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Saying ‘I Am Muslim, Too’ is not standing in solidarity with Muslims

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On the anniversary of executive order 9066, which called for the internment of Japanese Americans, signed by Roosevelt in 1942, thousands mobilized in solidarity with Muslim Americans, and in opposition to the Trump administration’s executive order targeting Muslim immigrants. The event, which carried the slogan ‘I Am Muslim, Too’, was organized, in part, by former Trump friend Russell Simmons, and included an extensive list of civil rights advocates, celebrities, religious figures, and politicians

New York governor Andrew Cuomo was one of many political figures to throw support behind the event. Cuomo, who refused to “second guess” the NYPD’s pervasive infiltration and surveillance of Muslim American communities, shared a video on Twitter of himself delivering a speech from January during Family Planning Advocates Day of Action wherein he stood behind a pulpit and declared “I am Muslim, too”. “We will ensure New York remains a beacon of hope and opportunity and will work to protect the rights of those seeking refuge in our state,” Cuomo belted.

Standing in Times Square, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told an energetic crowd that “an attack on anybody’s faith is an attack on all people of faith”—a few years ago, de Blasio was singing the-police commissioner Raymond Kelly’s praises when the first wave of stories revealing the extent of the department’s surveillance program were published by the Associated Press. When Muslims impacted by these covert spying operations sued the city of New York, de Blasio’s administration responded by thoroughly defending the practice of spying on Muslim Americans. And still, he stood amongst New Yorkers at the ‘I Am Muslim, Too’ rally and said just that, that he is Muslim, too.

(Image: Shepard Fairey)

Among the many placards and homemade signs carried by demonstrators, there was one poster that was seemingly the most popular—the image of a woman wearing a headscarf with a US flag design. The poster, which was illustrated nearly a decade ago by Shepard Fairey based on a photograph of Munira Ahmed, who does not wear the hijab, has been used by patriotic Trump resistors in order to communicate one fundamental point, that Muslim-Americans are a part of the so-called American Dream.

The adoption of the American flag as a symbol of progressive desires is an appeal to nationalism that is steeped in anti-immigrant history. It is also reckless language that alienates those not committed to being proud of being Americans. The combination of claiming to be Muslim for the sake of unity, when one isn’t, and nationalism produces a toxic brand that undermines genuine solidarity efforts. Any attempt to use patriotism to undermine restrictive and inhumane immigration legislation only works to make patriotism palatable. This in turn allows detractors to use it as a litmus test for someone’s humanity, and specifically whether or not they deserve our empathy.

As touching as it may be to claim, even in a sense of solidarity, that you are Muslim, if you aren’t, then you aren’t. You will not face the same heavy-handed consequences most often delivered by the state, its representatives. Government programs have likely never been built around “mapping” your communities, or infiltrating houses of worship and community centers due specifically to their Muslim affiliation. And believe it or not, vowing to “register as Muslim” should Trump’s administration create a Muslim database is not resistance but pure naïveté, at best. You don’t get to claim empty slogans for the sake of fleeting camaraderie because they make you feel good while also arguing that systematic change is necessary in order to rectify injustice. You don’t need to be Muslim to express solidarity, nor does resistance demand any attachment to nationalist mythology which turns Muslims into commodities only worth defending should they express the right amount of patriotism. By all means, demonstrate your support, but at least question the manner in which this support is expressed.

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer based in Sydney. She writes the Sharp Edges column at Shadowproof and politics at Paste Magazine. She tweets at @roqchams.

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14 Responses

  1. eljay on February 23, 2017, 10:05 am

    … As touching as it may be to claim, even in a sense of solidarity, that you are Muslim, if you aren’t, then you aren’t. …

    Makes sense. And that’s why despite my belief in and support for the universal and consistent application of justice, accountability and equality, I am not Muslim, Jewish, Charlie or a wild party (rah, rah, olé!).

    • Mooser on February 23, 2017, 4:44 pm

      ,” I am not…”

      Can I interest you in a few of these “Je suis generis” buttons?

      • eljay on February 23, 2017, 9:41 pm

        || Mooser: … Can I interest you in a few of these “Je suis generis” buttons? ||

        Thanks – I’d love one to pin onto my favourite t-shirt. :-)

    • oldgeezer on February 23, 2017, 9:17 pm


      ” or a wild party”

      Even under those patio lanterns?

      I’m still good for a wild party as long as it’s over by 11 or 12 and I have a week to recover.

      • eljay on February 23, 2017, 10:35 pm

        || oldgeezer: … Even under those patio lanterns? … ||

        That’s where I go for a soda.

        || … I’m still good for a wild party as long as it’s over by 11 or 12 and I have a week to recover. ||

        Rock on, oldgeezer!   \m/ > , < \m/

  2. AddictionMyth on February 23, 2017, 11:04 am

    You don’t have to be patriotic. Regardless, I AM Muslim too, like it or not. :-)

  3. Kay24 on February 24, 2017, 1:44 am

    These brave Oscar winners showing shameless Congress people what standing up to an occupier should be like. Good for them. No swimming naked in the Dead Sea here.

