Note: Jennifer S. Bryson is the director of the Islam and Civil Society Project a the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J. This article is found on the Institute’s on-line publication, Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, November 17, 2010
No Such Thing as a “Muslim World”
In Jakarta President Obama spoke astutely about Muslims, but he engaged in dangerous obfuscation regarding al-Qaeda.
President Obama’s recent speech in Jakarta was a reminder of a significant yet little noticed strategic shift in the course of U.S. counter-terrorism. Since 9/11 widespread use of the phrase “the Muslim world” has supported the Osama bin Laden narrative that we live in a world of “Muslims vs. non-Muslims.” In his June 2009 Cairo speech and again in his Jakarta speech this month, President Obama has spoken about “Muslim communities” and “Muslims around the world”—not “the Muslim world.” Yet media coverage of his Cairo speech and again his Jakarta speech was framed in terms of “the Muslim world.” The New York Times even went so far last week as to describe his Cairo and Jakarta speeches in terms of a false dichotomy, one never referenced in his speeches, of “the West,” on the one hand, and “the Islamic world,” on the other.
The phrase “the Muslim world” inaccurately implies that Muslims are in some separate location and that they are a monolith. Muslims, however, are not segregated in one part of the globe. Muslims live in many different communities, including right here in America. In America Muslims are part and parcel of my town, owners of businesses where I shop, colleagues at work, public servants in government, members of the military which protects us.
In the event one needed a reminder of how talk of “the Muslim world” is not only dangerous but also just simply ridiculous, consider Anwar al-Awlaki’s recent assertion that Americans are “the Devil” and “of the party of Satan,” and that therefore no fatwa is needed to target Americans for death. The fact of the matter is that al-Awlaki, while portraying himself as an uber-Muslim, is actually calling all of us Americans, non-Muslim and Muslim together, “the Devil,” and “of the party of Satan,” and al-Awlaki has opened hunting season in America for non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
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