‘Do you now condemn what he does?’
On the 26th February 2015, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow asked the above question to Asim Qureshi, research director of the advocacy group CAGE. Snow was asking Qureshi if he condemns the actions of Mohammed Emwazi - otherwise known as the ISIS murderer Jihadi John. Writing about this interview five years later, Qureshi describes how he was made to feel responsible for atrocities he did not commit. He believes Snow only asked this question because he's a Muslim.
Qureshi argues that his experience fits into a broader picture of ‘condemnation culture’. This can be understood as the expectation on people of colour to condemn acts of violence they are not connected with. I Refuse to Condemn: Resisting Racism in Times of National Security is a collection of 17 essays, introduced and edited by Qureshi, exploring how racism is embedded in this culture of condemnation. Each essay carves out a way of resisting the normalisation of racism in Western societies. They are written from different perspectives, including those of a rapper, lawyer, comedian and an academic. From these various positions, the essays are written in a highly personal way, bringing a vitality to the book.
Why is condemnation culture so problematic? I can give a cursory picture - contributor Yassir Morsi argues "it is a regressive initiation act for Muslims to enter the symbolic space of the War on Terror that denies one half of our being" (chapter 7); Qureshi says that it is a double standard as "no expectation to condemn is made of the larger White society"; Remi Joseph-Salisbury explains that it leads to a focus on the communities rather than on structural racism and Islamophobia (chapter 5); Sadia Habib argues that it "charts the territory of blaming the Muslim collective, narrows the conversation, and perpetuates Islamophobia" (chapter 11).
What many of the essays have in common is the recognition of a double burden of condemnation. As the contributors explain, if people of colour agree to condemn acts of terror, they are confirming the racism that's inherent in this question. Agreement re-affirms racist stereotypes and dehumanisation of people of colour, but if they refuse to condemn they're portrayed by authorities as 'terrorist sympathisers' or apologists for gang culture. This book argues that refusing to condemn acts of violence is not condoning them. Instead, it's an act of resistance against racism.
In 2015, the refusal to condemn embroiled the organisation Qureshi works for, CAGE, in controversy. The organisation stopped receiving funding from two charities. The Guardian explains this in the context of the organisation being ‘keen to point out the role of the British security services in his [Emwazi’s] radicalisation and reluctant to directly and explicitly condemn his actions’. As an organisation, CAGE aims to ‘empower communities impacted by the war on terror’. Critics have accused the organisation of being an apologist for terror.
I Refuse to Condemn is a thought-provoking and powerful book, which fits into a much wider debate. As a sympathetic but relatively uninformed newcomer to lots of the ideas it presents, the book encouraged me to educate myself more on this topic and look for a range of articles that could clarify my questions and allow me to form a concrete opinion. Whether you agree with the book's perspectives or not, it undoubtedly succeeds in making the reader reflect on ways of challenging the normalisation of racism.
Hi, I'm Evie Nichols, I am a member of Our Books Now (OSN's Book Club) and in my second year studying History and French at university!
Author: Edited by Asim Qureshi
Published by: Manchester University Press
Genre: Non-fiction; An anthology of essays
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