Tamim Mobayed argues if you think that our leaders are infallible, you need to wake up. But if you think that subversion and deception are not tactics that are employed to discredit our leaders, you clearly need to wake up too.
The Muslim world, particularly that of “Western” Muslims, has been rattled over the past few months with serious accusations levelled against two of the Islamic world’s highest profile academics.
While the accusations that have been made are qualitatively different, they both centre on the academics abusing their position of power and influence to harm women.
Personally, I have found the fallout evoking a stormy range of emotions and questions. In the whirlwind that characterises our era of news cycles, social media, and polemic commentary, it can be difficult to make sense of what is happening.
But without going into the specifics of each case, it is important to view them in the context of two important phenomena – the collective exposing of male abuse of power and the prevalence of Islamophobia.
While one of the stories came to light before the onset of the “Me Too” phenomenon, this movement is symptomatic of a collective mood that was existent before the hashtag was born. Indeed, Time magazine, which declared “The Silence Breakers” as its famous “Person(s) of the Year”, stated: “This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.”
Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!
There is undoubtedly a virulent problem and its coming to light should be welcomed. Victims of any kind, particularly of abuse that is as devastating as sexual abuse, need to be listened to and their paths to justice need to be supported. As well as owing it to the victims, society at large desperately needs this silence to be shattered.
Each accusation of this kind needs to be fully investigated, and attempting to sweep it under the carpet, or crying out against “airing our dirty laundry in public” cannot be tolerated. Islam is a religion of justice, and much of the Prophet’s mission was about establishing justice in people’s hearts, but more crucially in this context, within society and within the behaviour of one individual to another.
Men with power need to be held to the same standard of justice as the rest of society; this was one of the core teachings of the Prophet’s ministry that irked the powers that be in Mecca.
While the new collective mood to say “no more” to male abuse of power is largely a positive force, we cannot then dismiss all other factors, particularly one as significant as Islamophobia.
Like all attacked groups, Muslims often find themselves delving into the realm of conspiracy theories. This is an expected occurrence when a group is experiencing a deficit of power, and tries to explain what is being done to them. Nuance is important, and an analysis of facts becomes key. Too often we lose ourselves in such theories.
However, consideration of two factual sources strengthens the case that the accusations that have been made might well be part of a coordinated effort to bring down some of our leaders.
One evening some months ago, while browsing through Twitter, I stumbled across some Wikileaks cables. The cables had been sent from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, and were titled “Islam In Europe: Ireland”.
While the incredible hype that emerged with the release of Wikileaks’ confidential diplomatic cables in 2010 had by this stage died down, the topic of the cables was too interesting to ignore.
The three cables I read certainly confirmed that even within the small country of Ireland, mosques in the country were being rigorously watched, and perhaps more crucially, documented, measured, and analysed. The opinions of key figures within the Muslim community were being recorded, as well as descriptions of their “leadership styles” and professional relationships.
The cables get personal, labelling one figure as “guarded” about his political views, while another is described as “liking the sound of his own voice”. One of the cables attempts to classify three different Dublin mosques as being conservative “with potential extremist elements”, “integrationist”, and “pro-U.S.”
Highlighting just how speculative the cables are at times, one mosque is described as being both aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and with Wahhabism; try and figure that one out. The cables confirm what many Muslims have long suspected – eyes and ears are firmly on us.
What the cables did not confirm is that those who are watching are actively taking a role in shaping events. What becomes evidently clear is that certain individuals and ideologies are deemed friendly, while others are undesired. Could it be the case that once more files are leaked, or are released after 25 years, we’ll be reading about just how proactive those concerned were in manipulating the situation in mosques and Islamic organisations?
Go back a little further in history and one stumbles upon an even more relevant project. COINTELPRO was a program run by the FBI across three decades, officially ending in 1971.The programme was designed to infiltrate and document the activities of individuals and organisations that were considered a threat to the U.S.; targets ranged from Black Nationalists such as Martin Luther King Jnr. and Stokley Carmichael, as well as other political organisations (communists, feminists, independence movements and so on).
More controversially, the program explicitly attempted to discredit and disrupt their activities. The ultimate goal of the FBI was to neutralise individuals perceived to be threats. Indeed, many of these threatening individuals ended up being assassinated (Dr King, Fred Hampton), while others received life sentences (In the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, without the possibility of parole). Having read through some of the now declassified (but often redacted) files on the FBI’s own website, I gained an insight into the tactics they used, as well as the focus of their concerns.
One of the big concerns revolves around attempts to unify the Black movement. Dr King’s meetings with more “extreme” organisations such as the Nation of Islam (NOI) were watched with a high degree of concern, and attempts were made to drive a wedge between such attempts to unify (“…might be possible to hamper the unification by causing trouble…” reads one file).
Other actions were taken to sow disunity within organisations, with NOI being the victim of many of these moves. One such project saw the FBI attempting to smear some of the leadership of the NOI as having stolen money donated from rank and file members, showing their leaders as thieves (“It is hoped that the dissemination of this publication will result in internal strife, distrust and disorder”).
Other actions included planting fabricated stories within favourable media outlets. The use of the media, including publications such as the Washington Post, features prominently in the released files. This should be kept in mind when reading the volume of articles that have been written in the aftermath of accusations made against Muslim individuals.
In one case, a story was planted within a mainstream newspaper which intended to disrupt attempts to raise bail money for H. Rap Brown (former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). The story claimed that the necessary bail money had already been raised, and the organisers were now siphoning the remaining donations off for themselves.
In another devious move designed to disunite the movement, the FBI would demand that certain individuals be brought in for questioning, while leaving others; this tactic was designed to sow mistrust, having members question why some individuals seemed to be left alone (…“created suspicion”…).
One of the FBI’s main self-stated goals, presented in a directive written by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was to prevent the rise of a “Messiah who could unify, and electrify”, the movement. Another stated aim was to prevent these groups “from gaining respectability by way of discrediting them”.
To the sceptical reader I have one recommendation; read through the files, on the FBI’s own website, and see for yourself the reality of the war that was waged (successfully) against the Black movement. Now consider just how ideologically motivated certain strands of the Western world are against Islam, in the case of the extremes of the Christian-Right, apocalyptically so.
It would be short-sighted not to seriously consider the possibility that there are individual and organisations who are working against strands of Islam, and individual Muslims, who are deemed threatening, just as vigorously as the FBI’s (largely successful) war against Black nationalism.
In search of truth
These are difficult times for Muslims, and indeed, for anyone in search of the truth. In the age of “fake news” and rightfully placed scepticism, it can be difficult to discern what is going on all around us. Between the extremes of those who claim that everything is a conspiratorial plot against Islam, and those who outright ridicule any challenge made to mainstream narratives, is a space where questions needs to be asked, all the while reigned in by the bounds of objective critique.
When you have a leader rise up from amongst a disadvantaged group; who is able to engage the masses and hold his own amongst the academics; who calls for orthodoxy while also championing unity across religions and ethnicities; and who never abandons the causes of the vulnerable and the oppressed; who has gained millions of followers on social media and tens of millions of views online; you should believe that many will have this individual in their targets.
Individuals such as this have the potential to electrifying individuals, movements, and perhaps with the right following, the course of history. No individual is above the law and no accusation should be dismissed as conspiratorial. If you think that our leaders are infallible, you need to wake up. But if you think that subversion and deception are not tactics that are employed to discredit individuals, and communities, you clearly are in need of waking up too.