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Why Young Muslim Men are Angry

A couple of weekends ago I was watching CNN’s new show called CNN: Special Investigations Unit. It seems like any other special report they do, but somehow it’s different and special now. Good thing they chose my girl Christiane Amanpour to do the first one, cuz otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered. Her report was “The War Within” about how Islamic extremists and moderates both are trying to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims.

She starts out talking about and to Anjem Choudary, an extremist who thinks that someday Britain and all the world will bow under the heel of Sharia law. We see shots of him preaching ‘hate’ on the street mixed with her interview of him and some other bits of him officiating a wedding and yelling at some moderate guy on a panel.

“I happen to be in an ideological and political war,” Choudary said. “My brothers in al Qaeda and other Mujahedeen are involved in a military campaign.”

Then she mentions the moderates who struggle to wrest their religion from the extremists.

These people… actually think if you kill children, if you kill a woman, you will go to heaven. You have no chance in hell! … I’d like to say that this is not an ideology, it’s a mental illness.
(8:59 in this video)

Those words, typed out like that, seem, to most of us, correct. But watch the video. Check out the body language on that guy. Listen to his tone. And, I don’t know if the editors did this knowingly or are just damn fools, but immediately after he says “mental illness” there’s a shot of the audience clapping – and they’re all white. Then, after we see this (apparently) all white audience applauding that guy, we get a shot of the extremists on the panel looking sullen and, possibly, defeated. Or maybe angry. All the while Christine is agreeing with the statement and saying how this mental illness has to be stopped.

SMH

Next we start hearing from those reaching out to the youth. She focuses on a youth worker named H. Qadir who runs a youth center. He is, by far, the most sensible person in this documentary because he seems to get it. When talking about the (white) UK Home Secretary’s visit to Walthamstow to warn Muslim parents against ‘fanatics’ who will come to ‘brainwash’ their children that was interrupted by one such fanatic, he comments:

“(The fanatic ran) in there and he’s shouting and everybody’s thinking ‘Yes, this guy’s up against the system.’ They’re considered to be heroes for the younger guys. He’s tellin’ ‘em like it is.”

This Qadir guy is trying to get the mosque elders to communicate with the younger generation. Christiane literally says of these elders “they are stuck in the past.” Yes, yes they are. Because they’re old people! Then she shows some footage of one of these reach out and communicate sessions. (3:45 in this video) What follows is so sad as to be funny:

Elder: I would like to ask these young people: which young man has come into the mosque and the mosque refuse him?

Youth: (this may or may not actually be the answer to his question, it just may have been edited to seem this way) How many times have you tried to engage with us, the youths? I wanna know.

Elder: (suddenly angry and agitated) Sometimes you young people come into the mosque and the older people are praying and you disturb the prayer! We know about you young people and what you do!

Seriously. That’s seriously what he said. Could he be any more stereotypical old man? Why would any young man go to the mosque when he’s faced with mosque officials who literally tell him that ALL young people come in and disturb the prayers? And the craziness of the initial question of when has the mosque refused the young men – seems like he just did it! Jesus!

Seeing this, I’m really starting to understand why young Muslim men turn to extremists instead of the moderates. We have young men who feel threatened by US foreign policy, are made to feel like ‘terrorists’ simply because they look a certain way or practice a certain religion, and are justifiably angry about these things. The young men don’t appear to have a solid grounding in less extreme forms of Islam because every time they try to go to the mosque there’s some old man there yelling at them for disturbing the prayers. Elders don’t reach out to young men because they’ve already written them off. But these are the same men who bemoan the rise of extremists and fanatics.

Then you look at the ‘moderates’ who tell the young men that extremists are ‘mentally ill’. But folks don’t have a lot of reason to listen to the moderates because they don’t seem to be speaking truth to power. They seem to be trying to suck up to the white man. Of course blowing up people is wrong. But that message does not address the anger these young men feel. Only the extremists are addressing it. And even though the young men may not be inclined to do violence, they can be driven to it by guys who listen and who get angry with them. As Qadir says, “Every young man wants a cause.”

I see a parallel to this with American black folks. Whenever I hear or read something John McWhorter has to say I immediately write it off. Bill Cosby? He needs to have a Coke and a smile and shut up. Even though both of these men may have something valuable to say about the condition of black folks in America, their embarrassing Uncle Tom shuffling immediately makes everything they have to say invalid for some. Who are the ‘some’? Black folks who are angry.

