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If Muslims Stop Drinking Will They Become Violent?


Haroon Moghul has penned an excellent article pointing towards the vapid and at times incoherent journalism that we have come to expect from mainstream newspapers and magazines.

If Muslims Stop Drinking Will They Become Violent?

by Haroon Moghul (Religious Dispatches)

If the Washington Post’s deceptively titled article, ‘Rise of a Bosnian Mayor With Headscarf Challenging Assumptions about Islam,’ is the best our major media can do, then perhaps it’s good they’re dying. The title’s half the length of a tweet and it happens to do everything but challenge assumptions about Islam.

It shouldn’t be hard to make this one of those feel-good, informative, on-the-ground, we-get-you-a-perspective-no-one-else-can-because-we’re-The Washington Post stories. Instead it reads: “A woman wearing hijab must mean Islam is taking over Europe. Because hijab, and alcohol.” Put in similarly brief terms: “Article with really long title that refers to a woman as ‘mayor with a headscarf’ unsurprisingly recycles assumptions about Islam.”

Now, you might ask, what assumptions?

Frequently, people assume that Muslim terrorists, because they sometimes defend their actions in the name of Islam, are just very religious Muslims. In this conception, there’s a continuum between the areligious who are tolerant and peaceful, and the devoutly religious, who are never far from being a murderous zombie, which is the implication of the author’s opening line linking moderation and alcohol consumption: “For years, Bosnian Muslims embraced a form of religion so moderate that many capped dinners during the holy month of Ramadan with an alcoholic drink.”

To the contrary, Gallup researchers have found that the more likely a Muslim is to practice Islam as a religion, theless likely she is to support, condone, or accept attacks against civilians and other forms of violence. (There are other correlations that may upset our conventional stereotypes: For American Muslims, the more likely you are to attend a mosque, the more likely you are to vote—and vote Democrat. So much for religion being the property of the right.)

This particular piece is by no means the most egregious offender, it’s merely the latest and appears in one of the most well-respected newspapers. The truth is, these same assumptions can be found in numerous papers, periodicals and of course on TV. Nonetheless, for an article to note an increase in the observance of Islam and to link that to the danger of extremism is to fly in the face of the onlyreal, rigorous evidence we have, without presenting any reasons why we should fear extremism, except common biases. Namely, headscarves are a sign of “oppression,” and theonly reason Muslim women veil is because they are forced to. The evidence in many European societies, such as France, suggests otherwise.

And while certainly there are extremists who believe their vile actions are justified by Islam, this is not what the majority of Muslims believe. Further, these assumptions handicap us because they mislead us about extremism’s origins. Rather than blame political causes, which are potentially solvable, we are pushed to see this violence as emerging out of religion and therefore incapable of solution.

When you ascribe the enemy “irrationality,” you absolve yourself of the need to try to understand. Ten years on from the Iraq War, have we learned so little?

Not only does the piece peddle common fears with precious little evidence (other than headscarves here and there, and crowded mosques on weekends), it’s also offensive. To visit a place where people were slaughtered by the tens of thousands and to make no mention of this when they were attacked for no other reason than their religion, and then to make an ungrounded link to that religion and violence, is to overlook genocide. To make light of it.

To focus on a non-threat when there were other, far realer threats. It is, in fact, to legitimate the rhetoric of those who attacked Muslims in Bosnia who saw any evidence of Islamic practice as a ghostly premonition that could be preemptively stamped out. Considering what we did ten years ago on the notion of hitting before being hit, with no evidence whatsoever except a sustained public relations campaign to frighten Americans, this is a bad idea.

For people who claim that only religion makes people intolerant, consider the suffocating intolerance this article is laced with. Instead, the author references how “moderate” Bosnian Islam used to be by noting that Bosnians would drink after breaking the daily Ramadan fast. New rule: Define certain key words—’moderate,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘liberal’. Notice the correlation: If Bosnians drink less, that must mean they’re on the road to terrorism and extremism.

Even where some evidence is presented, such as the presence of foreign Muslim fighters, this is taken entirely out of context. First because there was, you know, a freaking genocide. Second, Darryl Li has studied Bosnia and mujahideen (aka “jihadis”) in Bosnia for some time now; his work will be of benefit to anyone writing on the topic. An actual expert in the field, Li’s revealed how much of this claim of jihadism all across Bosnia is hyperbole and even fear-mongering—stereotyping standing in for evidence.

