On January 7th, twelve people have been shot dead in a terrific terrorist attack against one of the symbols of freedom in France: the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and during three days France has been targeted by other acts of terrorism. French Republic has been heart-stricken through the impugnation of one of its symbols. In total, seventeen innocent people died, and French citizens feel consternation, grief and anger whatever their faith or ethnicity.
The victims of Charlie Hebdo’s attack – famous cartoonists and journalists – have been killed by two people who said they perpetrated this abominable act to avenge Prophet Muhammad, caricatured in 2006, which provoked a wave of indignation in Middle-East countries and among Muslims in the Western world. In France, what happened on January 7th in Paris is the last episode of this plague we are living with, and we are fighting against every day: terrorism. But let’s keep in mind that this is a crime not only against Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech, but also against Islam and Muslims.
We need to say and repeat that Islam has nothing to do with that. These acts are the ugly face of barbarism. The Quran says that the one who kills a man kills the whole mankind. But people from the street now don’t believe that anymore. They consider Islam as a religion of hatred, violence, and destruction. How could we blame them for that? The terrible paradox of the situation is that these acts are perpetrated in the name of Islam whereas Islam explicitly condemns the killing of innocents. So how can we cope with that? This is the main challenge Muslims in Western countries, and in France nowadays, are facing.
Obviously and inevitably, this barbaric attack will lead to a surge of islamophobia in France, which is already very strong and pervades all strata of society. Since the attack against Charlie Hebdo, several anti-Muslims acts: two mosques have been attacked and a Muslim family has been assaulted in a car. This is only the beginning. Obviously and inevitably, extreme right parties and small groups motivated by the rejection of the other and xenophobia in a context of a tough economic crisis will exploit this terrorist attack shameless and endless. Journalist Eric Zemmour’s book about the “French suicide” provides, over the last months, one of the illustrations of this feeling.
After the attack and despite President Hollande called for a national union, a few voices rang asking Muslims to apologize and condemn terrorism and fundamentalism. In the Muslim community, two main attitudes prevail: those who accept to apologize and justify, and those who refuse, arguing correctly that Muslims are not separated from the rest of the Nation but, as French citizens, are part of the Nation. In that respect, the injunction to condemn and apologize, as Muslims rather than citizens, something that is completely at the opposite of the Islamic precepts, sounds like a provocation. Let’s say that again: Muslims do not have to apologize as Muslims, they have to react as French citizens.
And still, we cannot deny that a few people in France, as in the whole Western world, are prone to sink in extremism and violence. It is the case among the Muslim community but also in other parts of society. Driven by rage, anxiety, disorientation, they become sensitive to sirens blaring from conspiracy theories that grow as weeds because of the devastating foreign policy implemented by the Western countries, with the United States taking the lead, in the Middle East and the attitude and the impunity of Israel against Palestinians. Understanding this cycle does not mean justifying it. Nevertheless, Muslims have to struggle against this temptation inside their community.
We are now in France at a crossroads. After what is being considered as a French 9/11, nothing will be as before. The divisions between communities will be strengthened. French Muslims will have to face and deal with a growing anti-Islam distrust among their compatriots. Above all, they must stay united inside the nation and struggle against the poison of extremism precisely fed by islamophobia and divisions. But politicians and leaders have also a huge responsibility: they must not fan the flames of the discord and look for scapegoats pointing the French Muslims. If we do not reconcile and move forward together, beyond our identities and particularities, we will fall into the terrorist trap.