The “good” Muslim, “evil” Islam dichotomy is found in comments like, “I have friends who are Muslim,” or “My colleagues are Muslim,” coupled with comments that express a concern for the potential evil and fear of a sharia driven Islam.
This xenophobic strategy has become a tool of empowerment by politicians and news pundits in the 2016 election year. It simultaneously advances Islamophobia while freeing criminals from the burden of their crimes.
Donald Trump while suggesting a plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, requiring Muslims to be singled out under a particular identification database, and shooting Muslim prisoners with pig’s blood has said, “I have friends that are Muslims. They’re great people but they know we have a problem.”
From what one can tell, the problem which Trump is talking about out has to do with Muslims who have been radicalized with a political agenda and fight in the name of Islam. Trump blames such crimes that are politically, socially, and religiously very complex simply on Islam.
He gives a one-dimensional categorization of a great problem leaving only Islam to be “The” evil of “The” problem. Yet, at the same time, he claims to be friends with Muslims. Thus he pits the “good” Muslim against the “evil” Islam.
Ben Carson, too, invoked his Muslim friends, “I grew up in Detroit where there are more Muslims than any place in the United States. I had a lot of Muslim friends and playmates and schoolmates. Nothing wrong with Muslims, as long as they accept our culture and our Constitution.”
However, when questioned during another interview about whether Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson quickly responded with a negative, “No, I don’t–I do not.” Islam as incompatible with the American Constitution is further given a one-dimensional perspective by Carson who uses the same rhetoric as Trump.
By creating a large gap between Islam and the constitution while also invoking Muslim friendship, Carson sends the message that Muslims when extracted from their Islamic identity are American. Islam, thus is un-American. However, if Carson would consider Islam from those Muslims who practice it according to the vast majority of scholars and religious leaders, Carson would find compatible elements between the American constitution and Islam.
One of the leading news pundits, Bill O’Reilly, has given us the “good” Muslim story as well. In his Talking Points O’Reilly commented, “Most Muslims are peaceful people. Even if they do believe in sharia law, that’s a flaw in their thinking, it doesn’t mean they are violent maniacs.”
O’Reilly takes sharia law, a core part of Islam, and associates it with irrationality while at the same time labels Muslims as peaceful and non-violent. Thus, their Islamic identity, that which makes them Muslim, is extracted from them when they are good and peaceful. However, when corrupt, the Islam part of Muslims has somehow trumped their humanness and turned them into violent people capable of committing great injustices.
The troubling aspects of the “good” Muslim, “evil” Islam dichotomy is that the blame of a crime is placed on Islam rather than the people committing the crime, thus reducing the crime to a non-human entity.
While invoking a favorable light on relationships with Muslims could be a good thing, it becomes twisted and used against Muslims when the human part of being Muslim is extracted from one’s identity. Islam proper is left hanging to bear the blame for wrongdoings committed by human hands. Those people committing crimes are a package that encompass many elements which make-up their identity; Muslim criminals cannot simply be reduced to Islam just like Christian, Buddhist or Jewish criminals cannot be reduced to their respective religion even if they do invoke their religious texts.
When this is done, an injustice to the Muslims we claim to befriend is created. Taking out the human element from the crime does two things: first, it frees the perpetrators of their crime, and second, it creates a stigma for anyone who loves and identifies with Islam.
Loving or befriending Muslims may be an act of kindness; however, when this love or friendship is coupled with attacks against Islam, then it becomes obvious that this relationship is supported by an agenda that is anything but friendly. One doesn’t need to love or think highly of Islam in order to befriend Muslims; however, if you have Muslim friends, then respecting the foundation of their Muslim identity becomes necessary, at the least. Otherwise, don’t refer to your friends by their religious associations in order to justify your attacks against their religion.