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“You Ain’t No Muslim, Bruv”: On Religion, Doctrine, and Violence

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By Ian Storey

“The ultimate aim was neither power nor profit. Nor was it even influence in the world in order to serve particular, tangible interests for the sake of which prestige…was needed and purposefully used. The goal was now the image itself, as is manifest in the very language of the problem-solvers, with their ‘scenarios’ and ‘audiences’ borrowed from the theater.”

— Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics”

It has in several countries, particularly Turkey but all across Europe, been a week of horrors. Terrorismus, a term first coined in Germany, represents the idea that humankind is always declining into a state of chaos and violence and only the righteous might rescue it. (Kant calls it one of the three basic theories of history. He rejected it, categorically, as did Hegel.) Now, the term “terrorism” has come to signify something altogether different yet obviously related: the deliberate infliction of pain, death, and fear on non-combatants for the sake of maintaining an appearance, a distinction Arendt first noted in the second section of “Lying in Politics”.

Yet in these moments of violence, (One should say senseless, but they are made to make sense under any number of rubrics of fanaticism.) there are occasional moments of sublimity that remind of us of our collective capacity to resist horror. One of those came in December–what Arendt in The Life of the Mind might call genius–from an unidentified bystander to the attack in London at Leytonstone Station in which two were severely injured in a knife attack by an individual claiming his acts were in the name of “Syria”. The bystander is heard saying, “You ain’t no muslim, bruv. You’re an embarrassment”. As @MoFarooq9 put it, it is a quote that puts a million voices to life in a single moment. Two sentences, and yet they dispelled in a moment the hypocrisy of a form of violence so thoroughly that the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv became a watchword for the twitterati of the European “moderate” Muslims.

you ain't no muslim bruv

Image: @bigtobzsf/Twitter, @mofarooq9/twitter

I put “moderate” in quotes, as have many others, only because the very line itself, “you ain’t no Muslim bruv”, denies that the position of non-violence towards bystanders and civilians could be anything but Islamic itself. And that seems fundamentally right. To call Muslims who oppose random violence “moderates” is to presuppose they are the “center” in the first place, as opposed to simply the fundamental position of a religion. To speak those words in the face of a bloody horror is not an act of ideology; it is an act of courage exposing an ideologue for what he was. This is not a polemic about Islamic fanaticism; one could find, as we did this week in Oregon, as many examples in any of the Abrahamic religions, let alone with an expanded religious scope. Neither is it a denial that there is a now (and has been for decades) a form of “fundamentalism” that propels extraordinary violence in the name of a religion, indeed what now declares itself an entire Islamic “state”. That “fundamentalism” is exactly what the speaker calls into question.

The question is not, as certain American political candidates would have it, that of Islam itself…or Catholicism, or Lutheranism, or Judaism, as the many forms of bigotry in America have attached themselves over the decades. The question is the relationship of doctrine to violence, that is, senseless violence, or rather violence that makes sense only because of its doctrine and can only by justified by it. Doctrines that exist to use the “decline” of humanity as an excuse for an image, an image with intent to kill and exclude, constitute a particularly modern form of terrorismus. They come from a long history in which few can be called completely innocent. But it is the form that we face.

The temptation would be to think that the unidentified bystander is simply denying the attacker his religiousness. Certainly, the figure seems to self-identify as Muslim himself. But there is something much deeper in his statement, which was hurled in anger for a minority population already under social siege. Indeed, there is a denial that violence terrorismus–in Kant’s terms, violence that justifies itself only in terms of the descent and not the positive possibility of humanity–is itself justifiable under the terms of a religion. Yes, in this case, the speaker speaks of Islam. But again, an underlying claim made the quote resonant on social media. That claim is one that resonates with Arendt’s account of action and her critique of Pericles: that justification and action can be claimed but not claimed authoritatively or in permanency and never at the expense of another, for action is only ever action in the world of others.

For the speaker, if one believed in Adonai, or G-d, or Allah, the very definition of the name denies terrorismus, the belief that human life can only decline into violence, and that one can be an agent of it. Whoever said “You ain’t no Muslim Bruv” was not suggesting that the attacker did not believe in Allah; he was suggesting “you’re an embarrassment”, that if it were truly religiosity motivating the attack at Leytonstone, it would never have happened in the first place.

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Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News / Getty Images

As America wrestles with its own religious bigotries this year politically, it would be well to remember that genius’s message. As I have myself–strange half-scion of a Christian minister–tweeted, if you strategically or whimsically use the guise of religion to mask exclusion and the political usefulness of hate, #YouAintNoReverendBro. We cannot know if the anonymous commenter on the Leytonstone was invoking his own religion. We can only know when we invoke our own religion, or non-religion, or agnosticism, to deny the politics of violent hate. But that is not a small knowledge.

Featured image: Police tape is seen at a crime scene at Leytonstone underground station in east London, Britain December 6, 2015. Police were called to reports of a number of people stabbed at the station in east London and a man threatening other people with a knife. One man was seriously injured and two sustained minor injuries, police said. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Posted on 16 January 2016 | 12:00 pm

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