What these kinds of articles reveal is the degree of bias that remains, so swollen with stereotype that a Bosnian woman’s choice to wear the headscarf is suggestive of “Islamic extremism” in Bosnia. In fact, the amount of “Islamic extremism” in Bosnia is quite low, especially as they just went through genocide. What the article is pointing to instead is the predictable effect of emergence from Communism.

Bosnians were allowed to practice their faith openly and proudly only after Communism; however, immediately after Communism, the war over Bosnia plunged the country into years of horrific bloodshed. Only recently, as it has cobbled itself together again, can Bosnians live in peace and begin to explore their religious heritage. This is in no way different from how Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians explored their heritage—religious and otherwise—after Communism.

But we do not see rising interest in Christianity as correlative of extremism, because we are okay with Christian religiosity. (Should Bosnians not fear that, since they were killed in the name of twisted religio-nationalist narratives? Only if they fall prey to the same crude stereotyping.) The reason we’re not okay with Muslim religiosity is because we have been led to assume that terrorism comes out of religiosity, when in fact it comes out of the manipulation of religious sentiments to advance a political agenda.

Terrorists may or may not be personally religious. Indeed, the evidence suggests they are uninterested in religiosity, except as identity, and only then, as an oppositional identity. We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, a fraudulent conflict that was sold to the public by a right-wing, openly religious American President. Yet he was opposed in his decision by many people of faith (just as there were people of no faith on either side, from Christopher Hitchens’ cheerleading of war against Muslims to far-left anti-war activists who felt no affiliation with organized religion.)

But this kind of nuance is missing entirely. The war itself is missing! What we are seeing instead are fragments, united by a misleading narrative—religion is extremism, or the first step toward it. Indeed, the only mention of the Bosnian genocide describes it as: “…the bloody war that pitted Muslims here against their Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic neighbors…” That’s probably the silliest description of the war I’ve ever read. How’s this for World War II: “the bloody war that pitted Jews in Europe against their German neighbors”?

That sentence is so hideous I felt disgusted just typing it, and I was typing it as a thought experiment. In fact just replace “Bosnian” with any victim of genocide, at almost any part of the article, and you’ll see what I mean. We’re given an Orientalist smorgasbord of stock imagery—“Islam was introduced by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror” (and how was Christianity introduced to the Balkans?); “minarets pierce the skyline”; “Saudi and Turkish funds” support mosques that are crowded on the weekends—all of which causes us to miss the point.

Where is the extremism we’re supposed to be afraid of? Is it simply a woman wearing a headscarf who’s elected and appears to be a competent leader? And if that’s the case, why are we so afraid of Muslim expressions of religiosity? In any case, it’s become clear why our major media fell into line with the Iraq War as quickly as they did.

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  • Amie

    Of course, none of it is excuse for what Bosnians allowed themselves to become. Religion is ones identity and should be maintained in ones life, no matter what. I always admired people who still managed to practice Islam and be the best people I had known.

  • Amie

    Keep in mind that Islam has been absent in Bosnia (Yugoslavia) for decades. Kur’an was available, but hardly anyone is verse in Arabic or understands it. The books with religious topics were highly censored and people worried that imams were members of the infamous Udba. Udba, in the communist Yugoslavia is equivalent to CIA or something. It was feared because many disappeared without trace if they were deemed to be against the state. When Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, wrote “Islamic Declaration,” he was deemed threat to the communist regime and imprisoned. His friends from the Young Muslims movement were mostly murdered as well. Etc. It was not a pretty time for Muslims. Religion was “tolerated” only so much so as it was stripped of its core values and teachings.

  • Amie

    I am a Bosnian Muslim and I can say that Bosnians Muslims have experienced attack on their culture and religion for quite some time. Of course, during my childhood the anti religion propaganda was of different kind rather than during the 1990s war. I have grown up with a mix of different Muslims: religious, semi religious and those who did not practice religion at all. The war came, some realized that it does not matter what kind of a Muslim one was he/she will be the target no matter what. Just like today. No matter what Muslim one is–Shia, Sunni, religious, semi religious or just in name, he/she is in danger of some kind. The war woke some people up and many have returned to Islam. Others are still as stubborn as ever in their atheistic beliefs and remain “Muslims” in name only. In the post war Bosnia, now is the time when the sorting out between the true Bosnian Muslims and the fake ones begins. We may have those who are called “Selim,” or “Mensur” and write anti-Islamic books. Some are self-proclaimed “terrorist” experts, yet those who do not know them may think they are Bosnian Muslims. They are no more. Then, one has patriots, who may be semi religious, set in their ways but still Muslims to a degree. Then come the educated Muslims, the new ones and those who have always practiced Islam. Then come those who misunderstand what Islam is and take it to the extreme (luckily, they are a minority). Unfortunately, the extreme groups are being used to generalize all Bosnian Muslims and Serb nationalists are milliking the opportunity.