    A Tourism Ministry public relations gimmick to bring Hollywood stars to Israel has bombed, with not a single one of the 26 Oscar nominees awarded free trips to Israel last year actually making the trip. Now, the BDS movement is taking credit for the failure.
    The tour packages, worth tens of thousands of dollars apiece, were given to 26 nominees in the highest-profile Oscar categories, including actors Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone and Kate Winslet.
    Last February, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement put out an official statement urging recipients not to use the tour packages, charging that by coming to Israel, they would be helping the Israeli government whitewash what BDS terms the crimes of the occupation.
    read more:

  4. Atlantaiconoclast on February 24, 2017, 12:59 pm

    Aligning yourself with “the Muslims,” even as you fail to oppose these violent interventions and proxy wars in the Mideast that have destroyed many Muslim majority nations, and caused the refugee crisis, is the height of hypocrisy or cluelessness.

  5. Stephen Shenfield on February 24, 2017, 7:04 pm

    “I am a Muslim too” is not meant to be taken literally. It is a form of symbolic expression that has a long history in Western societies. It challenges the authorities to treat the speaker as though he or she were a member of the persecuted group: if you are going to mistreat my fellow citizens in this way — it says — then please treat me the same way, I do not want to be privileged over them.

    The author of the article may not be aware of the tradition to which this form of expression belongs. For instance, during the student protests in Paris in 1968, after a government minister blamed “a German Jew” — Daniel Cohn-Bendit — for the trouble, the demonstrators chanted: ‘We are all German Jews’ (in French). Of course they knew they were neither German nor Jewish. A similar form of expression was during the Holocaust, when the Nazis demanded that Jews in Denmark wear the yellow star, the King announced that he would be the first to wear the symbol and many Danes followed his lead.

    A recent form of such symbolic identification with the persecuted is the wearing of the keffiyeh by non-Palestinian sympathizers with the Palestinian cause, including some Jews. It does not mean that they imagine or claim that they are Palestinians. Is it objectionable? I think it sends a powerful message that can make others stop and think.

    • echinococcus on February 25, 2017, 1:56 am

      Agreed*, Shenfield. Absolutely.
      Only in this case, there is one element that makes it hard to identify with the victim. It is formulated in terms of religion while the whole campaign has nothing to do with religion or specifically Islam. The targeted population is identified by being of vaguely Mid-eastern origin, no matter if atheist, Muslim, Christian, Yezidi or Zoroastrian.

      For people with an anti-religious bend (I doubt that the correct but antiquated word “anticlerical” would be generally understood), who are Islamophobe + Christianophobe +Judaiphobe etc., it does become a problem.

      More importantly, it must be a major difficulty for anyone who particularly opposes Islam, singling it out. I personally see no ground for that but a lot of people do, and they have every right to it: religion is not an inborn trait.

      Our huge mistake is that of repeating the religion-besotten Americans’ general “Muslim” characterization. Our government’s hostility and warmongering is against Mid-Easterners, or Arabs and Persians (with the sole exception of Saudis and Jews, who magically become a distinct nationality –but not Christians and Co.)

      I’ll proudly wear an “I am Arab and Persian” button –don’t ask me to identify with religious obscurantism.

      *Except for the historical accuracy of the King od Denmark’s statement, which is irrelevant.

  6. MHughes976 on February 25, 2017, 3:59 am

    I think that the most in the way of defiant statements that can be credited to King Christian X is a private diary entry saying that if Danish Jews were called upon to wear a yellow star everyone should wear one – presumably he expressed the same idea in conversation. In fact, no such order was ever given in Denmark, since the Danish Jews were assisted to escape to Sweden almost immediately after the Germans assumed direct control of the country. The King is credited with a financial contribution to the escape. He expressed symbolic opposition to the invasion by riding round Copenhagen every day without bodyguards, looking like a truly legitimate and popular head of state by comparison with some others.

    • MHughes976 on February 25, 2017, 5:30 am

      And he was famous for an insultingly brief reply to Hitler’s birthday greetings in 1942.

      • echinococcus on February 25, 2017, 3:30 pm

        Certainly a rarity, a real gentleman among kings. He may even have solidarized with religious people, of course. Wonder how he would have responded to the particularly vicious Bush-Obama-Trump era racism that defines all Mid-Easterners as “Muslims”.

  7. Talkback on February 25, 2017, 6:16 am

    What a presumptuous and stupid opinion.

    To identify with someone is the highest form of solidarity. And it doesn’t imply in any way that I’m identical with that person.

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