I participated in the online support campaigns with the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie and I still support all attempts, by anyone, to highlight the importance of freedom of speech. I was never a big fan of Charlie Hebdo, but that they have the right to publish whatever they want is, for me, non-debatable. I don’t even debate this topic with people anymore. If you’re bothered by something, write about it, ‘complain’, do something – that’s your right as well! But that people are allowed to express whichever view they hold is non-negotiable. I couldn’t care less if you think that drawing a Messiah or a Prophet (capital M and P are intentional) is offensive. Being Offended is not a Right, it’s your choice.
But this is what, besides the actual attack, bothered me the most: people asking, in their thousands, “why aren’t Muslims condemning this?” Well, they are, you’re probably just ignoring them (note: read the comments of that post before continuing here). Muslims, like pretty much anyone else – except the Neo-Nazis who relish it -, have been condemning this since Day 1 which, for most Westerners it seems, started on September the 11th, 2001 (though Western terrorism against Muslims is much, much older). But why should they condemn it “in the name of Islam” or preface their condemnation with “as a Muslim?”
How is being a Muslim relevant here? If you were a Muslim, I understand the need to do so given the environment you’re living in. Every time a Muslim farts somewhere in the West, there has to be a certain number of ‘fellow Muslims’, preferably in the West and Middle East who condemn them, a scenario exclusive to Muslims, not Christians or Jews. How can ‘we’ connect to the “Muslim World”? Why isn’t the “Muslim World” more tolerant? Just look at these questions, how they’re phrased.
Please, stop it.
There is no such thing as the Muslim World, just as there is no such thing as the Christian World or the Jewish World or the Buddhist World. There are countless Muslim communities in the world, with similarities (as human beings and as part of the same religion) and many more differences (national, cultural, individual etc). There are Australian Islams and there are French Islams and there are Saudi Islams and Malaysian Islams. Hell, there’s even Chinese Islam (would you believe it?!) – fun fact: Aladdin was a Muslim Chinese. What kind of discussion would a Sufi Turk have with a Saudi Wahhabi and with a Twelver Shia Iranian? You’d need an interpreter first of all to translate and I can assure you that yours truly, an Atheist, would have more to talk about with the Sufi and Twelver than the Sufi and Twelver would with the Wahhabi, or even with each other. In fact, I have a feeling that Saudi Wahhabism which is lucky enough to be located where the West’s favorite Oil Kingdom is located is the most detested ideology in Islamic History. Where are the ‘Is Wahhabism a threat to Civilization’ debates?
Am I to apologize for the support of State Terrorism by fellow Atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens? Am I asked by Theists “why aren’t you condemning them!”?. They have cited their disbelief in and hatred of Theism as at least partly related to their support of American Foreign Policy which, because Arab and Muslim blood is cheap and because it is of a Statist nature, gets described, at best, as “disproportionate” (what’s ‘proportionate’ terrorism?) or “aggressive” or “unreasonable” rather than outright Terrorism with a capital T. How many Jews need to apologize for the actions of the State of Israel ‘in the name of Judaism’? How many Christians need to apologize for the Terrorism of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda ‘in the name of Christianity’? How many Christians had to apologize for the Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting (the terrorist thought they were Muslims)? Why do Christians get to it’s-politics-not-religion it, but not Muslims? Netanyahu gets a boner whenever terrorism strikes in the West – he knows how to use that as Hasbara – and prefaces “We as Jews” whenever he declares that Gazan children are about to be slaughtered in their hundreds – Over 500 children murdered in 50 days last summer – which he calls “making noise“. Would Ben Laden calling 9/11 ‘making noise’ have gotten away with it? Do I message my American Jewish friends everytime this Neo-Nazi par excellence makes a Racist Speech (read: all of his speeches)? Do I message that one Ugandan man I met in my travels and ask him to please speak out in the name of Ugandan Christianity?