  • Tanveer Khan


  • Kirook

    For Islamophobes, EVERYONE and their plight serves as means to a political end. Except the MOOZLIMS, because they don’t have plights, they inflict them on everyone else.

  • mindy1

    ahehehe 😉

  • Tanveer Khan

    Lol an army of Tanveer youths. The world would succumb to our power.
    …..sorry dreaming about world domination again. Thanks for the compliment Reynardine. 🙂

  • Reynardine

    You’re better than normal, young blood. I wish all youngsters were as good as you.

  • Tanveer Khan

    So everyone goes through it? Phew. I can now relax. Thanks Reynardine.

  • Reynardine

    Tanveer, it’s called emotional numbing. To a degree, everyone does it just so they can carry on in life.

    The average little girl, in anyplace we’d call “civilization”, goes through a process like this from late childhood, when she discovers there are men out there who will want to stalk her, dominate her, beat her, rape her, torture her, even kill her, just for being female. She must always remember this, just not to become a victim herself; she must refuse to feel about it just so she can go to school, go to work, fall in love, get married. And the same is true of a young person from a villified group, who cannot stand to have this kind of pain, fear, and outrage in the foreground, lest it derail sanity, and yet cannot afford to wholly ignore either the danger or the injustice.

    You are uncommonly eloquent, and already speaking out against injustice and bigotry. I do not doubt you will act against them where and when and how you can. Strengthen yourself, nurture yourself, and educate yourself to that end. Get delight from what comes your way. You can’t fight every battle; you must fight one at a time. So then, pick your fight-and then, pick a fight.

  • Tanveer Khan

    The scary thing for me is that i dont even feel that strongly about this stuff anymore. Ive seen so much of it its become a normality. Thats i ive stopped reading all that crap. Its inadvertently turning me heartless.

  • Reynardine

    It is my experience that religious fanatics are homicidal, at least Christian ones.

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    One really does have to question the reason behind such drivel as this in the Washington Post . Haroon is spot on again here
    I refuse to believe its stupidity . Although I do believe its an attempt to keep the american people misinformed .
    People need to be asking WHY!
    Sir David

  • Solid Snake

    I am really angry.And disgusted. Not by the content, I am already desensitized to that, but by the fact that such stupidity is allowed to exist. And on a medium that will allow this voice of stupidity to be broadcasted all over the country. Why are these people allowed to get these kinds of jobs?

    On another note, the hypocrisy of the ‘West’ (read media and governments) regarding womens rights is exposed in all of its glory. ‘You don’t allow your women to become leaders, you oppress them, you don’t give them choice’ they scream, a Muslim woman gets into a position of leadership and they are now haaing and humming ‘ “A woman wearing hijab must mean Islam is taking over Europe. Because hijab, and alcohol.” Now that a strong independent woman is in power we suddenly have to stop and think this over because alcohol! Yet, its quite surprising that the governments of the West support dictators who oppress religious woman sometimes using violence doing unspeakable things to them. I now have a clear picture on where the media and some Western governments stand on the issue of womens rights. I have concluded that their position is an unprincipled position that is used to exploit women for political reasons. Especially Muslim and/or Arab women. Basically, women and their plight serve as a means to a political end. Islamophobes embrace this position as well. Its very sad.

    I wont even get into the blatant vulgarity of the Washington Posts handling of the Bosnian Genocide in the article, or should I say ‘war’? Haroon said it best :

    “…the bloody war that pitted Muslims here against their Serbian Orthodox
    and Croatian Catholic neighbors…” That’s probably the silliest
    description of the war I’ve ever read. How’s this for World War II: “the
    bloody war that pitted Jews in Europe against their German neighbors”?

    Indeed, a disgusting and shameful description, of both events.

  • mindy1

    Sadly politics is the same the world over, we look for the little soundbites instead of substance 🙁

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