In the aftermath of Paris we are here yet again, protesting our innocence for something we bear no responsibility for whatsoever
From around 9.20pm on Friday evening onwards, a series of horrifying terror attacks began to hit central Paris that took at least 129 lives and left the world in shock. It was the most deadly attack of its kind to occur on European soil, and evoked a mass global outpouring of condemnation, and condolences for the victims.
And while the terrifying events unfolded over the course of the night, Muslims everywhere were holding their breath waiting for the painful confirmation that the attackers were indeed self-proclaimed Muslims, killing in the name of Islam. And upon hearing the news, our hearts sank. For both the victims of this terrible tragedy committed in our name, and for those that would suffer later as a result.
Almost immediately, I saw Muslims flocking to tweet the #NotAllMuslims hashtag, and found myself asking "Is that really necessary? Must we always have to prove our humanity? Do we really need to constantly spell out that not all Muslims are terrorists?" In fact, no Muslim I know is a terrorist. And probably no Muslim you know either. The Turkish man making your lamb donner kebab is likely not a terrorist, nor was the Pakistani man who sold you cigarettes this morning. I’m sure they were just as shocked and outraged about the Paris attacks as you were. I found myself incredibly frustrated that we were here, yet again, protesting our innocence for something we bear no responsibility for whatsoever.
As I travelled home on the train from central London around midnight, a few hours after the news about Paris broke, I felt incredibly self-conscious and aware of the fact that I was a hijab-wearing Muslim woman travelling alone. After a few lingering stares and drunk tourists gesturing towards me and speaking in languages I couldn’t understand, the sentiment felt clear. Beyond just my discomfort, it dawned on me that terror attacks of this scale in a major European city may change the fabric of our society forever.
Muslims are all too familiar with experiencing daily Islamophobic micro-aggressions, and these increase dramatically around incidents of terrorism in the West, such as after the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, or the murder of Lee Rigby. But often, what can be more disheartening and subtle than out-and-out Islamophobia is the constant expectation, even from friends and peers, for us to loudly and repeatedly condemn these atrocities, atrocities which have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians across the Middle East, Africa and Asia for many years now. Atrocities that tarnish the name of our religion and cause us to be treated with suspicion and hostility. Atrocities that we are fundamentally not responsible for but are expected to apologise for and publicly condemn, in order to reassure people of our innocence. To reassure people of our humanity.
What is always ignored are Muslims' attempts to counter ISIS ideology. While there are extremists in any ideology, I implore people to understand that it is not a case of our religion "allowing" mindless violence and thus all religious Muslims must be seen as a potential threat. ISIS hold no legitimacy in terms of classical Islamic scholarship, they are rejected by all credible scholars and they do not abide by core tenants of Islam. On more than a few occasions they have been shown to have a very limited religious understanding. Last year, over 120 well-known Islamic scholars signed an open letter to ISIS that presented an articulate theological case using traditional Islamic texts to thoroughly denounce core ISIS beliefs.
Yet while most Muslims demonstrate time and time again that we vehemently oppose extremism, it is becoming increasingly clear that the West seems to hold us to standards that they do not even hold themselves to. Amongst those offering condolences was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently invited political ally Egypt’s President Sisi to London, responsible for more than 2,500 state killings of political opponents. Cameron also assisted in the UK brokering a deal last year that saw £5.2 billion of arms sold to 28 countries on the Foreign Office Human Rights blacklist.
As people struggle to come to terms with the recent tragedy in Paris and the terrifying reality that terrorism may now be at our doorstep, they deserve answers. It is for the dignity and safety of Europe and our many privileges here that we start to have an honest conversation about global terrorism. In heaping the blame onto Muslims, public opinion crucially fails to address the elephant in the room. Which is, of course, the role of Western foreign policy in helping give rise to ISIS. Either directly, such as through the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent instability in those regions, as well as the training and funding of different rebel groups in Syria, or indirectly encouraging ISIS recruits by bombing Muslim civilians in numerous unspecified attacks and thus cultivating anti-Western sentiment. I think in 2015 it’s finally time to take a deep breath and admit that the War on Terror was a colossal failure, endangered us all and ultimately created more terrorism than ever.
The goal of these attacks are clear. ISIS themselves declared in their Dabiq magazine, that their aim is to divide the world into two camps, a "camp of Islam" and a "camp of kufr" (meaning disbelief). They seek to destroy the "greyzone" of co-existence between Muslims and the West, stating that "Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices... they either apostatize... so as to live amongst the kuffar without hardship, or they perform hijrah (migration) to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments."
People in Europe must not pander to the "Muslims vs. everybody else" narrative, as this is exactly what ISIS so desperately seek. They detest the fact that so many ordinary Muslims coexist with non-Muslims in secular society. They detest the fact that we prefer to practice our Islam with religious freedom. They want to make conditions for Muslims so intolerable that living under ISIS actually seems appealing, and the West cannot pander to this.
It is innocent civilians, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe and elsewhere, Muslim and non-Muslim, who suffer from the mindless violence and political choices of those who have attained power, without regard for human rights and dire consequences. Instead of alienating Muslims communities, the West should enlist their help in dismantling ISIS ideology from a theological standpoint – the only real way to stop it spreading.