By Ismail Royer
In 1394, while the army of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid was laying siege to Constantinople, Manuel II Palaiologos, the emperor of Byzantium, was writing a scholarly work of comparative religion. The emperor’s book was a record of a dialogue he had with a Persian about the relative merits of Christianity and Islam. In one passage Manuel wrote: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhumane, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
On this point the emperor was mistaken; the Prophet taught no such thing. Nevertheless, while the sultan and his army probably never learned of the emperor’s opinion, it is hard to imagine they would have been very bothered by it. These men, like Manuel himself, were busy building an empire, the earthly representative of a cosmic order: they likely would not have seen themselves as victims of the emperor’s “insensitivity,” nor would they have picketed, rioted, or issued communiqués demanding that he apologize for his “Islamophobia.”
As many will remember, though, this was the reaction of many Muslims around the world in 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI quoted Manuel’s dialogue in a lecture. Sultan Bayezid would surely have found this reaction incomprehensible and undignified. Indeed, it only makes sense to us over six hundred years later because every perceived slight to Islam is salt in the wounds left by the subsequent collapse of Islamic civilization. This hypersensitivity is due to the Muslims’ low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and inferiority complex in relation to the dominant civilization of the day.
Meanwhile, the dominant civilization of the day itself is experiencing signs of decadence. American society is devolving into a collection of aggrieved “communities” demanding emancipation from the White Male Power Structure. Membership in an aggrieved group has become a status symbol, so that individuals compete to be members of as many groups as possible, collecting memberships like merit badges. Even a segment of whites define themselves as an aggrieved group (their oppressors are other aggrieved minority groups, including Muslims with their “creeping shariah”). By playing the game of identity politics this segment of whites even managed to capture the presidency.
In this milieu stands the American Muslim community. It has whole-heartedly embraced modern American grievance-based culture, and specifically the left-wing version, both as an expression of Islamic-civilizational-collapse syndrome and as a means of defending and advancing community interests. In embracing this mentality, the American Muslim community has quite consciously and willingly sacrificed Islam’s core role as the source of spiritual and societal order. This sacrifice was mandatory, for in leftist grievance culture no act is more oppressive than pronouncements of objective truth or moral judgment. Thus, the leader of a major American Muslim organization could write in 2016:
For years, the LGBTQIA community stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Muslim community as we have faced hate crimes, bigotry, marginalization and discrimination. Today, we stand firmly and resolutely to declare that this support goes both ways; that we are there for all communities who are the victims of violence and persecution in our country.
The liberation of the American Muslim community is inextricably linked with the liberation of all minority groups—Black, Latino, Gay, Jewish, Trans and every other community that has faced discrimination and oppression in this country. We cannot fight injustice against some groups, and not against others.
Homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and Islamophobia are all interconnected systems of oppression, and we cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others.
The sentiments expressed in this passage logically and necessarily flow from the premises of grievance culture. Indeed, there is no conceivable way to be part of it and at the same time pass moral judgment on, for example, same-sex marriage, “gender reassignment” surgery, abortion on demand, and so on.
Moreover, there is no way to make any affirmative statements about the truth of God and his intent for the creation, as doing so would imply that others are sinful or deluded. That is why membership in the leftist grievance community requires aggrieved groups, including American Muslims, to concur in the demand for radical removal of religious symbols from the public square. For the grievance culture, the only recognized objective truth is that there is no objective truth; the only moral wrong an “oppressed group” may commit is to suggest that another oppressed group is morally wrong. Thus the Islam of the American Muslim community is morphing into a cultural identity whose defining components are not spiritual and moral substance but rather victimhood and resentment of the dominant culture’s “oppression.”
This state of affairs was not, of course, the goal of American Muslim leaders and activists who paved the way for the grievance-based approach. Their packaging of American Muslims as an aggrieved group among a community of aggrieved groups was motivated, as noted above, by a strategic calculation aimed at preserving the Muslims’ rights and safety in America, a move that came naturally because it dovetailed with the resentment-mongering “Islamism” they brought from their home countries. But it was inevitable that the generation of Muslims that inherited the aggrieved-group mantle would embrace the rhetoric sincerely rather than strategically, ditching the old activists’ anachronistic Islamism along the way.
To be sure, the secularizing trend among the youth is largely attributable to the massive leftward shift in this country and the resort to identity politics along the entire political spectrum. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the short-sighted calculations of Islamic activists of preceding decades helped popularize the view of Islam among a new generation of American Muslims as a sort of racial or cultural identity only distantly related, if at all, to religious beliefs and practices.