How to be a Moderate Muslim: Shake it off!

Heed the wisdom of Taylor Swift: "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Shake it off! Shake it off!"

Published January 13, 2015 12:00AM (EST)

Taylor Swift               (AP/Greg Allen)
Taylor Swift (AP/Greg Allen)

In simpler times, whenever there was a terror attack, a selfless gang of enlightened individuals known as the "Moderate Majority" burdened themselves with the thankless task of discovering "Moderate Muslims." This elusive tribe was discussed in hushed tones as mythical, rare creatures, much like Bigfoot, Unicorns and a bipartisan Congress.

Due to the advent of modern technology and the glorious invention called "the Internet," a handful of "Moderate Muslims" were eventually found in the U.S. and Europe after diligent, strenuous effort. Upon discovering them, the "Moderate Majority" politely inquired if they were an aberration or if more of their tribe members existed. "The Moderate Muslims," overjoyed at being discovered despite thriving for centuries -- oftentimes in the very same neighborhoods as the "Moderate Majority" -- brought forth auspicious tidings!

They were not a minority, nay, but a majority, teeming with diverse, global, messy communities worldwide! They were brown and black, Arab and Asian, Caucasian and South Asian -- some were even mixed! They were white collar and blue collar, shalwar khameez'd and dashiki'd, suit and tie-d -- some were even hijabi'd and niqabi'd!! They were suburban and urban, rural and provincial, urbane and mundane -- and some were even kufi'd and turban'd!

They rocked hipster beards and often ate hummus, halal shawarma, chicken tikka masala, fried chicken and corn bread -- just like so many of their "Moderate Majority" peers.

The "Moderate Majority" cocked an eyebrow or two, scrunched their faces and remained skeptical. This newfound complexity displeased them. It disturbed their "Us vs. Them" worldview that had been so successful in dividing modern, pluralistic societies. They preferred the Golden Age fueled by the efficiency of simplistic stereotypes that did not challenge preconceived notions rooted in ignorance.

However, in the spirit of goodwill and intellectual inquiry, the "Moderate Majority" asked the "Moderate Muslims" why more of their tribe had not condemned terrorist attacks committed by a fringe minority?

Initially taken aback, the "Moderate Muslims” were curious why this strange double standard was being applied to them. Naturally, they were perplexed why they were asked to condemn violent actions committed by totally unrelated individuals oftentimes on different continents. They wondered why their alleged lack of condemnation was taken as automatic validation, endorsement and celebration of violent extremism.

“Moderate Muslims” also saw headlines about disturbed white men killing innocent civilians, such as Norwegian Anders Breivik, self-proclaimed Christian and conservative, who killed 77 people. But, they never thought to ask the entire tribe of male whiteness and Christians to collectively apologize for the actions of a deluded few, because that would just be silly and nonsensical. They also realized the tribe of male whiteness -- or, really, any tribe that is the powerful majority -- has never had to answer for their rich, colorful history of privilege or have their whiteness investigated, interrogated, questioned, defined and perpetually tested for proof of loyalty and "moderation." Finally, the “Moderate Muslims” found it curious that the term "terrorist" was liberally applied to violent, criminal Muslims, but "lone wolf" was often applied only to white men, even when both committed crimes that fit the definition of "terrorism."

Regardless, the “Moderate Muslims” assumed the best of their newfound friends’ “moderate” intentions. Perhaps they believed Muslims possessed enhanced superpowers like The Borg or Jean Grey and had specialized knowledge as to the deep psychological disturbances that propelled a few toward extremism? “Amazing,” exclaimed the "Moderate Muslims"! “But only if it were true! Damn the limitations of human biology!”

In the spirit of goodwill, the "Moderate Muslims" ignored the offensive aspects of this questioning. Instead, they pointed their new friends to the consistent, vociferous condemnations by a vast majority of their diverse Muslim scholars, community members and leaders.

But some remained unconvinced and unfazed. The most vocal and passionate among them -- the non-experts -- advanced their theory that "Moderate Muslims" were in fact just a few deluded apples who fell far from the poisoned orchard. They advanced their non-expert theory that the "Moderate Muslims" were minorities in a tribe that was genetically predisposed to extremism and unable to ever understand, appreciate or integrate into enlightened, Western societies and values.

Just a tad annoyed by this smug, casual, condescending bigotry and profound ignorance, the "Moderate Muslims" bit their tongues and responded with good cheer. They brought forth polls and studies by actual experts who invested years of rigorous research -- using data, evidence and facts -- showing that the majority of Muslims renounce violent extremism, are "moderate" and integrated in Western societies.

