The word “Islamophobia” gets tossed around a lot, and it’s usually not done in good faith; more often than not it gets used like the words “racist” or “fascist” — it’s a rhetorical neutron bomb that generally gets deployed in order to utterly lay waste to the possibility of reasoned debate and to discursively de-legitimate the putative “Islamophobe.”
That being said, I’m not sure how else to describe this absurd post on the well-known conservative blog “Powerline” about the alleged would-be terrorist Mohamed Osman Mohamud. The article takes issue with this story in the LA Times, which is savaged for not spending enough ink (pixels?) speculating on what might have motivated this kid to attempting to carry out the crime he is accused of.
The gist of the story is that most of the people who knew Mohamud didn’t think of him as the sort of person who might be involved in a plot to commit mass murder. They describe him variously as “outgoing and laid-back,” “the class clown,” and “a chill kid” who liked beer, going to frat parties, and hip-hop music.*
Apparently, such details about the personality of the accused are of limited interest:
Those of us wondering how the Mohamud family was admitted to the United States, or how Mohamud came to swear fealty to the United States and become a naturalized citizen, will have to look elsewhere for an answer.
Why any of that really matters in this case is beyond me, especially since no one else in his family is accused of any crime and they emigrated here when Mohamud was 5 years old. In any case, what the Times is apparently guilty of obscuring, The Oregonian is brave enough to admit:
Over the weekend we learned from the local press that Mohamud was known as one of “the three Mohameds” in a local group of friends who shared the first name and Islamic religious beliefs. Today we learn from the Times that his American friends called Mohamud “Mo.” I guess that makes three guys named Mo and a nascent musical with the show-stopping number “I Just Met a Law Named Sharia.”
So, there were three guys named Mohamed. And…?
That would explain how Mo could swear to defend the Constitution while hating the United States, as Mo’s classmate Andy Stull told Portland’s NewsChannel 8. “The main thing was the way he said he hated Americans,” Stull said. “It was serious. He looked me in the eye and had this look in his eye, like it was his determination in life — ‘I hate Americans.'” Now that we have lots of guys named Mo, it probably makes sense to wonder how many of them share this Mo’s “determination in life.” [emphasis added]
Now, if you’re looking for the part of the Powerline post that shows how the fact that there were “three Mohameds” “explain[s] how Mo could swear to defend the Constitution while hating the United States,” you won’t find it. Go look for yourself.
What you will find, however, is the notion, totally unconcealed, that people named “Mohamed” a priori loathe Americans and dream only of mass slaughter. Nonetheless, it is clear that what is being posited here is not merely that people who share a name also share certain other traits. That this is not the case is, as Ernest Gellner might say, “manifest to the meanest intelligence.” Rather, what we’re seeing is a painfully clumsy attempt to lay the blame for the alleged actions of one person on the shoulders of every other member of his putative identity group. Because this Muslim may be guilty of a crime (or because other Muslims in other places have committed acts of terror), all Muslims are somehow responsible, or at least under suspicion.
All of this, of course, ignores the obvious problems inherent asserting that there is any sort of “pan-Islamic” identity as such — the cultural cleavages between places as diverse as Indonesia, Albania, Egypt, and Chechnya, to take a few examples, serve as proof enough that such an idea is a dodgy proposition at best. It also ignores the striking similarities between identifying one Muslim with all Muslims and the logic of anti-Semitism or, for that matter, decrying the Tea Party as “racist” because of this guy.
Perhaps it’s best to look at stunning feats of logic like “Mohamud was known as one of “the three Mohameds” in a local group of friends who shared the first name and Islamic religious beliefs… That would explain how Mo could swear to defend the Constitution while hating the United States” and shrug them off as failed attempts at satire. But as much as I hate to use the word, I think that maybe this is one of those instances where “Islamophobic” isn’t so much a pejorative as it is, to borrow a line from Ann Coulter that supporters of racial profiling like to deploy, “a description of the suspect.”
* Since we’re speculating, I’m going to throw my guess out there: this was a typical Angry American Teenager who had a hard time dealing with his parents’ separation and who ended up “rebelling from society” and simultaneously trying to find a group to “belong” to (two things that every single teenager does) by participating on jihadist message boards and the like (which most teenagers do not do). Given the fact that the kid was into frat parties and beer drinking, it doesn’t seem likely, contra Powerline, that his actions had anything to do with a desire to implement “sharia” nor any particularly strong attachment to the tenets of Islam.
None of this, of course, excuses what he tried to do, if he is indeed guilty. But if I’m right, none of this really has all that much to do with Islam, “three Mohameds” or not.