This is absurd. It’s collective ridicule, if not collective punishment, and collective bullying, of 1.6 billion people who subscribe to the Islamic faith. That’s a lot of people regardless of whether the #KillAllMuslims folks wish to accept it or not (note: a huge number of them seem to be Americans, not Europeans). Why is it that we have debates with the title “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” – debates that don’t necessarily even include Muslims. What kind of question is that? And haven’t you already answered it yourself? The only common denominator in such debates is not Islam itself, but hatred of Muslims. And any discussion that includes some vilification of that old heterogeneous, not-a-historical, religion is a no-brainer. Think of how insulting it must be to hear the word “Moderate Muslims” describe pretty much every Muslim in the world as though they were a minority in a sea of madness. Imagine, for just a moment, what it must be like to be a Muslim in the post 9/11 West.
I remember the day when the filth known as Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people on the 22nd of July 2011. I had just landed in Madagascar for a project and met Eirik, a Norwegian from Bergen. There was no talk of the dangers of Norwegian Christianity – Breivik is a Christian – on civilization. We understood it for what it was: Terrorism, pure and simple, with its own internal messed-up logic. A crime of unspeakable proportions that requires no special condemnation by “Moderate Christians” – we did not ask our ‘Moderate Christian’ friend from Kenya to apologize! Have you read Breivik’s ‘manifesto’? I (unfortunately) have and it’s a mess of Far-Right Zionism, Islamophobia and anti-Marxism, not “Christianity”. Europe was being invaded by Islam! How many more Europeans today believe that psychopath in their hearts? Just hang out around any YouTube video that remotely deals with Islam and see what kind of comments Muslims get. Oh but how easy it is to forget Breivik! But Muslims? No. They need to be reminded every single day that there is someone somewhere calling himself a Muslim and doing things in the name of Islam. Thank goodness I don’t get associated with crazy Atheists, I’d never hear the end of it.
Just to make things clear. This is not a defense of Islam, nor is it a criticism of Islam. Both deal with very vague concepts that are decontexualized and removed of all meaning. Words like ‘terror’ and ‘tolerance’ only mean something when the ‘Other’ is being depicted, not when we talk about ‘Us’. Which Islam should I be defending/attacking? Whose Islam? The Islam of the 21st century? The Islam of Europe? France? Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Turkey? Malaysia? China? Australia? The Islam of Tariq Ramadan? Mehdi Hassan? Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Ash-Sheikh? Rahmi Yaran? Can we put them in a category? Can we put 1.6 billion people in one category? I have absolutely no idea how to do that, and I have yet to read any article by anyone who did. Islam exists in society, with its own context, its own time, its own detractors and supporters.
This is a criticism of a very dangerous game that only benefits the very wealthy who are immune of the repercussions of mindless hatred. It is the average food seller on the street who will be attacked, not the Saudi grand Mufti – the latter can do whatever the hell he wants (repeat after me: Oil). It is the poor Muslim immigrant from Tunisia who will be punished, not the rich Muslim ‘investor’ from Qatar. This very, very, very dangerous – I cannot stress this enough – game of Othering never ends well, which is exactly what the Neo-Nazis want. As a non-Muslim French commentator, sitting alongside a local Muslim Mufti, said on French television yesterday evening: “this is not just an attack, but a trap.” And let’s not fall for this trap. This terror attack was a terror attack, period. Condemn them, ask them to explain themselves, ask them to apologize.
// Reading List //
Teju Cole: ‘It is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech.” // Unmournable Bodies (New Yorker, Jan 9 ’15)
Glenn Greenwald: ‘To comport with this new principle for how one shows solidarity with free speech rights and a vibrant free press, we’re publishing some blasphemous and otherwise offensive cartoons about religion and their adherents.” // In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons (The Intercept, Jan 9 ’15)
Interview: ‘Muslims across France are fearing a backlash after Wednesday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. ” // French Muslims Fear Backlash, Increased Islamophobia After Charlie Hebdo Attack (DemocracyNow!, Jan 9 ’15)
Ramzy Baround: ‘This is not about Islam. This is about why Islam is the subject of this discussion in the first place, when we should be addressing the real roots of violence” // War begets war: It’s not about Islam; it never was (MiddleEastEye, Jan 7 ’15)
Scott Long: ‘To abhor what was done to the victims is not the same as to become them.” // Why I Am Not Charlie (Paper Bird, Jan 9 ’15)