McWhorter and Cosby basically tell us to get over our anger. There’s no reason to be angry anymore. Anger solves nothing. That’s a lovely sentiment, but is completely useless in the real world. When you invalidate my anger, I stop listening to you. When someone comes along and actually addresses my anger and works toward eliminating the things that make me angry, then I respect them.

I think that’s what’s going on with these young Muslim men. Except that, here in America, the folks addressing our anger aren’t telling us to bomb things for Allah. The difference is in the tone and tenor of the addressors. Realizing that makes me feel so sad for young Muslim men. Because I know how annoying and painful it is to feel invalidated. But to turn to such hate and extremism (which I do not think will lead to anything they hope for) not only harms the people they harm, but harms their community, and other Muslims all over the world. It probably makes Allah cry, too.

There need to be more men like Qadir in the world. Not only does he care about these young men and about stopping extremism, he doesn’t try to solve the problem with shuffling and empty words. He sees exactly why fanatics are so appealing and can combat that directly. But he can only do so much. He is only one man.

See the whole show on YouTube: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


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21 comments to Why Young Muslim Men are Angry

  • spiralsheep

    Of course most old men don’t listen to women or young men. That’s patriarchy.

    The idea that mainstream Muslims in Britain don’t “speak truth to power” is, frankly, insulting and sounds like a racist stereotype of quiet Asians too (sorry for having to say that but it is a prevalent racist stereotype). There’s plenty of anger and there’s loud speaking out (which also receives some, probably proportionate, coverage in the mainstream media. Although there is also disproportionately high coverage of extremists and terrorists).

    One of the biggest problems is that mosques in Britain weren’t set up to teach Islam to young people so converts and young people who’re not being adequately taught by their families end up listening to the extremists who are set up to proselytise and target vulnerable young people.

  • The idea that mainstream Muslims in Britain don’t “speak truth to power” is, frankly, insulting and sounds like a racist stereotype of quiet Asians too (sorry for having to say that but it is a prevalent racist stereotype).

    I’m sorry that you felt I was perpetrating a stereotype. While it is one I’m aware of, I usually associate it with “Asians” that used to be called “Oriental”. I realize that the blanket term Asian covers a lot more people now, but that’s not what pops into my mind first. Thus, I do not feel that I was actively or subconsciously evoking that particular trope.

    If I understand you correctly, you feel that I am engaging in that stereotype because I think moderates are beng meek and quiet. That is not what I’m saying. I’m equating what they do to what people like John McWhorter does. John isn’t meek or quiet.

    Other than the stereotype, why do you find that insulting? Do you think moderate Muslims DO speak truth to power? If so, where? How? When?

    I’ll admit, I based my words on what I’ve seen. And I probably haven’t seen everything. I’m not Muslim, after all, and I’m not privy to a lot of what goes on in the Muslim world. So if I need to be educated on that point, educate me. But I want links!

  • What struck me was Part 4 — the comedian that Amanpour spent some time with, and the woman in a veil whom she interviewed. And, of course, the activism in that segment.

    The comedian did say that she thought there was *a lot* of stereotyping right now in Britain (about Muslims).

    And that community mural was much-needed at that point in the program, for me.

  • GeeGee

    And the wheel goes round and round…

  • spiralsheep

    In Britain, the default meaning of Asian, when applied to people, is someone who descends from people who originally lived on the Indian subcontinent (although British-Asian is also common). S.E. Asian (or a specific nationality) is applied to someone who descends from people who originally lived in S.E. Asia.

    In Britain, which appeared to be the subject of your post, the submissive/harmless/quiet Asian stereotype is commonly applied to Asians as well as the much smaller population who descend from people who originally lived in S.E. Asia. And, yes, you’re re-enforcing a racist stereotype and pleading your ignorance is only an excuse once. Defending your ignorance and repeating your racism is a deliberate pre-meditated racist action. I’m shocked that someone who appears to be as aware of racism as you would indulge in such an obviously and stereotypically racist tactic.

    “So if I need to be educated on that point, educate me. But I want links!”

    Did you just demand that a member of a minority must educate you about their culture because you won’t take their word for it and you’re too lazy to educate yourself? Yes you did. I can’t believe you did that! This conversation is at an end as far as I’m concerned because you’ve now done TWO of the racist things you complain about people doing to you: first perpetuating the incorrect, thoughtlessly offensive, and harmful stereotype and now the demand for Other People’s time and attention to cure your ignorance of their culture.

