“We Are All Muslim” is filmmaker and activist Michael Moore’s new project, a response to Donald Trump’s Islamophobic policy proposals and rhetoric, which has culminated in a conversation about what it means to be a Muslim American. Moore launched his initiative by writing an open letter to Trump and holding up a “We Are All Muslim” sign outside Trump Tower until police asked him to leave. He encouraged people to do post photos of themselves holding up their own signs on social media.
As a Muslim American, I’m not impressed. Actually, I am furious. We are all Muslim? Really? Are we all dealing with the violent reality of growing up in a post-9/11 America? Doesn’t that sound like a cop-out to actually deconstructing the racialized and politicized Muslim American identity?
Moore’s letter seems to being doing that thing that white liberals love to do, disarming violently racist white supremacist rhetoric to be more digestible and removing themselves of any responsibility of recognizing and actively deconstructing the racist society we live in. Similar kinds of remarks have come from politicians of both parties who all regurgitated a similar “That’s not what America stands for” type of response. The reality is Islamophobia, especially in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, has risen and manifested itself into violent acts against Muslim communities across the country.
Moore’s open letter to Donald Trump states, “We are all Muslim. Just as we are all Mexican, we are all Catholic and Jewish and white and black and every shade in between.” He is making the colorblind argument: that we are all human, that all lives matter no regardless of one’s skin color or background, that it is all about humanity. Not only does Moore reduce Islamophobia to a simple case of bigotry and lack of understanding, but also makes Islamophobia all about the personality cult of Trump that has captivated right-wing voters and cable news alike.
Islam is a religion that is not attached to a singular racial, ethnic or political identity, but Islamophobia has created a racialized and politicized ‘other.’ Islamophobia isn’t just supporting Donald Trump and the policies and rhetoric he spouts. Islamophobia is me never remembering a time when my family and I went the mosque and didn’t see police presence. Islamophobia is saying, “Most Muslims are moderate!” or glaring at a woman wearing a hijab. Islamophobia is being uncritical of President Obama’s remarks that “it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization.”
Saying “We are all Muslim” does nothing to even begin to recognize these realities, and actually does the opposite and erases them. Allyship is not about centering the conversation on parameters that are comfortable for non-Muslims. It is about elevating our narratives and experiences, supporting us physically and emotionally as we navigate our lives, and truly being invested in dismantling the nation’s racist infrastructure. This requires non-Muslims challenging themselves to address Islamophobia head on, without essentializing or tokenizing. Allyship is understanding Islamophobia didn’t begin a couple weeks ago, but rather has been normalized in our society for far too long.
Addressing Islamophobia means understanding what is at stake and why declaring “we are all Muslims” is a superficial attempt at solidarity. It hinders a discussion about the very real implications of Islamophobia, whether it is violence against individual Muslims as they go about their daily lives or state policies that normalize civil rights abuses and indiscriminate detention and killings of people at home and abroad.
So no, Michael Moore we are not all Muslims. And if this is your attempt to reach out to Muslim Americans to begin to address Islamophobia, than maybe it’s time to start listening to actual Muslims, instead speaking over us.