American Jihadis: Blame violence-prone boys, not Islam
American Jihadis are not a product of Islam. Their emergence is connected to issues of gender and a growing acceptance of violence in America.
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In the absence of places where legitimate concerns about both domestic and foreign policy can be explored in the flesh, among a multitude of voices (including women), and in a real-time give-and-take, youth go “underground” or to the Internet. There, the conversation is controlled, one-dimensional, and unchallenged. Anonymity means participants can’t be held accountable for ideas that, if they were uttered in front of peers or families or elders, might be disputed and raise early red flags; and there, recruiters from groups like Al Qaeda with their absurd Islamic interpretations are waiting to fill the vacuum and prey upon the most vulnerable.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery American Jihadis
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Religious centers could be natural spaces for these sorts of discussions. But having come under heightened scrutiny from government, private individuals, and the media, many religious centers have attempted understandably to be apolitical.
Yet consider what happened during the struggle for equal civil rights: Organizing often did happen in places of worship and youth were an included, integral, mentored part of the movement.
By looking only at Islam to account for these actions, Americans are distracted from the fact that our greater American (and increasingly global) society is quite comfortable with violence and has legitimized it as a means to accomplish a wide variety of ends. That acceptance touches all Americans, not just Muslim Americans.
Consider the Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell or the IRS kamikaze Joe Stack or any of the school shootings, rapes, assaults, and murders reported daily. While there are exceptions like Alabama professor Amy Bishop or “Jihad Jane,” these acts are more often than not committed by men because of the role violence plays in what we understand and celebrate to be masculine.
By focusing on the religion and elevating crimes committed by Muslims to a status more deviant than crimes committed by others, we exculpate our shared society while perpetuating the vilifying of a particular religion and its adherents, further emasculating them specifically.
The United States has historically been relatively successful at integrating many different peoples. However, that very American achievement is threatened by the tone of the current conversation, which looks for sensational explanations that further differentiate “us” from “them.”
Americans must expand the dialogue, to recognize all parts of American society as “our” society – interconnected – and to invite more than just terror and “Islamicization” experts into the conversation. Understanding that there is a gender component and a general acceptance of violence at play here is necessary to move us toward understanding what is happening to young Muslim Americans and how to change it.
Such an understanding will prepare the US for the next step: turning our collective efforts to supporting families who need help and using public spaces like schools, places of worship, and even pop culture to teach all boys how to be men who don’t turn to violence.
Alia Malek is the author of “A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories.”