    The reason I came back was to drop you a link to this story: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19325893.000-lighter-skin-makes-for-heavier-pay-packets.html

    I won’t be back again. Commenting here is a obviously a waste of time because you appear to think racism is something that only happens to you and people exactly like you.

  • spiralsheep – huh? I’m… completely at a loss to understand what’s up here.

    Your definition of Asian and my percieved one are different. Okay, we appear to agree on that point. But you claim that I’m perpetrating a stereotype of Asians as submissive/harmless/quiet because I said moderate Muslims aren’t speaking truth to power. While I respect your anger regarding that, I completely disagre with you. As I said in my comment, in no way am I implying that Muslim moderates are quiet or submissive, I’m calling them shufflers in the vein of John McWhorter. Do you know who John is? Do you understand his M.O.? If not, you’re probably completely misunderstanding the picture I’m attempting to paint here. I also used Bill Cosby as an example. Again, I wouldn’t call him quiet, submissive, or weak, but I would call him a shuffler. I don’t know in what way I make the distinction clearer.

    I will say this, I was unnecessarily demanding of you with my saying I wanted to be educated. That, on my part, was bad wording. I didn’t mean to come off that way, so I do apologize.

    All I want is for folks to provide me context. When anyone comes to debate me, I want them to distinguish between facts and opinions. I put to you, or to anyone, to give me examples of moderate Muslims speaking truth to power. Saying “I know a bunch who do” doesn’t constitute proof. Thus, my request for links.

    I reject your assertion that I think racism only happens to people like me. I never said “no one ever portrays Asians as weak”. I am aware of the streotype you mentioned, though I think maybe my cultural tropes are different from yours – you seem to be coming from a UK standpoint with contexts that I, as an American, are not fully aware of. Therefore, I’m not seeing what you see AT ALL. The comment about Asians, for me, came completely out of left field. It took me a moment to even understand why you were bringing Asians up.

    I’m sorry you won’t be back and that you’re unwilling to dialogue with me on this point. If you change you mind, I’m here.

  • Great post, just from my humble Islamic opinion.

  • Sewere

    AWB,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and understand much of your perspective on racism. I once shared the perspective that there weren’t enough muslims who speak truth to power before I was made to understand that that very question was blaming the victim. In essence, no one should have to defend themselves from collective judgement, the diversity of muslims and the many secular movements in the muslim world is not even given airtime in the sensationalized themes that the media present to us day in day out. There are so many diverse secular-leaning muslim groups that have always been speaking truth to power… RAWA of Afghanistan, the Islamic Society of North America just elected a scholar who is a woman as the head and she was ushered in by the tireless work of many muslim womens’ groups (some here in the Bay area), Shirin Ebadi is an outspoken advocate of Human Rights in Iran who also happens to muslim (and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work), MECA is a group led by Palestinian and Israeli women (including muslim women).. just to name a few. There are countless others here in the U.S., in the Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even in Nigeria who work tirelessly to bring about just social change in our communities but their voices are marginalized… much like yours and mine are as black folk here in the U.S. I think that is the point that spiralsheep was trying to get across to you (and may have misunderstood your point in the interaction).

  • Hi Sewere,

    Thanks for this comment. I do realize that I’m working from a limited amount of data not being a part of these communities. So I see everything from the outside. And you’re right, no one should have to defend themselves from judgment, especially when that judgment is bullshit. I guess I’m just working from a completely different set of images or notions of what I mean (if that makes sense). But now I’m starting to understand that it’s because I am not in the Muslim world that I’m evoking all these negative stereotypes and such due to my own ignorance. I just have no idea what I’m talking about ;) In my attempt to parallel what I saw going on with some Muslims to what goes on here with some black people, I missed a crucial step in there somewhere. Basically I was being awfully American.

    But thanks for taking the time to provide me with some background and info.

  • Your exchange with spiralsheep sounded so much like exchanges with blacks and whites it was eerie.

    “But now I’m starting to understand that it’s because I am not in the Muslim world that I’m evoking all these negative stereotypes and such due to my own ignorance. I just have no idea what I’m talking about ;) In my attempt to parallel what I saw going on with some Muslims to what goes on here with some black people, I missed a crucial step in there somewhere. Basically I was being awfully American.”

