is good and right and just is to demand that Islamophobia, fear mongering that targets Muslims and Islam, cease with certain swiftness.

What is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia is fear, hatred and prejudice as the precursor to the proliferation of violence against people that identify as — or are perceived to be — Muslim, and against the religion of Islam itself. Islamophobia precipitates violence and violation based not in truth nor justice but in a politics of difference, in a politics that assumes difference is likewise deficiency. Islamophobia allows for Islam and for people that are, or are perceived to be, Muslim to be stereotyped as inherently violent, as inherently anti-woman (we do not say anti-feminist, since many promoting fear of Islam and its adherents are also against feminisms in their many varieties), as inherently against technological, philosophical and moral progress. Islam and Muslims are figured, through the political economic imagination, as a thwarting to the flourishing of Western civil society. Islamophobia includes a range of attitudes and behaviors that target Islam and those believed to be Muslim as in need of remediation. It is important to note that through the public discourse, Islam and those perceived to be Muslims are racialized as different, as deficient. That is, Islamophobia cannot but share in the general Western tendency to identity difference-as-deficit, and such deficit as deficiency is always part of the project of racial logic.

Islamophobia targets those that are are, or are perceived to be Muslim, and women are very often the victims of such violence because of the religious practices of covering, because of the apparentness of religious conviction worn on the flesh. In a world that targets flesh based on real or perceived race, on ethnic and religious background, it is important to stand against Islamophobia as it shares in a general targeting of difference worn on and as the flesh. As such, standing against Islamophobia is a feminist, Black feminist, womanist and Black queer theoretical and material practice, it is a feminist, Black feminist, womanist and Black queer ethical charge of which those committed to justice must take up.  

Why do we care?

This summer, Muslims lead a campaign to raise money for Black churches that experienced arson at the hands of racist ideology and white supremacist thinking, they demonstrated a commitment to justice that modeled for us what it means to live out one’s conviction and practice of justice in the flesh, as a way of life. The raising of money for Black churches was not necessarily about shared theologies and worship practices but about constituting a way of life that honors the personhood of all, that honors all without regard to theologies and worship practices. Such living out is a model and must be returned. One cannot be content with the current political moment. Calls from Christian university presidents, from politicians, and from “ordinary Americans” have allowed us to listen into the ways Islam and Muslims are becoming the scapegoat for a range of political behaviors that produce violence globally. It is time, it seems, to really live out the ethics of the Christian Testament’s “Good Samaritan,” it is time to step up and support those that are being targeted by the pernicious evils of the political economy, an uncontrolled white heterosexist capitalist patriarchy run amok that has as its grounding violence against difference.

We do not have to wonder how violence, of Nazism or Middle Passage as examples, occurs. We look at Donald Trump and we laugh and think it’s all a joke while his words are used as fuel for violence. People listening and responding favorably to such messages of violence do so because they are gravely afraid of losing their so-called “culture,” because of the blacks and the latinx and the indigenous and the gays and the the trans* and the muslims and the feminists. People listen to such messages of violence and respond in kind because the messages name the anger felt towards a political economy but place, wrongfully so, on the ones that are most marginalized by the political economy. It is this that we resist, that we stand against.

This is no mere call for interfaith dialogue that leaves intact structural inequity. This is not a call for  crass multiculturalism that does not get to the root of structural inequity and violence. This is not a call to hold hands and sing as the end goal, though holding hands and singing together celebrates the flesh of one another as worthy of being touched, held, loved. Rather, this is a call for a direct confrontation with the evils of xenophobia, racism and violent cultural nationalism that produces violence against those our political economy, with mainstream media as its agent, choose to misunderstand and misrepresent. This is a call to seek and do justice as a way of life, celebrating that our differences do not have to separate us but can present otherwise possibilities for organizing, for being with each other in way to, together, confront the evils of this world. Our Black Muslim kith and kin modeled for us what that kind of love looks like in the face of adversity. And the love and concern shown emerges from a religious commitment and feeling not dissimilar to a Christian commitment and feeling. Such love and concern is not about the safety from harm as the raising of money this summer demonstrated that such is not the case. Rather, the love and concern is about an ethical life, a moral life, a way that antagonizes the normative way of living as separated, as segregated, as categorically distinct.

Bafflement and Outrage...

We will not allow the voices of hatred to drown out and overwhelm, we will not allow for those voices to be the only ones felt in this moment of crisis. Our ability to be baffled and outraged is a gift, it lets us know that we have not submitted to nor accepted the current loud discourse of Islamophobia. We transform this bafflement and outrage into otherwise ways to sense each other, to be in affinity with each other. We do not use the perniciousness of our times to create our relationality but simply use the capacity for relationality to rise to the occasion of our current antiblack, Islamophobic political economic moment. We recognize that our relationality is not created by the violence and violation of hate and fear mongering because we will not and will no longer be lulled to the sleep of comfort and satisfaction when it is not “our” group that is targeted for violence and violation. Our relationality exists previous to the situation, we simply must live and love our way to it. Bafflement and outrage are what animated James Baldwin’s ethical and moral demand to the world — in response to Angela Davis’s having been incarcerated — an injunction he made on himself demands of us now:

If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own — which it is — and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

We, Black Christians and Christian adjacent persons (I describe myself as Agnostic and Pentecostal, Agnosticostal) must fight for the lives of our kith and kin as if they are our own, because they are our own.

Finally, [sisters and brothers], whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

We hold each other, love each other, work with and struggle in joy to produce otherwise possibilities for world making with each other. Our flesh is your flesh. Our lives are your lives. We seek, together, to do otherwise than this.

Learn More:

#BlackIslamSyllabusCouncil on American-Islamic Relations

Muslim AdvocatesMuslim Anti-Racist Collaborative

Sapelo Square

[If there are other organizations, local or national, that you want included, the list can be updated; simply comment.]