It is not uncommon to hear pundits complain that the Muslim-in-the-souk is not sufficiently concerned with what is being done by extremists in the name of Islam, their religion. While President Obama and other leaders in the US and abroad make efforts to distinguish between Islam the religion and those who distort Islamic principles to justify their heinous acts, most Americans remain woefully uninformed and misinformed about how Muslims feel about those who claim that their political agenda represents Islam.
THERE ARE THREE great offenders distorting Islam – media, politicians, and extremists. In the media and for a number of political voices, there are those who distort Islam for political point-making, to reinforce longstanding negative stereotypes and judgments that ignore the diversity and intelligence of the global Muslim community. In the US, Bill Maher’s tirade against Islam is the most obvious recent example on the left, along with Pamela Geller’s long-standing diatribes from the right.
While it is not necessary to enumerate elected representatives on the local, state, and national level who seem to be preoccupied with linking Islam to most of the world’s ills, including the Ebola virus, the challenge is that their negative perceptions are deep-rooted and visceral, and they seem to have little interest in dialogue. It is this lack of public interest in greater understanding and awareness that feeds into the game of the extremists and radicals who want nothing less than separation between their distorted version of Islam and the rest of the civilized world. Their choice of dramatic and hateful crimes against innocent civilians is clearly meant to demonstrate that their fanaticism has no limits and is immune to humanitarian appeals.
Moroccan Muslims Mobilize to Speak Out Against Extremism
Today, there is a counterforce growing in Muslim communities worldwide to speak out against the extremists who are hijacking Islam and furthering negative views of Muslim peoples. And it is being led by young people. Starting in the UK and now in more than 44 countries, Not in My Name (NIMN) is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for speaking out against the hate being spread by ISIL and others. This was the focus of a recent article in Magharebia that noted, “In a public statement, those who started the appeal on September 26th stressed that it was a call against all acts of barbarism perpetrated by bloodthirsty fanatics who consider themselves to be Muslims.”
In that article, Magharebia looked at the people behind the campaign in Morocco. One was Ahmed Ghayet who said that “Our ’Machi Bessmity’ (Arabic for Not in My Name) initiative has been met with huge success, with 4,000 members in 48 hours and hundreds of young people publishing ‘Machi Bessmity’ photos on Facebook.” You can find Not in My Name bumper stickers on taxis in the major cities of Morocco, videos posted to YouTube, and logos being distributed at conferences and meetings.
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NO ONE CAN point to a single event that mobilized the grassroots campaign, but it seems that the beheadings carried out by the so-called Islamic State and its adherents as the proverbial straw. The NIMN is organizing itself organically, via social media of all kinds. It gives people the opportunity to express their opposition against those who are bringing shame on Islam by violating the principles of the religion they claim to represent.
Already, documentary films are in circulation spreading the message, with a potential impact far beyond the Muslim community. Muslim leaders, scholars, and religious figures from Brooklyn to Bangladesh have begun aggressive social media campaigns to challenge the religious claims made by the extremists. As Naima Mellanoui, a Moroccan working at a public relations agency remarked, “It’s important for us as citizens to have our voices heard from Morocco, to say simply that we, the young Muslims of this country, are against terrorism.” Her sentiments were echoed by high school student Kamal Alfatih, “I’m a Muslim and I’m proud of that. That’s why I can’t accept that fanatics should commit atrocities in the name of my religion, and kill in my name…I’ll never accept that.”
MOROCCO'S GOVERNMENT has been quite active on its own in countering violent extremism. From de-radicalization programs and training prayer leaders (imams) from more than 10 countries, to promoting greater understanding of the values of moderation and collaboration in the Maliki school of Islam, to recognizing the vital role of families and women counselors in positively affecting youth, Morocco has demonstrated its commitment to restrict the public space available to extremists to speak in the name of Islam.