    But there are a whole lot of Muslims who are Americans as well. Another stereotype. Ah, but you’re trying. :)

    (No, I’m not Muslim, but I know many who are, and I had a mental picture of my Muslim next door neighbor rolling his eyes at that statement. It made me laugh thinking of it.)

  • Actually, the “being American” comment was more about my willingness to apply my cultural understanding and tropes to everyone else in the world. This may not be uniquely American, but it certainly feels like Americans do this more than others.

    And yes, when I was answering spiralsheep the irony was not lost on me. but at the time I didn’t know how else to respond. I probably should have given the issue more careful thought.

  • poor abw! what a pile-on!

    but i suppose it’s salutary for those of us who talk a lot about the oppression of our own groups to get smacked down for ignorance of that of other groups. i don’t think, frankly, that *i’ve* been smacked down enough. (that’s not an invite, abw. don’t think it is!)

    maybe a little term-clarification would be helpful.

    IN THE US:
    “asian” = east and southeast asian, although most southeast asian ethnicities are still not recognized in most of the us.
    “south asian” = from the indian subcontinent, often just called “east indian”
    “oriental” = east asian-looking people and is now generally (though not universally) understood as archaic and vaguely insulting. only academics and people who’ve read a lot of said understand the older, and british, use of “oriental” to include semitic, middle-eastern, and central asian, as well as all parts of asia proper.

    from what I understand, in the UK:
    “asian” = south asian/indian subcontinent and that, like the term in the US, this is a politically charged term

    more than that, i cannot say.

  • oh wait, yes i can:

    also for clarification, insofar as we have stereotypes of south asians in the US, they are not quiet and submissive. yes, there’s apu in “the simpsons”, and the increasingly common computer geek and call center geek stereotype. but these are not “quiet” or “submissive” stereotypes, but rather loud and ineffectual ones. they’re weak, but not quiet.

    there’s also a great deal of confusion around muslim terrorist stereotypes, especially in cities with large sikh populations, where the turbans are understood as some sort of islamic thing.

    there is little general understanding of the difference between indian and pakistani.

    what i’m saying is that when your average american sees an indian/south asian face, they’re usually at a loss as to what stereotype to plug in, at least for the first few moments. then they think muslim-ish, or yoga guru, or the stupid guy who tried to help me fix my computer but i couldn’t understand him. or maybe, if we’re lucky, harold and kumar.

  • As a black Muslim I can say, I don’t know what in the world spiralsheep is talking about.I understood you 100% and can’t see where he derived his rant.

  • I’d just add that, although there are many Muslims in the US and UK who do indeed ‘speak truth to power,’ the current climate of fear is a legitimate reason why many people choose to stay silent and protect their families. I have a great deal of respect for Muslims who speak out against Islamophobia, but I’m not about to condemn anyone who doesn’t want to risk the wrath of Homeland Security and the like. It’s a scary time to be a Muslim in the US.

    I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with progressive Muslims and secular activists with Muslim backgrounds who speak out as much as they can without risking their necks/immigration status, and I am more and more convinced that they are the best hope we have for combating both Islamophobia and Islamism (a more precise term than ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ I think) in the world. Which is why I support any attempts, however flawed, to build secular-left parties in Islamic countries!

  • abw

    But these are the same men who bemoan the rise of extremism and fanatics.

    Yep.

    But folk don’t have a lot of reason to listen to the moderates because they don’t seem to be speaking truth to power. They seem to be trying to suck up to the white man.

    True.

    I see a parallel to this with American black folks.
    I started to bring this point up but you were able to do it before me.

    Angry Black Woman, perhaps you assumed to much, but I did not some of what she pointed out either in the context either.

    I am not sure I know how to say it but I assume that Muslims have diverse ideologies/diversity of opinion since Muslims have different cultures and experiences-I assume there are secular,sacred,conservative,liberal,leftist,nationalistic,traditional,modern feminist Muslims,etc…Just like Christians or any other group of importance(all of them).
    As for moderate and militant, alot of people seem to be combination of the two without the weakness of others-neither the docility of the VISIBLE moderates nor the terrorism/fundamentalism of the VISIBLE militant Muslims.

