Paris attacks: Racial hatred, social disintegration a greater threat than terrorism

Muslims came under scrutiny after the Charlie Hebdo attacks

I am a Muslim who has been living in Europe for 40 years. I am not a terrorist and yet, like all Muslims, I have been made to feel like one in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.

This increasingly inextricable linkage between Islam and terrorism is extremely dangerous, emotive, politically-motivated, and illogical. Should every Westerner stand associated with the deaths of the 300 thousands victims of the war in Iraq? Or the 50 thousand killed in the course of French-led bombardments in Libya?

Obviously not, so why do we, Muslims, stand associated with these massacres in Paris?

The message from the French media is strongly neo-colonial, along the lines of “how dare these inferior Arabs strike their masters.”

We are sure that one reason this message is still inherent in the French psyche is that France reluctantly conceded independence to its North African colonies only in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Political, economic, ideological, social and judicial dominance over its Arab protectorates is still well within living memory; resentment for that surrendered empire still lingers.

The inflammatory reactions to the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the kosher supermarket murders (although it is still not clear whether the victims in the latter were killed by the hostage-takers or the police when they raided the shop) by the media and some French politicians are, in some ways, more dangerous than the crimes themselves.

Now the floodgates are open to a venomous tidal wave of hatred and violence against Islam and Europe’s Muslims.

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French President Francois Hollande, speaking on national television, talked about “the war we are facing,” strongly implying this was against Islam, although his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, was quick to correct this impression stressing that France is “in a war against terrorism and not against a religion”.

Marine le Pen, leader of the neo-fascist Front National was not so coy and has made an explicit correlation between the terror attacks in Paris and Muslim immigration from the Maghreb.

French Muslims feel under siege

What happened in France is criminal terrorism for which the whole world bears a responsibility. Why do we, as Muslims in Europe, have to feel that we must prove our innocence, live under increasing scrutiny and suspicion, and feel that we must go on protests denouncing terrorism in order to prove that we are not, ourselves, criminals or terrorists?

This was not the mind-set of the two million people who marched in London in 2003 demanding that Tony Blair refuse to back George W. Bush in his mindless assault on Iraq. Nor did they feel implicated in the subsequent murders of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Must every one of America’s 300 million citizens personally absolve themselves of the crimes the White House, Pentagon and Army commit in one Muslim country after another?

And we ask again – should the French people, on their marches, individually and collectively apologize to us Muslims for the bombings and murders of Libyan nationals, and now, Syrians and Iraqis too?


Since Wednesday, there has been a wave of attacks on mosques and Muslim individuals and families. Guns have been fired into Muslim prayer rooms and hand grenades thrown. In Corsica a pig’s head and entrails were nailed to the door of a mosque. Hate-filled anti-Muslim graffiti is proliferating. French Muslims are now living in a state of great fear and anxiety.

Is freedom of speech really absolute?
Is freedom of speech really absolute?

The three or four perpetrators of these crimes were killed stone dead by the French police. We wish that at least one had been kept alive so that we could find out the full details of the attacks, what their motives were and whether they were, as claimed, sent by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And so that they could take responsibility for their crimes in a court of law, be tried, and pay the price.

By removing individual accountability from these criminals, the blame instead has been spread onto the entire 6 million-strong Muslim population of France. With no-one to stand trial, so that justice can be seen to be done, every Muslim man, woman, and child stands accused and will feel punished by increasing social isolation and hostility from non-Muslims.

It is quite possible that the ideological intention of these attacks was to fuel religious discord, weakening the fabric of European society. This is precisely how ISIS has been able to thrive – more than a decade into the deliberately fomented sectarian discord in Iraq first and, latterly, throughout the Middle East.

In any case, the result will be Europe’s multi-cultural societies turning in on themselves, with trust, social peace, coexistence and stability within societies rapidly diminishing. We must all work hard to reverse this strong current, leaders and people alike.

Charlie Hebdo

Yes we are all “Charlie Hebdo” in the face of violence, killings and terrorism instead of dialogue and peaceful expression of views; but we must still say “no” to deliberate insults and incitement against the believers of any religion, but in this case the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Why hurt the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims when you claim you are living in a racially and religiously tolerant society? It simply shows deeply-ingrained disrespect, insensitivity and a blindness to the passion with which Muslims love their God.

Two of the attackers
Two of the attackers

The editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo were well aware of just how provocative their actions would be and other, wiser, publications did not decide to bait a section of the population for sport, humour and fun. I don’t believe any American or British mainstream media outlets reprinted the weekly newspaper’s deeply offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) naked and in pornographic poses. Are these outlets against freedom of expression? Of course not, they are a) sensitive and b) sensible.

Most European States have legislation in place which makes any attempt to deny the Holocaust a crime punishable by seven years imprisonment. British historian David Irving currently languishes behind bars in Austria pursuant to this sentence. Is the Holocaust more worthy of protection than the religious sanctity and holiness of the Messenger for more than 1.5 billion Muslims?

The truth is that prejudice and incitement by the ignorant against Muslims is racially motivated. Muslims, unlike Jews, are too much “other” for some in the West to accept, whether they try to integrate or not.

Just as some Muslim spokespeople are now demanding discipline and moderation and condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, so we call on the European media and governments to exercise wisdom and prudence and avoid all forms of incitement.

A start would be to avoid conflating “terrorism” with “Islam.” So great is the tide of Islamophobia that, in a recent poll, half of all Germans said that they considered Muslims to be their enemies.

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