The "Moderate Muslims" also acknowledged they had to clean house and air their dirty laundry. This meant exposing and isolating a poisonous interpretation of Islam that had taken hold of the imagination of extremist organizations and confused individuals. These men and women sought glory, respect, validation and an empowered identity by manipulating religion to legitimize their barbaric violence.

The days of braying simplistic slogans like "Islam means peace" and being perpetually defensive and reactive had to end. The era of being caricatured antagonists, silent sidekicks or barely visible footnotes in the toxic narrative of "the West vs. Islam" was waning. The days of emerging as the protagonists of their own narratives, ones rooted in the best, most authentic values of their Islamic and Western identities while also exposing the messiness, warts and rich complexity of their diverse communities, was onward and continuing.

As an example, a French Muslim cop, Ahmed Merabat, was killed by terrorists trying to protect the Charlie Hebdo office. Lassan Bathily, a Muslim from Africa, shielded 15 Kosher Deli customers during a hostage situation. They both emerged as heroes from the recent Paris attacks.

But even this was not enough. The "Moderate Majority" changed their tactic and now blamed "Moderate Muslims," holding them responsible for the ongoing crimes committed by violent jihadists and terrorists.

Exhausted, "Moderate Muslims" realized it was time to learn how to become official members of the "Moderate Majority." They asked BuzzFeed to create a "How to Be a Moderate Muslim" list filled with gifs, emojis, capital letters and exclamation points. But, there was no answer. Undeterred, a motley group of Muslims ventured on a Walkabout to desperately seek moderation by auditing modern Western history, pop culture and news media.

Their subsequent investigation produced this official TOP 20 LIST ON HOW A MUSLIM CAN BECOME A MEMBER OF THE “MODERATE MAJORITY”:

1. Use excessive, inflammatory language in sensitive, volatile situations. This is your first step in becoming a Moderate.

2. Generalize! Generalize! Generalize!

3. Callously exploit a tragedy to advance divisive political agendas.

4. When asked for no reason if you support ISIS, say, "No."

5. Taylor Swift -- Learn her. Love her. Embrace her. When confronted with bigotry and fear-mongering, simply recite "Haters gonna’ hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Shake it off! Shake it off!"

6. Invite representatives of minority communities to have a civil conversation, but then cut them off when they begin to speak.

7. Don't wear keffiyahs. (Unless you are Rachael Ray or white hipsters.)

8. Don't wear long beards. (Unless you are a cast member of "Duck Dynasty" or, again, white hipsters.)

9. Don't eat halal food. (Unless you live in Manhattan.)

10. Don't have an ethnic accent -- America will be unable to understand or empathize with you. (Unless you are Arianna Huffington or Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

11. Don't be a foreigner. (Unless you are Australian Rupert Murdoch.)

12. Don't go to mosques. (Despite studies showing mosque participation increases civic engagement.)

13. Don't use religion to rationalize hate. (Because other religious leaders have never done that.)

14. Only apologize for apologizing. Real moderates never apologize for their moderation. (Because 'Merica.)

15. Tell a mourning country they deserved a violent tragedy for attempting diplomatic solutions.

16. Always promote free speech and freedom of expression.

17. Publish cartoons that have a pattern of gross racism and homophobia, but don't call out their pattern of gross racism and homophobia.

18. Pray to God, but never to Allah.

19. Be sure you don't have the "tone of skin" of "the bad guys." This includes everything from caramel to dark mocha. However, if you're light caramel with two shots of vanilla, you will be OK.

20. Listen to non-experts, who aren't Muslim, tell you how to be a moderate Muslim.

21. (Bonus) Hide your Lota. Finally, we have forged a path toward Muslims becoming moderate! This fail-safe list, gleaned from the conduct and behavior of certified moderates, will help chart the course for a determined, unified effort against extremism.

Hopefully, the "Moderate Majority" will realize that violent extremism is a plague that affects all societies. It cannot afford to be fermented by indulging in racial and religious scapegoating. This plays directly into the polarizing agenda and propaganda of the extremists. The only way forward is together, forever. If you don't believe me, just heed the wisdom of Taylor Swift: "So, it's gonna be forever, or it's gonna go down in flames."

By Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali is a contributor at Al Jazeera America. He's the author of the play The Domestic Crusaders and lead author of the investigative report Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America. He's pitching his TV script written with Dave Eggers about a Muslim American cop from Yemen.

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Charlie Hebdo Islam Moderate Majority Moderate Muslims Muslims Radical Islam Satire