The Banality of Condemnation: A Message to the Muslim Community in Light of the Chattanooga Attack

Family and friends, sisters and brothers, respected scholars and leaders:

I’ve been trying to stay out of this, but I cannot any longer, not while I see so many dear friends being swept up in the media frenzy. This may hurt some feelings, but one of my mentors told me of a saying of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad that a sermon “should be like a cold shower to the believer.” So with love, my analysis of yesterday’s violence in ‪#‎Chattanooga‬, TN…

The media and government are reporting that yesterday morning a young “Kuwaiti/Jordanian-American” Muslim shot at a military recruitment center and attacked a naval reserve base, killing 4 U.S. Marines and wounding 3 others. He was killed by police. Government officials are calling it “terrorism.” In response, some Muslim organizations in the U.S. (and many laypeople) have rushed to condemn the act and pray for the soldiers. The Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga has canceled their Eid prayer and activities and instead promoted a “non-religious” service “in remembrance of the victims” at a church later in the day. Around the country, Muslims attending the Eid prayer are preparing against violent attack.

Some thoughts:

1) Everything being reported about the violence is allegation from various officials in the U.S. government. The alleged shooter was killed on the naval base and so will get no trial, no opportunity to answer questions or respond to the narrative now being spun by a government and media system with the motive and ability to manipulate at dystopian levels. Before jumping on someone (who to most of us is still just a slideshow of photos and quotes), be honest about how little we know of the truth here. The majority of cases of alleged domestic Islamic militancy have turned out either fake, entrapment, or just plain political persecution. I could see this being an entrapment case gone wrong, but remember also that they even had the audacity to charge and convict Dr. Aafia Siddiqui with shooting a soldier, and they’re trying to kill her in prison now.

2) Obviously this is only called terrorism because they can place a Muslim behind the gun. I thought terrorism was defined by the targeting of civilians, and soldiers are not civilians, but of course, when a Muslim kills a soldier, it’s called terrorism, and when a soldier kills a Muslim, it’s award-winning patriotism. Yeah yeah, I know there are 200 definitions of terrorism now, but before reinforcing this ridiculous label, admit that it’s politica—actually just don’t use it at all!

3) I am shocked at the messages I see from Muslims and Muslim organizations honoring US soldiers. These are people that kill for a living, who have pledged their lives to advance US economic and political interests around the world with guns and bombs. These are not “our” servicemen. They are not “brave.” They are not “heroes.” They are not defending the “homeland,” even if that’s what they were told. They are contract killers who have knowingly signed up for wars of aggression against people who have done nothing to threaten the U.S. regime in North America. I have many friends who joined the military, and I know how predatory their recruitment is, especially in poor communities and communities of color, but each person is responsible for their actions, even following orders. Honestly, I’d rather our young soldier-wannabes just start block organizations: as a friend told me once, “if you sell drugs, you might have to kill someone, but if you join the army, you definitely will.” Pray for the soldiers’ families if you like… Pray for the still-living imperialist soldiers, too, that Allah restrains their hands and either guides them or ends their oppression. But please, please, please, don’t wrap yourself in the American flag and praise the military that is subjecting our families to murder, imprisonment and torture around the world. We have much to mourn, and I won’t shed any tears for American soldiers in 2015. Shame, shame, shame.

4) I am deeply worried about the backlash, as anytime Islam is in the news, White supremacists are reminded to target Muslims (keep in mind that racists never let up on Black and Brown bodies, not ever, and we have to stand with these communities as real allies). This is true not only when a Muslim is associated with an act of violence (even in self-defense) but also when we are the victims (and it inspires copycats). I urge everyone moving around this weekend to be alert and ready for anything. Exercise your legal rights to arm and defend yourself and your family. Make sure our large gatherings are secure. Protect the especially visible and vulnerable. This goes for Muslims, Sikhs, and all Black and Brown women and men that are determined “the other” by the White settlers of North America.

5) I really am saddened and disturbed that the aforementioned masjid felt they had to close the masjid for an obligatory prayer, . I’m not in Tennessee, but I’ve been there and know it’s a KKK state, more so than most of the other 49 KKK states – I can empathize with the concern for safety, and indeed individuals and families should make their own decisions about how and when to celebrate Eid. However, this institutional cancellation by leadership and the statement announcing it reeked of collective guilt and unnecessary nationalism. These are difficult times, and we need strength and courage from our leadership. I’m not commenting on this from a jurisprudential perspective (that’s way above my pay-grade), but from a personal and social one, as a Muslim AND an American citizen. The mosque leaders were in a tough spot, I’m sure, but this seems to do more harm than good, an analysis I offer for contemplation before you are faced with such a decision of your own.

6) This event will be used to push through more clearance and funding for a program called ‪#‎CVE‬: “Countering Violent Extremism,” one of the more sinister programs the government uses to target Muslims in the name of “counterterrorism,” combining surveillance and propaganda in ways both immoral and unconstitutional. Maybe the timing of this shooting isn’t an accident, after all… Anyway, CVE has some Muslim faces pushing it — they get jobs and money for their betrayal — but stay awake and resist it however possible.

7) More generally, we can’t allow these events to come between us and our goals, whether they be spiritual, social or personal. The Islamic movement in America must embrace the Prophetic mission of transforming society into one that honors the dignity of all creation, and this requires us to stand with the oppressed of all faiths and nations. Right before this news broke, news broke of police murdering in custody ‪#‎SandraBland‬, a ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬activist, adding another body to a growing list of victims of US police forces. We will not help anyone by staying inside and keeping our heads down – instead we must stick together, educate, organize and exert real pressure on the systems of authority that tax and oppress us. Islam is a solution, if only we would practice it.

May God bless and protect us all, grant us courage in the face of fear, strength when we are weak, and success in all trials. May God grant us the leaders that we need rather than the leaders that we deserve, and raise our generations with firm faith and a love of struggle. May God forgive us for our shortcomings and reward us for our efforts. And may God spread justice, peace and joy around the world, on this holiday and every day. Ameen.

Your brother,
Cyrus McGoldrick