During the Global War on Terror, post-9/11, it was not a priority for Muslim adult generations that experienced it (now comprised of older millennials, all of Generation X and the Boomers) to fight back against the extreme hate they were receiving with organized, well-funded propaganda campaigns through the various media platforms available. Why would it be? There weren’t any Muslims in the newspapers and magazines. Social media was not heavily used (Facebook was created in 2004, Twitter in 2006), so the only way to combat the extreme Islamophobia (a term I use begrudgingly) boiling up at the time was through the mainstream news channels. Even then, it was done with extreme apologia rooted in the framework that Muslims were flawed in their beliefs.
To the average person, the Eastern peoples once seen as exotic, hippie representatives of an ancient, “edgy” Middle Eastern faith that hosted Lawrence of Arabia were suddenly on CNN defending themselves against accusations of terrorist sympathy and treason to the Western nations that housed them. Over the past few weeks, many American political figures and pundits have united in a similar fashion as after 9/11, slandering us and our faith, much to the dismay of Muslims who, in their defense, were quite involved in the American political project with the utmost sincerity. Many Muslim Americans thought that things were turning out for the better with regard to our manzila in American society. We have Muslim politicians in D.C., we have Muslim news anchors on the evening news, and the White House even hosts Iftar dinners every year in Ramadan. We thought that after decades of hysterical, psychotic propaganda from Liberal and Conservative pundits and journalists alike, Westerners were starting to accept us Muslims as a part of the ever-shifting landscape of the multicultural, democratic West.
Then, in less than 24 hours, those same American political figures who were just lamenting the deep state, the regime, and its oppression of ordinary American citizens rallied up behind it — begging once again for the persecution and surveillance of Americans who had even the mildest of pro-Palestinian views. The same conservative pundits who, a few weeks ago, were tweeting things such as, “Dang, Muslims are right about standing up against [insert liberal project here]! Maybe we have something to learn from them!” are now rabidly screeching for the liquidation of all 2 million of Gaza’s helpless civilians, half of whom are children. The Anti-Defamation League could not be happier at the development.
The overall result? Many Muslims now feel the walls closing in on them again, in a similar fashion to how they closed in on our parents during the early and late 2000’s and again during the 2016 campaign. The difference, however, isn’t just hindsight or the overrated “experience” that came from those events. For the longest time, due to the affinity the Palestinian cause had with progressives, the issues of Palestine and Islamophobia were nearly separate — running almost parallel — despite both being fatally important for ordinary Muslims in the West. We accepted the solidarity of Zionist Democrat politicians and activists when it came to the issues of Muslim civil rights and Islamophobic suspicions in the War on Terror era, and at the exact same time accepted the allyship of anti-Zionist activists and organizers who remain entirely hostile to the social values of practicing Muslims. It is a political conflict we have avoided facing head-on for the past twenty years.
Now, given the current conflict, Zionist media organs and intelligence are engaging in a clear strategy of forcing Muslims, who by and large see the Palestine issue as a Muslim issue, to finally face this contradiction in an attempt to alienate us from all our allies who, since 2014, have succeeded in at least somewhat weakening the extreme support for Israel in the Democratic party. Muslims are facing a lose-lose situation, one we walked into by our own design. Either we take the leftist, decolonial angle and fall into the secular trap of painting the Palestinian cause as one of nationalism and democratic ideals all over again, casting away the religious ethos that’s always been foundational to the struggle. Or, we engage with the religious angle fully, and risk becoming targets of the American/Israeli security regime that will not hesitate to exert its full force upon our backs the second it gets an excuse. It’s a situation that looks perilous, but Muslims have no reason to despair as long as we play it right. The big question now is how we move from here in our messaging and politics without losing ourselves, either spiritually or physically.
Before I get into the specifics, let’s start with some background first.
In the time of the Ancient Arabs, before and during the life of the Prophet ﷺ, poetry was a foundational aspect of daily life. Poetry for the Arabs (as well as other Eastern cultures) was used to form bonds between families, to woo and romance a prospective partner, to exhort and extoll virtues, to warn against vice, to glorify what was important in religion and demean what wasn’t. Poetry was the lifeblood of the Arabs. Those who excelled at the art in this vigorous oral culture found their rank raised in Arabian society to exceptional degrees. The Qurashi chieftain, Waleed ibn al-Mughira, was seen as a great target for dawah by the Prophet ﷺ precisely because of his ability to propagate any idea he wanted into Arabian society through his eloquent stanzas and charitable investments during the Hajj season. Of course, Allah destined that things turn for the worse, and al-Mughira used his talents instead to spread the blasphemy against our Prophet ﷺ of being a sorcerer, a lie that spread like a virus amongst the elders of Quraysh and beyond.
