Our human civilization faces the great challenge of seeking to defend our inherent human rights, dignity, respect, safety, and lives for our brothers and sisters in humanity. We must defend these rights, lives, and dignity from those extremists who do not respect these universal human rights. But to do this, we must never use the words, the tactics, the hate, and God forbid the violence of such anti-human rights extremists. In defending human rights, we must not commit human wrongs. This is why it is so important to Choose Love, Not Hate as a compass of decency and dignity in our vital but difficult task.
As we reported after September 11, 2012, there are those who created a short YouTube video called “Innocence of the Muslims,” which ostensibly was initially to address abuses against Christians, but which was nothing less than a vitriolic screed against Islam. As we have seen very often from the anti-Islam movement, we have seen those who claim they seek to be concerned about human rights, but do so by committing human wrongs. The response by too many extremists in Muslim-majority nations mirrored this. There were extremists committing violence in Muslim-majority countries, killing the ambassador to Libya and others, and whose extremist violence resulted mostly in the deaths of fellow Muslims. We saw once again, those who claimed to be seeking the human right of dignity, committing human wrongs.
Since that shared disgrace, there are some in the Anti-Islam and in the Bin Ladenist camps who are intent on continuing to stir about more human wrongs to keep people agitated and fighting against one another. Pamela Geller, leader of the Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and the Stop Islamization of Nations (SION) movement held a meeting in NYC on September 11, where some speakers spoke against Islam and the Qur’an, while violence was raging in Muslim-majority nations over the absurd anti-Islam YouTube video, and while Americans and others were being killed. But this wasn’t enough for Ms. Geller, who also leads another name for the SIOA/SION group called the “American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).” She then decided to promote a series of poster in the NYC, Washington DC, and San Francisco public transit systems calling people “savages.” The complete ad reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Violent Extemism.” Ms. Geller knew very well this would promote controversy, which is really all that she wants to accomplish. I urge her and members of the anti-Islam movement – reconsider your views. Remember hate attracts hate.
The Anti-Islam movement remains determined, probably not unlike the Bin Ladenist movement, to seek to continue to keep people agitated and angry. This is what both sides count on. Today, on the FrontPage Mag website, we see articles condemning Egyptian human rights activist Mona Eltahawy and an another article stating that “extremism” is actually “Islam.” There are those detemined to pursue their views by promoting human wrongs. No doubt some hope to be the next Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, so that they can claim the “accomplishment” of having incensed Muslim-majority nations with some film or article. But this continued path of incitement and agitation accomplishes only one thing – it works to prevent progress in human rights around the world.
The idea to create the Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) group in late 2008 was to have a consistent focus on our universal human rights for all identity groups, all religions and consciences, all races, all sexes, all ethnic groups, and all people. What I found disturbing was a consistent unwillingness to challenge certain supremacist and extremist groups. One was sexist and especially misogynist groups and individuals. One was the resurgent racial supremacist groups. Another was a religious extremist view from some groups. Others involved totalitarian groups, such as Communist Party, which has oppressed people in China, Vietnam, North Korea, and other parts of the world.
But our goal with R.E.A.L. was never to be about the oppressors, but to focus on what we BELIEVE in – our universal human rights for all people – and our goal to urge our fellow citizens to be responsible for equality and liberty.
R.E.A.L.’s first public event was in March 2009, I was standing with fellow volunteers in front of the Capitol building in Washington DC. It was a cool, but sunny day. It was our celebration of International Women’s Day. Our goal in working for human freedom started with our support for half of humanity, our human sisters, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and grandmothers. They deserve a voice of respect, of dignity, of compassion, and of defense – everywhere. But as we got started for our International Women’s Day event, we were confronted once again by an institutionalized misogyny willing to suppress and even murder women. In Chechnya, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov had ordered seven young women to be murdered in the street, their bodies dumped by the roadside, because they had “loose morals.” Ramzan Kadyrov emerged from Friday afternoon prayers in a Chechen mosque and told the press that these women “deserved to die.” We said that we would stand by our Muslim sisters and defend their right to freedom, universal human rights, safety, and life. We urged the public to work to help protect our Muslim sisters being abused by extremists not only in Chechnya, but also around the world, including in the United States of America.
This was and remains a very REAL human rights issue. R.E.A.L.’s protest was one of the only public voices to speak out on this. Muslim women’s lives, women’s lives, and ANY ONE of our human sisters and brothers’ lives – are not cheap. The idea that their Universal Human Rights could simply be taken and crushed like an insect by institutionalized groups promoting extremism and supremacism was, is, and will continue to be an offense to every human being.
I felt that it was not enough to simply label Ramzan Kadyrov as a “criminal” or a “thug.” I urged my fellow human beings who were Muslims to challenge Ramzan Kadyrov’s extremist views and to publicly denounce his supremacist interpretation of Islam that believed that people deserved to die because if they didn’t follow his religious views.
