Tony Blair is right, there is a problem within Islam.
It's no secret that headlines can be purposely provocative -- a clear attempt to increase readership by using exaggerated language or failing to provide context. So when I saw headlines on Sunday that read "Tony Blair says 'problem within Islam,'" I was a bit curious. Of course, after about 10 seconds of reading one of the articles, I found some missing context. Discussing the horrific killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, Blair told the Mail on Sunday that while he doesn't believe there is a problem with Islam, he's convinced "there is a problem within Islam." And though the headlines may lack some context, the truth is Tony Blair is not exaggerating at all. There is a problem within Islam, a very big one in fact.
For the better part of the last 10 years, many Muslims in America have been searching for ways to change the image of Islam. Advocacy groups have organized interfaith events, while activists have bravely taken on Islam's critics in the media. We've tried, time and again, to convey to our fellow Americans that Islam itself is not the problem, that extremists have contorted our faith to pursue radical agendas. And we've hoped that in time things would change, just as they had with other marginalized minorities throughout history.
But the reality is that Muslims are not like other marginalized groups. The problem for Muslims is as much about internal disease as it is about external ignorance. Islam is being destroyed -- by Muslims. From cowardly terrorists to radical preachers to brutal dictators, these are the people defining the image of Islam and perpetuating negative stereotypes about Muslims. Every time there is a terrorist attack committed by a Muslim, it sets back years of work by activists and decades of Muslim integration into American society.
Other minority groups that have historically faced prejudice needed to find a way to dispel the fears and biases others had of them. Muslims need to do this and then some. We can't simply hope that over time people will magically become tolerant amid continued violence committed in the name of Islam. We have to be proactive about paring out radicalism. The first step is recognizing the breadth and depth of the problem. Just saying "Well, there will always be crazy people" or "There are terrorists in every religion" isn't helpful. Neither is simply telling people that they are ignorant or uninformed about Islam. Actions speak louder than words, so as long as there are Muslims committing despicable acts, nothing you can possibly say will convince skeptics who can point to the latest attack to undermine your claim.
I don't have the answer to the problem within Islam. No doubt, there are a number of geopolitical and sociological drivers at play. Beyond being vigilant, it's unclear exactly how individual Muslims can prevent terrorism. But at the very least, we should be angry. Very angry. We should respond to terrorist attacks and radical preaching with the same intensity that we have when responding to anti-Muslim harassment and violence. We should spend less time worrying about "Islamophobia" and more time worrying about the vitality of Islam. That's not to say the former is not important, it most certainly is. But the potential destruction of Islam from within is far more important.
Since I was a child, I've watched Islam seemingly morph into something vastly different than what I was taught it was. If we can manage to find a way to eradicate the cancer that is radicalism, we will have also effectively extinguished the driving force behind anti-Muslim sentiment. And most importantly, we will have prevented our religion from changing into something it is not. While we may not know exactly how to do this just yet, the only way to find the solution is to invest as much time and energy in dealing with the problem within Islam, as we've invested in telling people that there isn't a problem with Islam.