When looking at the verses in the Quran and hadiths that speak of “poetry,” it cannot be equated to the literal meaning of “poetry” as we now understand it: it simply doesn’t have the same power in the propagation of culture that it once did — even among the Arabs of today who are increasingly becoming novices in their mother tongue. Instead, the equivalent connection we can make is of poetry as a cultural medium of pre-modern propaganda in the time of the Prophet ﷺ , serving the purposes of the ancestral elite. This gives a much wider perspective on the texts and stories from the Seerah we have discussing poetry, one that’s not necessarily new and has been the standard for interpreting the fiqh of media consumption for decades.
The Prophet ﷺ said, on the authority of Abu Huraira RA: “It is better for a man’s belly to be stuffed with pus which corrodes it than to stuff (one’s mind) with frivolous poetry.” 1
The initial understanding in many hadith, which is already quite obvious to most of the Muslims reading this, is that most mass media is trash for the human mind and soul. Exoterically political or not, every single piece of Western media has an agenda to push on behalf of the people who produced it; and if we know anything about those artists responsible for mass media today, they are not and never were the exemplars of virtue they pretend to be. They are actually so far from it and have been proven on various occasions, especially in the post-9/11 era, to be criminal in what they dared produce. Allah refers to these people in Surah al-Shu’ara:
As for poets, they are followed ˹merely˺ by deviants. Do you not see how they rant in every field, only saying what they never do?Quran (26:224-226)
Since our exceptional downfall post-caliphate, Muslims have always been aware of such types and their distractions. Those who need encouragement and attention now, however, are those people whom Allah refers to in the following verse, a verse that many talented and otherwise outspoken Muslims don’t take enough to heart:
Except those who believe, do good works, remember Allah often, and ˹poetically˺ avenge ˹the believers˺ after being wrongfully slandered. The wrongdoers will come to know what ˹evil˺ end they will meet.Quran (26:227)
This is what must be exhorted into action. Muslims online need to realize the tremendous advantage they now have at their disposal with the democratization of news media and online content creation. Just in the past few weeks, countless slanderous tweets by the various organs of Israeli intelligence have been labeled by regular, anonymous folk using the new “Community Notes” feature on X (formerly Twitter), viewed by millions within hours of the lie being spread. No one would have thought this speed of correction was possible a decade ago when retractions in newspapers or the evening news came days, even weeks after a lie was spread — if at all. Guys like Mohammed Hijab now get invited onto Piers Morgan’s show, racking up five million views within a day for no other reason than that he was identified by Piers as a “controversial influencer online” who made enough noise by calling Piers out for hosting Zionist lies.
Most Muslims also make the mistake of taking many basic myths about Zionism and the secular world order post-1948 as true in merit (i.e. taking your enemy’s word for it), often falling into the trap of arguing with the assumption that these base fallacies are true. For example, many of us are forced out of fear of committing Lèse-majesté to argue from the frame that our only problem with the Israeli regime is their lack of “true democracy” and military oppression of their natives; that we want a world where “Palestinians are met with equal rights and representation in Israel”; and that our protests against that nation would cease should such a pipe dream come true. Deep down, all Muslims, as well as our enemies, know that this is a form of casuistry and political self-protection that does not represent the true beliefs of those on either side of the conflict. Zionists know that Muslims object to the illegitimate existence of the nation-state of Israel (not to be confused with the right of Jews to seek residence in an un-occupied Palestine) due to concrete theological principles; so when they force you to confine your objections merely to their lurid crimes, it is meant to demoralize and distance you from your true beliefs — and this is something they take immense pleasure in as the very definition of “playing the long game.”
The true reaction to claims of this kind, foundationally, should be that of mockery and ridicule. Many well-intentioned folk (especially those of an academic background who, and I say this endearingly, are very obtuse when it comes to satire and humor) confuse this with mere “trolling,” but effective mockery is anything but. Take for instance the wonderful interview by the same Piers Morgan with Bassem Youssef,2 the Egyptian comedian ousted from his homeland for satirical comments against Sisi’s regime. Bassem exposes the insane nature of Zionist propaganda by, unexpectedly, taking it seriously. Despite moments of sober honesty and crassness, he manages to embarrass both Piers and DailyWire co-founder Jeremy Boering by repeating their claims back at them with exaggeration and affirmation.