I compared the example to the need of white Americans to speak out against the Ku Klux Klan, and do more than simply label them as “criminals” and “thugs,” but to reject, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it the “white supremacy” view that some white Americans had that believed they had superior rights over others simply because of their white race. I argued that in fact, this did work in America, by not only rejecting the criminal actions of the KKK and others, but also rejecting the supremacist ideas that gave the KKK the argument that they had superior rights over other people. My interest in making this argument was to promote human rights for Muslims and to help them argue against supremacists who sought to redefine Islam along extremist terms. But let me be clear about this. When I urged Muslims to reject the “extremism” of Ramzan Kadyrov, Osama Bin Laden, and other extremists, I was never attacking the religion of Islam, as the anti-Islam groups and activists seek to do. I was arguing for Muslims to reject the perversion of Islam that such criminals were using to justify their acts, just like the KKK used a perversion of their racial identity to justify their criminal behavior. My argument was that it is important to undermine the ideas, as well as to reject the violent activity of such extremists.
Six months later with the inspiration of some from the “Tea Party,” a new movement started which was based on an Anti-Islam ideology. Using organization from European anti-Islam groups, a group was created in the United States called the “Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) group.” This extremist anti-Islam group also planned to go to the Washington DC Capital building. But instead of rallying there for human rights, the SIOA group went there to help disrupt a peaceful Muslim prayer meeting, including plans to bring “donkeys and dogs” to upset the Muslim prayer group. Instead of addressing human rights violations by extremists around the world against Muslim women, this new anti-Islam movement decided to commit its own abuses against Muslim women themselves. While R.E.A.L. sought to promote human rights, SIOA sought to perform human wrongs. The Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE) group which founded this American Anti-Islam group had a motto which sought to PROMOTE Islamophobia, stating “Islamophobia is highest form of common sense.”
But hate is an attractive drug to polarized political groups, and so the SIOA did not disappear, although it was dormant from October 2009 until April 2010. Then its European anti-Islam leaders convinced Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer to take up the leadership of the SIOA group. The SIOA group had a new activist “human wrongs” objective – seeking to shut down mosques to deny religious freedom and freedom of worship in the United States.
At the time, many human rights activists and myself were deeply concerned about the treatment of religious minorities in Communist China, Asia, and the Middle East, including the violent treatment in Pakistan against minority Pakistan Shiite Muslims, Pakistan Ahmadiyya Muslims, Pakistan Christians, Pakistan Hindus and the treatment in Egypt against Coptic Christians, as well as many other groups. There are many many human rights violations against such religious minorities around the world who suffer great wrongs and human rights abuses. R.E.A.L. and others have sought to educate the public on such human rights issues and seek change to end their oppression.
But Pamela Geller’s SIOA had a different focus, they sought to deny Muslims religious freedom in the United States. Their answer to human rights problems were to commit their own human wrongs. This continues to be the approach that the anti-Islam commmunity takes today. Furthermore, Pamela Geller than took my argument comparing racial and religious extremist views, and redefined “extremism” as attacking all of Islam as a monolithic practice by all Muslims.
I know these claims that Islam is nothing but extremism to be a lie, and I know the great diversity of Muslim practice, and peaceful Muslim lives around the world. I ask my Chrisitian brothers and sisters – would you want to be defined by the white supremacist Christian Identity group? Of course not. Neither do the majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters want to be defined by extremists who deny human rights, preach hate, and promote violence.
I have stood side by side with my Muslim brothers and sisters across Washington DC, defending women’s rights, condemning stoning, supporting freedom of religion and conscience, calling for an end to genocide, and calling for love and respect for all human beings. I have attended services at Muslim mosques and heard calls for love, peace, and dignity with my own ears. After the attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, my brother Mohamed Yahya stood with me praying for our Jewish brothers and sisters threatened by the white supremacist terrorists. He stood by me while white supremacists sought to disrupt our memorial and attack us. His answer was the same one we believe at R.E.A.L. – “you seek to hate me, but I love you.” We stopped our event and we offered the white supremacists our outstretched hand in friendship and fellow humanity. We prayed together for peace, dignity, respect, and safety.
To those of you in the anti-Islam movement who seek to spread hatred against all Muslims, I know better, and I know your argument is a lie. There are many many different practitioners of Islam, and I have been grateful to know many who promote respect, human rights, dignity, and love for one another. Your hatred cannot hurt them, because they have Chosen Love, Not Hate. Love Wins.
I have repeatedly spoken out against the SIOA, SION, and Pamela Geller’s other organizations, and the anti-Islam movement. I have publicly expressed my regret and apology for my use of the term “extremism” in my argument on how to challenge the ideas of extremist groups who deny human rights. The last thing I ever wanted to do was to offend my Muslim brothers and sisters, but to urge them to challenge the extremist views that falsely claim they represent the majority view of Muslims. Since then, I have used the term “Bin Ladenism” to represent the term of such extremist views. It is just as clear.
We cannot achieve human rights by committing human wrongs. None of us can, including myself.
We are all human beings with our weaknessess. But our focus must remain the same. We must continue to respect all of our brothers and sisters in humanity. We must defend their universal human rights, their dignity, their freedoms, their safety, and their lives. We must continue to approach defending human rights with an outstretched hand, not an upraised fist. We must be consistently Responsible for Equality AND Liberty – for all – without exception.
Most of all, we must Choose Love, Not Hate. Love Wins.