    I would also like to say that there is at times a difference between mainstream and moderate. I say this because you can be aware of issues affecting your group without being too group-centered/pro- internal”interest group”centered. But then you have folks that are excessly pro-status quo in supporting the elite and Eurocentric/internal racism. I think that ABW is more or less referencing conservative moderates unwilling to destroy the system or better change it to benefit those perceived outsiders. I will not rule out that she probably could have said more but this is what I got. She seems to be referencing those willing to go along to get along. There is a stereotype of Asians being permissive, quiet, and meek though. Race does need to be expanded to Asian issues. She gives you, and by extension, us some things to think about, but judging by the comments of some of the Muslims posting or the little bit I know, other Muslims may not have gotten any of the things she pointed out at the article.

  • abw

    Spiralsheep called Angry BlackWoman out on weaknesses in her blog. I would not mind her being more knowledgable of the black perspective in regard to this the same way you need to be aware of it when it comes to Asia.To her credit she may not have a blog critiquing race issues or anything else and if she do not this one but still.I would also say that analysts often look through the premises of their own culture all the time. Specifically when they were raised in U.S. society.If she was, she would not necessarily have mostly gotten at least some of this in the context within which you were speaking. I do agree that the experience of Asians in all their diversity need to be highlighted. I do know that racial analysis should not just be black or white all the time(albeit still relevant in some cases) though which is something she says people need to consider. I also know you have American-born Muslims from different backgrounds. Not to say Americans are not above stereotyping various Asian ethnic groups(whether southeast,southwest,northwest,and northeast) and Muslims.

  • Alysha C.

    HA!! What muslim men and black need to understand is that I ain’t gonna stand and let some man treat me like property, take my rights away and smother me as a person and that’s what you all do to everyone around you. I married a white man because he had more ambition than any black man I knew….I made sure he was main stream and didn’t let his religion rule him. I did good. You all can be angry at me but I did the right thing for me and my kids and their future. Black men just can’t get up and do it and please, please don’t point out the small number of individual achievements there have been and please don’t go on at me about a “black” man gonna be president. He’s so white Oreo don’t want him and he lives white to be near the might. That big mouth wife of his is like what Clinton’s wife was when he was president….full of herself and full of a personal agenda. She’ll sink him with this stand by your man crap like Hillary did. Funny….but I dated a few black guys (4) and none of them ever became more than nothing. In Canada the playing field is more level and they all had educations and opportunities but they fell into acting the nigger to keep up the face for the “African” community in Toronto and got stepped on by everyone. The last guy I dated was very controlling with this “my woman” crap and stand by me baby…..but he wound up beating his present girlfriend half to death because he caught her having dinner withe another man……her brother. She left him a message on his machine but his other girlfriend wiped it. How many black woman dating black men can honestly say their man is 100%faithful. Sure it runs in every race but we’re the worst so you move to better fields. And Muslim men,,,,,don’t any of you girls believe they ain’t looking for property to own and control and they use their fists just as much…peaceful religion my black ass. All of you need to stand up and tell these men to f— off and look for a man who will treat you right and with respect. Don’t take second best and don’t let a little bling bling make you think you have Mr. Right. Black men need to grow up and get off momma’s titty and muslim men need to stop kissing alah’s ass and you all need to get to building a better world for all people. One thing I have learned from a white husband is you know when to kiss ass and stay clean and the rest is easy……..ain’t not way I was marrying a man who comes with all the baggage of every black bad guy who ever said “I didn’t do it”. Yes we practice my culture and heritage as well as his and he respects my feelings and beliefs in God and I his and we plan things…..ladies, don’t just lie on your back and give it up cause some little gang bangers whispers dirt in your ear. Get some self respect and wait. My mother once said she’d rather be alone than be ruled and abused by a man. So 99.9% of the black men in the world lost out on a beautiful woman who loved her husband so much she worked her whole life to make our home wonderful and his life happy and he did the same. He was black and owned his own business because he had something most black men don’t have…..a back bone. He also taught us all about God and religions of the world and let us choose how we prayed. Hey muslim men….put the stick down cause we don’t respond well to beatings like middle eastern women do who are raised to be dogs and slave. Grow up grow up and grow up some more.

  • Juan

    *raises eyebrow*

    I know you’re a woman but reading through all of that I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Uncle Rukus instead.

  • nojojojo

    Alysha C,

    Wow.

    I’m gonna point you toward those li’l tabs above labeled “The Rules” and “Required Reading”. Seems like you might be a fellow sista, and I respect your anger — even share a little of it. But I do NOT respect the way you’re labeling whole categories of people with a bigass paintbrush. Racist thought and speech isn’t welcome here, period.

    It’s Black History Month; please go educate yourself. As part of that education I strongly suggest you listen and not post here for awhile.