A Prophetic example comes to mind, illustrated in the well-known story of our father Ibrahim (AS), who employed a similar tactic with regards to his tribe’s paganism:
Then he said to himself,˺ ‘By Allah! I will surely plot against your idols after you have turned your backs and gone away.’ So he smashed them into pieces, except the biggest of them, so they might turn to it ˹for answers˺. They protested, ‘Who dared do this to our gods? It must be an evildoer!’ Some said, ‘We heard a young man, called Abraham, speaking ˹ill˺ of them.’
They demanded, ‘Bring him before the eyes of the people, so that they may witness ˹his trial˺.’
They asked, ‘Was it you who did this to our gods, O Abraham?’
He replied, ‘No, this one—the biggest of them—did it! So ask them, if they can talk!’
So they came back to their senses, saying ˹to one another˺, ‘You yourselves are truly the wrongdoers!’
Then they ˹quickly˺ regressed to their ˹original˺ mind-set, ˹arguing,˺ ‘You already know that those ˹idols˺ cannot talk.’Quran (21:57-65)
The wisdom in this form of mockery isn’t to destroy the ideology of your opponent in one fell swoop through academese infographic explanations and sophistry. It’s not to emotionally shame them into believing you without merit or base truths. It’s to, in a human manner, allow your opponent to reach the truth themselves by delivering fatal cracks to the layers of lies they believe, and allowing them to perform the deduction themselves. Despite its outward ruthlessness, it’s quite merciful when you think about it.
The beauty is that most won’t make that deduction, some will think about it but only become more enraged, but many uninterested parties among the masses — and these are the people you want — will reach that truth, and it’s at this vulnerable point that persuasion is possible.
Western-educated Muslims are dismayed by this language of “manipulation”: they find it offensive and “psychopathic,” because it attacks the moralism they uphold, not due to Islamic principles, but due to the secular liberal ones that enforce conformity and privatization of the truth in the face of progressive lies. The most obscene example in our current time being the idea that a “nation” can just shoehorn itself into existence, superimposed on an already developed people and culture, and be innocent of any violent backlash that results.
Another thing to point out that Muslims shouldn’t ignore is the hideous and cynical manner in which hundreds of neo-conservative and hard right figures are now reheating their grievances with Islam. This is to be expected, but it’s much more hilarious this time around due to the ignorance of their own situation. America is the best example: when 9/11 occurred, up until it happened, most Americans were doing very well, with the decline initiated by progressives not yet exhibiting many of its natural horrors. In the late nineties, American culture was accepted worldwide as the dominant one. Though there were still horrific conflicts taking place abroad, Americans were capable of ignoring them at no cost to themselves at all. There were no drag queens in libraries. Even the most progressive Democrats in the Senate had to come out and say they thought marriage was only between a man and a woman to get elected in their state.
None of these things are true today. Americans, especially the young, are being sheep-sheared and abused in a manner never witnessed by their ancestors, and all the promises made by their regime before engaging in the Global War on Terror lay broken. At that time, it was very hard for Muslims as a minority to argue in favor of their own moral framework to a populace full of rockstar zeal and a sense of dominance on the world stage — but now, more than ever before, it has been laid bare how fake it all was. Muslims now have the opportunity, from a dawah standpoint, to position themselves as the true exemplars of a “return to piety” that many normal, well-meaning Americans are begging for. To do this, however, you must never apologize. You must never allow yourself to be put into a corner and forced to “condemn” any one “Muslim” group without at least also demanding the same standard be applied to their own. The age of apologetics needs to be swept away, and those who foolishly fall for them in our own communities deserve disciplining as well.
The good intentions of Muslims who grow up in the West have been severely taken advantage of, to the extent that they believe that any and all forms of propaganda are evil, only to be associated with sinister intelligence agencies and conspiracies. This is not the case at all. Propaganda is a tool like any other, its dark shadow condemned in the Prophetic tradition, and its bright and illuminating side defending the remembrance of God and his religion encouraged and exhorted. If Muslims, now more than ever, don’t finally learn to write their own stories, we will remain characters in the books of our enemies and nothing more.
Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.Endnotes
- Muslim, 2257
- It’s important to note that Bassem Youssef, though did a great service to the Ummah with that interview, is a very open liberal secularist comedian whose views clash with the vast majority of practicing Muslims. We appreciate the unity in such times, but I thought it was important to note for posterity.
Abdullah Yousef is a novelist, artist, and Editor in Chief of Qawwam Magazine, a literary publication for young Muslim men.