Following the Paris attacks, discussions with friends and observing trends on Twitter I felt compelled to write this post. As a Muslim with some French origins, I am moved to defend both my heritage and my religion. I write with a heavy heart for the trauma that has befallen a city I love, and that Muslims must once more confirm their human compassion. Before going any further I would like to stress that these views are my own and I am by no means speaking for any community.
The unfolding response to the attacks has largely been one of solidarity with the Parisian people. As feared, this was soon followed by splitting of public opinion, with the emergence of accusations that Muslims are to blame for this atrocity. To be clear, I am not saying that those guilty are not a particular group of Muslims. However, perspective is quickly lost and Muslims as a whole are condemned. This is part of a wider issue. Ideas about the identity and beliefs of Muslims are repeatedly tainted by the actions of a minority. Worryingly these misguided ideas are, all be it slowly, becoming fixed views of ever increasing sections of society.
The emerging anti-Islamic views have been contested fiercely by both Muslims and non-Muslims with #NotAllMuslims and #MuslimsAreNotTerrorist trending on Twitter. I am repeatedly humbled by non-Muslims who have spoken out in support of Islam. There is recognition that the perpetrators are in fact murderers, who despise the ideals of our society and happen to be Muslims.
Joining the condemnation of these attacks, Muslims have reminded the world that Islam does not advocate killing innocent people. It is troubling though, that Muslims feel obliged to do so, in case society should doubt that we too, are deeply saddened by these attacks. We pull out our stock phrases and quotes from the Quran: Islam is a religion of peace, “whoever kills an innocent person it is as if he has killed all of humanity” (Quran 5:32). Yet this response seems to fall short and in many respects, rings hollow. Rather, headlining inspirational Muslims such as Zouheir (the security guard who prevented one of the bombers entering the stadium as picked up in the Wall Street Journal) would do more to counteract stereotypes. Yet Muslims often do not speak of acts of compassion as we are taught a rather exaggerated sense of modesty. The Sikh community welcomed people into Gudwaras as part of #PorteOuverte. I find myself wondering, if Muslims opened up Mosques in the same way. They may have done so. But we know little about the supportive acts of Muslims in the aftermath of the attacks. Many would assume therefore, no support was given. If we wish to change the negative mindsets of others, we Muslims need to come out of the shadows.
In the backlash of the Paris attacks, inequalities in responses to civilian deaths throughout the world have been highlighted. Emotionally charged Muslims have tweeted that Muslims around the world die every day such as those in the Middle East. Whilst I do not dispute this, these comments further split communities with an “us and them” mentality. I would like to take a few moments to explore this further.
The truth we all know; everyday there are people dying the world over. Our emotional responses are influenced by several factors such as selective media reports and cognitive biases including proximity and identification with victims. However as a species, humans often ignore death because it is painful, regardless of our beliefs about an afterlife. We defend ourselves from the knowledge of this painful ending in order to live our lives for the moment. So if sometimes we turn a blind eye to the daily suffering and death which we hear of in the news, this is in part, a mechanism to cope with our mortality which we are all prone to.
The Paris attacks and other atrocities break through our defences and we are forced to face the sad truth of our mortality. As it is, death is painful. But death, when brutal, unexpected and en mass, will inevitably generate a large outcry in response. Not only is it death we face; it is murder, a traumatic theft of life. Perhaps subconsciously such emotional responses contain our personal fears about death.
I am not advocating this as a means to excuse our ignorance of mankind’s daily sufferings. Rather, an explanation of the mass emphatic response we see to traumatic events. So comments in the vein: “other people are dying too” do not change perceptions. They only act to increase tensions and split people recognising the sadness associated with the loss of life.
Sadly, the Paris attacks form part of a long list of assaults upon our society. With every terrorist attack, I fear the intolerance of differences is further entrenched. Be it locally or globally, our society is becoming further polarised. The increasingly charged atmosphere, renders all of us vulnerable to a storm that seems only inevitable. Yet the world’s response to the Paris attacks was a beautiful show of support. If all terrorists attacks were met with such a show of solidarity, we could perhaps come together in the strive for world peace.