I am an observant Muslim. And because I am a Muslim, I believe in pluralism. I believe in tolerance. These are the beliefs that Islamist totalitarians are determined to extinguish in the world as they oppress and brutalize those they deem to be “the other.”
Yazidis are this ideology’s latest victims.
Guided by a false, supposedly Islamic doctrine, ISIS has enslaved and systematically raped Yazidi women and young girls. These crimes, described last week by The New York Times, are the latest example of how Islamism defiles Islam. This travesty crosses new thresholds of human depravity: holding pens for humans, busy slave markets, the bureaucratic herding, bidding and buying of Yazidi women and girls. ISIS demands that we confront these new horrors.
ISIS and other Islamist groups — such as the Taliban and al Qaeda — collectively rain violence and misery upon the world but most directly upon imperiled Muslims who are subject to their rule. Muslims who are not Islamists, but followers of Islam.
Because of their abuses in the name of Islam, Islamists smear each and every Muslim, tarring us all with the same brush. Chris Cuomo of CNN’s “New Day” has recently been vilified on websites and on social media over a question he asked me on-air about whether ISIS’ sex slavery “feeds the impression that these Muslims are animals, savages, and their faith makes them that way.”
Critics accused him of feeding an ugly stereotype. But it was a fair question that reflected his nuanced and insightful understanding of the difference between Islam, the monotheistic religion, and Islamism, the religionized totalitarian ideology.
Let us remember that it is Islamists the world over who lay first claim for the smearing of Islam themselves. Islamists’ contribution to the defilement of Islam — whether by the above-mentioned groups or Hamas or Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood — is without peer. In fact, intense competition is afoot among them as to whom most authoritatively lays claim to the smearing of Islam through their fallacies. Yet in an age of grand deception, such fallacies hold great appeal whether to totalitarian Islamists or to Islam-hating bigots.
Haters have a vested interest in vilifying Islam at every opportunity. For them, ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban and others are the gift that doesn’t stop giving. The Islamists’ actions, falsely claiming a basis in Islam, are appalling and vile, offending anyone with common decency — including opportunistic bigots who care less about the victims of Islamism and more about their desire to vilify Islam.
As violent Islamists attempt to eclipse the millions of faithful Muslims who live in more than 180 countries, belonging to dozens of different sects and traditions, casual observers could well conclude Islam is intrinsically violent and perverse. But we Muslims who lead peaceful lives guided by Islamic values refuse to relinquish such credence. In our refusal, we are joined in resolve by Muslim armies and air forces now engaged in the U.S.-led coalition to combat ISIS.
We are joined by Muslim governments, such as Turkey, sheltering refugees from Islamists. We are joined, too, by other Muslim governments in Pakistan and Egypt that are locked in intense battles with their own lethal domestic Islamists.
Why is the battleground between Islamism and Islam becoming ever more treacherous? Because the battle for the narrative is intensifying. By the very nature of their bestial pursuits, coupled with an expert management of media content, ISIS dominates the narrative. It corrals its messaging, grabs headlines, captures whole news cycles, drives opinion and draws global engagement, whether from the horror of its opponents or the lurid fascination of its growing supporters. The expose on ISIS culture of slavery is engaging global audiences to the same effect.
Not only did Cuomo singularly not disparage Muslims by asking his important question, his query underlines exactly the impact ISIS seeks to achieve — the indiscriminate dehumanization of Muslims everywhere. People such as Cuomo should be commended for daring to tread on perilous ground — the ground where Islamism defiles Islam, where few others seek to tread.
Qanta A. Ahmed is the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, an account of her experiences as a physician in Saudi Arabia. She is an associate professor of medicine at Stony Brook University. She holds an honorary fellowship at the Technion-Israel Institute of Science and Technology and is a member of the Next Generation Council for USC Shoah Foundation, the Institute for Visual History and Education. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.