Your Middle East
Last updated: 14 February, 2013

Arsalan Iftikhar on Islamic Pacifism, Jihad and the ‘Clash of Knuckleheads’

We asked Arsalan Iftikhar, international human rights lawyer, global media commentator and author, about current international media coverage of the Middle East, his book and the ‘Clash of Knuckleheads.’

You are the founder of the Crescent Post, a news portal dedicated to bringing diverse voices about the ‘Muslim Street’ together in one place, why is there a need for this platform?

For the last ten years, we have seen Islam and Muslims become a major part of our global news media. Sadly, the narrative on Islam and Muslims has largely been driven by the paradigm of ‘terrorism’ which does not represent the overwhelming majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Moving forward, I hope that Muslims around the world become more involved in journalism and the media to help paint a more holistic picture of Muslims and the issues that we deal with every day.

As an editor and writer, what is the biggest challenge international media outlets face in their Middle Eastern coverage today?

The biggest challenge that most global media outlets face is that they do not understand the cultural and historical underpinnings of the areas that they cover. Since the vast majority of the American (and global) public gets their perceptions about Islam and Muslims based on 10-second soundbytes that they see on television, it is important to push back from the narratives and preconceived notions that people have about the Middle East and Muslims.

What is the story behind your Twitter handle name, also the name of your website, The Muslim Guy?

The funny thing is that when I came up with my website, it was actually me poking fun at myself and the absurdity of our changing global media landscape. For nearly ten years after 9/11, whenever I went on television to do interviews on CNN, BBC World News or other Western media outlets, I was always seen as “The Muslim Guy” debating some right-wing conservative. So I embraced that moniker and came up with the website and ever since then, many people now refer to me as ‘The Muslim Guy’.

You’ve written a book about Islamic Pacifism, why did you write it? Tell us a little bit about the book.

I wrote my book ‘Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era to help shift the global narrative on Islam and Muslims. Since many people wrongly believe that Islam and Muslims are somehow inherently violent or prone to extremism, I am trying to show people that there are proud Muslim pacifists who practice the religion of Islam and still subscribe to a platform of nonviolence as well.

You write about Jihad in your book, but not the Jihad often portrayed in Western media, please expand on that.

Jihad is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts within Islam today. For many non-Muslims around the world, they only associate the word jihad to mean ‘holy war’. Sadly, most people do not understand that the concept of jihad (which literally means ‘struggle’ in Arabic) is primarily an internal struggle against one’s own self (like arrogance, greed, etc). Again, because the extremists have dominated the global media narrative, it is important for people to understand that this religious concept is multifaceted with many different meanings and understandings. 

You’ve spoken about another “Clash of Civilizations” namely “Clash of the Knuckleheads,” please do explain what you mean and how they are related.  

Many right-wing conservatives have tried to perpetuate a notion of the ‘clash of civilizations’ which was made famous by Professor Samuel Huntington in a 1994 article for Foreign Affairs magazine. This concept simplistically states the somehow the West and Islam are inherently at war with one another. What I am trying to say is that this ‘clash’ is actually between extremists on both sides of the political aisle. I believe that most people in the world – whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslims – want to live in peace with everyone else and that is why I it should be renamed the ‘Clash of Knuckleheads’ theory.

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