We really need to talk about Mehdi Hasan’s latest video for the Intercept.
In the clip titled, Caliph Donald Trump and the Rise of the Christian Taliban, broadcaster and journalist Hasan spends nearly four minutes warning his viewers about the “Christian Taliban”, or the “Bible-thumping fundamentalists who are bent on theocratising the US government.”
Using Islamic terminology, Hasan raises the alarm about the policies of the Christian right. For instance, he argues that they want “sharia law”, of the “Biblical variety”, and then goes on to speak of the multiple “mullahs” in the Trump administration, ending with “Caliph Trump” himself. In the video, Hasan also compares the use of “To God be the Glory” by the Christian right to intervene in the secular legal system to the quintessential angry Muslim screaming “Allahu Akbar”.
Hasan is not the first person to invoke Islam when speaking of extremism within other religions. He is just part of a growing group of liberals and leftists who think it’s trendy to use Islam and Muslims as a prop against religious extremism around the world, and especially in the United States.
The use of comparisons is a quick and easy way to make a point and to appeal to moderates and liberals, who are often convinced that it is religious fundamentalism alone that is the source of all evils.
And certainly, religious fundamentalists of all stripes seek to use scripture to justify their actions. But whereas the intention of Hasan’s video, for instance, might have been to give a speedy (and clearly viral) lesson about the pervasive nature of religious extremism, his use of “the Muslim extremist” tropes and attempt to rely on Islamic terms is actually quite destructive.
Hasan’s video relegates Islamic terminologies, which Muslim leaders and scholars have been working hard to reclaim, to the inaccurate definitions advanced by Islamophobes. In turn, “mullah” – which simply refers to someone who is learned in Islamic law and theology – becomes synonymous with “religious bigot”.