No one can represent all of ‘Sweden’s Muslims’

No one can represent all of 'Sweden's Muslims'
Omar Mustafa's noisy departure from the Social Democrats shows a persistent but flawed view that one person can represent all of Sweden's Muslims, says contributor Nima Gholam Ali Pour, who argues that religion is no excuse to avoid criticism for unsavoury views.

Omar Mustafa has resigned from all his duties with the Social Democrats; it’s important now not to get into a discussion about Islamophobia. But it’s also important to clarify a few things:

Muslims who become members of a political party do so as Swedish citizens who are passionate about democracy. When you fill in the membership forms, there is no line asking you what your religion is. You can freely express your religious identity within the party by wearing a headscarf or yarmulke but you don’t come to party meetings to represent Muslims, Jews, or Christians.

Members of political parties fight for their party’s values and ideology and nothing else. The party is not a holy temple in which one is forced to respect religious dogma. Omar Mustafa’s departure doesn’t mean that a Muslim has resigned, but rather that a party member with unsavoury values has resigned – because his personal values were not consistent with those of the Social Democrats. This is not a country in which we divide people by religion into Muslim Moderates, Jewish Centre Party members, Christian Social Democrats, and Buddhist Sweden Democrats. Religion and politics should never be mixed together.

Mustafa mentioned in his resignation letter that he received the “classic interrogation most committed Muslims usually get”. What he failed to mention, however, is what he was involved in. The Muslims who are engaged in working for peace, such as the Muslims of the reformist Ahmadiyya community, don’t get interrogated. But if you have invite people to Sweden who have known anti-Semitic views, people are going to ask questions. If your stance on homophobia is unclear, you face questions. There is no special treatment just because you happen to be Muslim. If you defend racism, you’re going to have to answer for that.

Mustafa said in his letter that the media is critical of “old tweets infused with criticism of Israel and anti-imperialism.” To bomb Israel with JAS fighter jet does not count as criticism of Israel. It’s simply a call for violence against the world’s only Jewish state.

Finally, Mustafa feels the party leadership also sent an “appalling message to Muslims and other Social Democrats of faith”. In this, Omar Mustafa is wrong. The signal that has gone out is that no religion or culture can ever be used to excuse the hatred that is expressed by certain individuals. There is nothing in the Koran or the Bible that encourages people to spread hate: it is the individual who is responsible, not any religion or holy book. It was Omar Mustafa who invited anti-Semites to Sweden, not Muslims.

Organizations like the Islamic Association (Islamiska Förbundet) and Sweden’s Young Muslims (Sverige Unga Muslimer) are very good at presenting themselves as Sweden’s ayatollahs, but less than 10 percent of Sweden’s Muslims are members of these organizations. Most Muslims do not care at all about so-called “Islamic civil society”.

This is not because Muslims don’t care about society. But rather it’s because people, be they Muslims or Jews, don’t want to listen to people preaching hate. A minority of Muslims accept homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, and Omar Mustafa is their representative. That’s why he had to resign.

It is no secret that there is a conflict within Islam between Islamists, who have turned religion into a political identity in our post-modern society, and the majority of Muslims, who still see Islam as something that only deals with existential issues. Omar Mustafa represents the minority who cannot distinguish between politics and religion. That’s why he had to resign.

A portion of the Islamists’ rhetoric is that there is only one Islam. This rhetoric can be clearly seen in Mustafa’s letter in which he fails to distinguish his political career, his mistakes, the Islamist organizations that support him, and Muslims. Criticism of Mustafa and the Islamic Association was twisted into criticism of Islam and Muslims.

Although Mustafa has resigned, there is still much left to do. Not everyone is convinced that Mustafa should have resigned. In social media, Social Democrats are complaining about the Islamophobia Mustafa has faced. Peter Weiderud, president of the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats, the Brotherhood Movement, has expressed himself in a way that once and for all excludes the organization from an anti-racist context. In a debate with yours truly about Omar Mustafa, Weiderud said:

“What it’s about is whether it’s possible to be a practising Muslim, and even a leader in that context, as well as an active Social Democrat? And that’s the classic question that prompted the formation of the Brotherhood Movement, which I chair. Then it was about whether we could be Christian and Social Democrats. And it’s quite obvious that on some issues you have to, especially if you come from a different cultural context, be given the chance to work through and get a chance to deal with such issues. ”

Weiderud, who is chairman of one of the Social Democrats’ affiliate organizations, think that racism, misogyny, and homophobia are dependent on culture and religion. It is a collectivist and racist view of people. In addition, he opens the door to a sort of apartheid membership in the Social Democrats for Muslims where they can “work through” and “deal with” the cultural characteristics that Weiderud believes Muslims have. Such cultural relativist attitudes lead to racism, homophobia, and misogyny can sneak into political parties.

We must allow ourselves to stand up for the values that are the foundation of freedom and democracy in our society. We must stand up for people’s equal value and be able to criticize a person without concering ourselves about what his or her religion. No one can call us Islamophobes because we demand clarification on LGBT issues. No one can accuse us of racism because we want to ensure that anti-Semites aren’t given a forum in which to espouse their views. We have created one of the world’s most tolerant societies and it rests on a few key principles. And when someone questions or threatens these principles, we have the right and duty to defend those principles.

The events of the past two weeks show that social democracy must go through a process of change, so that we don’t demean our democratic values until they become simply a western phenomenon that Muslims or people from other “cultural contexts” don’t need respect. We must have the backbone to react against racism and not let it go so far that someone needs to leave the party in protest.

Additionally, recent events raise questions about the motives behind the Social Democrats’ criticism of Israel. A person who defended anti-Semitism joined the party’s governing board and was defended by senior Social Democrats. We therefore need to ask what ideology lies behind the Social Democrats’ criticism of Israel. And the most important question one needs to consider is: Why must it take a huge media witch hunt and so many dramatic twists and turns before the Social Democrats repudiate anti-Semitism?

Swedish parties must begin to see every Muslim as a unique individual, and stop looking for some sheikh, mufti, or ayatollah who is supposed to lead Muslims in Sweden. We should not elect a Muslim to the party’s governing board, but instead a citizen who happens to be Muslim. It is time to show respect for Muslims as responsible individuals in our society, instead of giving a pat on the head.

Persian-Swede Nima Gholam Ali Pour has a Master’s in International Migration and Ethnic Relations from Malmö University (Malmö Högskola). He resigned from the Social Democrats in protest when Omar Mustafa was elected to the party’s governing board.

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by The Local.

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