There is no way to justify the actions of the four men who savagely murdered 12 innocent people in Paris. Any reasonable human being -— whatever their denomination — can and should condemn such violence as pointless acts of terror.
However, distinguishing Muslims from fanatics is too subtle a line for some pundits, regardless of their politics, to negotiate. In the aftermath of the massacre, business magnate Rupert Murdoch condemned all Muslims as culpable for standing aside while a lunatic minority poisons the well. Bill Maher, who has a history of vilifying Islam, continued his campaign of misinformation by alleging that “the terrorists and the mainstream share a lot of [. . .] bad ideas.”
As a Muslim, it is deeply injurious to me and my faith to be lumped together with radicals who embrace violence as a negotiating tool while horrifically misinterpreting Islam. If you truly believe all Muslims spinelessly bow their heads in the face of extremist badgering or silently believe their actions are noble, then you are really not paying attention.
In the wake of the murders, prominent Muslim leadership groups in France, Britain, and North America immediately and vociferously denounced the killers. Even Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of a Lebanese Hezbollah group, condemned the Parisian attack “in the name of all Muslims,” and accused extremists of doing more harm to Islam than “anyone else in history.”
Though I am a moderate Muslim living in Canada, I am continually asked to speak for the action of fascistic killers whose line of thinking is alien to mainstream Islam. While some media sources, such as Vox and The Huffington Post, have decried the inanity of such racially motivated thinking, there is a deep-seated belief in the Western world that Muslims are not doing enough to voice our opposition to terrorism.
In The New York Observer last year, Nina Burleigh fired at Muslims while discussing our response to ISIS (despite, you know, Muslim countries actively fighting it): “Muslims might actually want to, if not apologize for, at least renounce, loudly and frequently, what’s being done in the name of their religion. Yet [. . .] to say that is to risk being accused of Islamophobia and much, much worse.”
Here’s the thing: while Islamist radicalism has raged destructively for years, assuming that Islam promulgates violence is completely wrong. The murders at Charlie Hebdo weren’t because radicals were upset about offensive illustrations of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) — the cartoons were the tinder in a growing bonfire of sectarian and religious discord.
Let’s talk about the drawings for a second, because they are key to the current argument. In Christianity, Jesus has risen to the lofty perch of a divine being; every aspect of his life — from birth to death — is mythologized. In Islam, the Prophet took pains during his life to ensure that he would not be accorded divinity. He insisted that he was a normal man who happened to be contacted by God.
If you believe all Muslims spinelessly bow their heads in the face of extremist badgering, you are really not paying attention.
This narrative has become part of Islam’s core, despite the schisms that began to arise in the religion less than 50 years after the Prophet’s death. It has become a central tenet of Islam that glorifying the Prophet as anything more than a man is akin to idol worship; therefore, illustrations of him (whether in criticism, comedy, or praise) violate that tenet and deeply offend Muslims. It is an offense to us that carries the same weight as suggesting to devout Christians that Jesus was not divine.
This is where all the folks carrying “Je Suis Charlie” billboards while demanding wholesale apologies from Muslims completely miss the point. The murders were not an attempt to repress freedom of speech or the press. This assumption simplifies Muslims as humourless fanatics who respond to pencils with swords. Islamic radicalism is connected to the Western societies that have bought into grossly distorted perceptions of Islam that reduce the humanity of Muslims.
In France, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, resentment has been bubbling for decades. In 1990, Le Monde reported that 76 per cent of French polled said that there were too many Arabs and Berbers in France. The hijab, a key element of the religious identity of female Muslims, was banned in France in 2010, resulting in insulting ‘security checks’ that incited multiple riots in 2014.
In 2010, the Telegraph reported that 28 per cent of the French population believed that Arabs were more likely to commit a crime than other ethnic groups. During the 2012 presidential election, the Front National Party — on a platform including harsh immigration policies and strict definitions of nationalism — captured 18 per cent of the vote. As of 2013, Muslims composed 10 percent of the French population but more than half of the prison population.
Young Muslims who have been reduced in French society and are hostile towards the majority are now easy prey for Jihadists and Islamist recruiters. They do not preach Islam. Not the Islam that I know, that my parents, grandparents and their parents practice and have practiced. Jihadists preach hate, and use alienation as the millstone for their sword.
The only way to ensure religious harmony is to address the root of the discord, which becomes difficult to do when tone deaf media outlets and populist politicians jump on outbursts of violence as a justification for the continually negative representation of Muslims and repressive policy-making.
This trend was starkly demonstrated in France just two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack, when pro-Palestinian demonstrations were outlawed. Such actions give fundamentalists further stock to recruit youth in a country that they feel has rejected them. When their national identity is stripped away by the nation itself, the adrift look to Islam — their only remaining identity — as a justification for revenge.
I condemn the violence of Muslim extremists without reservation. I condemn so-called religious leaders who manipulate lost youth with messages of hate. I condemn enemies of freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the freedom to a dignified and peaceful life.
But I do not have the authority to speak for all Muslims. I do not know them, I cannot speak for them, and denouncing them on an endless loop to satisfy loaded questions from people like Nina Burleigh, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill Maher has no value.
Yet so it goes.