Tarek Fatah’s fallacy: The danger of seeing Islam in everything

The fight against extremism is far too important to allow the narrative to overtake the facts.

Demonstrators protest against police shooting of black teen in Ferguson, Missouri. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators protest against police shooting of black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tarek Fatah is a high-profile Muslim critic of Islam.
He is admired by some and detested by others for his outspoken views, including unflinching condemnation of anti-Semitism in the name of Islam. However, a review of Fatah’s response to the recent murders of two New York City police officers calls into question his credibility as a voice of tolerance and moderation.
As reported by The New York Post, two NYPD cops were gunned down on Saturday December 20 “after a career criminal drove from Baltimore to Brooklyn to kill police officers in a twisted bid to avenge the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.” The deceased officers are Rafael Ramos, who leaves behind a wife and two sons, and Wenjian Liu, whose wife of two months said goodbye to him for the last time earlier that day.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the killer, was a 28-year-old African- American, who ultimately turned the gun on himself.
He was suspected of having connections to the “Black Guerrilla Family,” which is described by The New York Daily News as “a notorious prison gang that has declared open season on the NYPD.” On his Instagram account on the day of the double murder, Brinsley posted: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours ... let’s take 2 of theirs.” His account included the hashtags #ShootThePolice, #RIPEricGarner and #RIPMikeBrown.
Whether Brinsley was officially a member of the Black Guerrilla Family or not, it is clear that he shared the gang’s hatred of law enforcement and his primary motivation was vengeance against the New York police.
At a young age, Brinsley had a total of 19 arrests and a substantial criminal record. Brinsley’s life and death tragically resembled that of Bigger Thomas from Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son. As with far too many African-Americans, Brinsley met his death early, causing tremendous grief to those in his wake in a spiral of seeming inevitability.
In response to the horrific double murder, Tarek Fatah took to Twitter proclaiming it to be, confoundingly, an act of Islamic terror, to wit: “#JihadComesToNYC. Man who killed two NYPD officers is ‘Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley,’ a Muslim.”
The wording of the tweet says it all; it is indictment by identity. Brinsley’s mother, Shakuwra Dabre, appears to be of possible Eritrean origin, which along with his name, indicate Muslim ancestry. But Brinsley’s social media activity and what we know of his life at this point suggest that Islam was little more than a vague means of self-identification for him. With a clearly non-Muslim surname, Brinsley’s existence was defined by a long rap sheet, violent outbursts and some degree of mental illness, all with an overlay of race-based alienation and growing rage.
Brinsley was not the archetypical “youth radicalized by Islam.” There were no madrassas or “radical Muslim clerics” in his past. There were no cries of “Allah Akhbar!” as the officers were killed. No jihadi literature or connections have been discovered. Brinsley was angry and bent on violence, but he was far more Black Panther than Bin Laden.
Brinsley was another manifestation of Colin Ferguson, who wrote of racism by “Caucasians and Uncle Tom negroes” before killing six people on the Long Island Railroad during rush hour on December 7, 1993, or militant black nationalist Wesley Cook (now “Mumia abu Jamal”) who gunned down Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981, or Christopher Dorner, who killed a Los Angeles police officer and two civilians in February 2013 due to race-based grudges against the LAPD.
Brinsley’s act of retributional racial violence bears more in common with the stabbing death of 21-year-old yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum by a member of an angry black mob in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on August 20, 1991, the near fatal beating of Reginald Denny on April 29, 1992 by an angry mob in the aftermath of the acquittal of white police officers in the death of Rodney King, and the recent murder of 31-year-old Zemir Begic by an African-American teen wielding a hammer, approximately 17 miles from the location of the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson Missouri.
All of these incidents arose either in a climate, or due to a personal ideology, of overwhelming racial grievance and a cynical belief in perpetual African-American victimhood.
In large part, what keeps this tragic cycle alive is the vitriol and inflammatory rhetoric of activists and leaders where exhortations to take to the street in mass protests create a highly polarized atmosphere.
All of this points to the question of why Fatah would characterize the murders of Ramos and Lui as “jihadist” violence.
At first blush it may appear to be simply an exercise in “message discipline” by a man who has staked a position as a leading critic of Islamist violence. But the more revealing answer may lie in Fatah’s prior responses to the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the very events that prompted Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s homicidal violence in the first place.
Initially after the Mike Brown death in Ferguson, Missouri, Fatah penned a piece in The Toronto Sun entitled, “Racism against blacks universal.” This article posits that black people are mankind’s perpetual and universal “victims.”
Fatah’s statements then became truly invective in the aftermath the grand jury decision not to indict the NYPD officers in the death of Eric Garner. Fatah stated: “What law did #EricGarner break other than the law that Black=Crime and White=Purity...?” “Any American or Canadian not outraged by the #EricGarner decision should look into the mirror and see what a racist looks like. Opportunity.”
“Here are two videos on how the NYPD killed #Eric- Garner and got away with murder.”
It is difficult to see how these statements are anything other than pure racial incitement – demagoguery designed to inflame, rather than cool, passions at a particularly volatile moment in the national consciousness.
Mike Brown and Eric Garner were not Muslims. When Brinsley said, “They take 1 of ours ... let’s take 2 of theirs,” by “ours” he was referring to African-Americans.
Fatah’s inflammatory words added to an already toxic and volatile discourse on race. In light of this, his characterization of the NYPD double murder as “jihad” is inapposite, and can only be described as disingenuous.
When Islamist terror occurs, its condemnation should be full-throated, for its victims are not only those residing in the West and religious minorities in the Muslim world, but first and foremost Muslims themselves. But the harm caused by perpetuation of racial hatred and grievance, independent of Islam, also presents an enormous threat to every civil society. To confront each, moral clarity is required.
The fight against extremism is far too important to allow the narrative to overtake the facts.
Fatah’s Toronto Sun article closes with the following ominously prescient statement: “A few days of street violence protesting the shooting death of another mother’s son, is a small price to pay for a thousand years of injustice that does not seem likely to go away anytime soon.”
One suspects that for the families of officers Ramos and Liu, the death of their loved ones was not by any means a “small price to pay.”
The author is a former criminal prosecutor and a Major in the United States Marine Corps who resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.”@DeanHMalik.