Confessions of a moderate Muslim: Speaking truth in an era of representation

M. Tabbaa

The University of Melbourne

There is an incredible amount of pressure on Muslims today to declare that they are good, ‘moderate’ Muslims who denounce violence and extremism. Much energy is therefore exerted by Muslims to orally demonstrate their goodness, usually in the form of public condemnations of ‘bad’ Muslims. What is the status of this declaration, and how do we account for the unrelenting pressure to perform it?

In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault demonstrates how the ritual of confession became a mainstay in modern western societies, famously concluding, “western man has become a confessing animal”. Utilizing Foucault’s work, I demonstrate how an accusatory process underlies Muslim public speech acts, and in particular, condemnations. I argue that, against a background of accusation and suspicion, and a historically grounded practice of speech as a representation of truth, the Muslim declaration comes to take the form of a public confession. Through a case study of the Sydney Muslim blasphemy protests of 2012, I demonstrate how the accusation process positions the Muslim as harboring a truth – concealing a secret – which operates as an efficient technique for the production of their speech. Through a variety of benign techniques of accusation, such as mistakes and examinations, the Muslim is enticed and incited to publicly confess their truth; or, to put it conversely, as a response to the accusation process, Muslim speech is produced as confession.


Mohamad Tabbaa is a PhD Candidate in Criminology and Law at The University of Melbourne. His thesis explores the intersections of speech, truth and violence, through a Foucouldian reading of the Muslim blasphemy protests in Sydney, 2012. Mohamad has also worked extensively within the Muslim community in Australia, including as Executive Director and Media Representative at the Islamic Council of Victoria. Mohamad is currently the Founding Director of the online educational hub, Mohamad lives in Hobart with his wife and two young children.


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