I participated in the online support campaign #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. If you’re bothered by something, write about it, ‘complain’, do something – that’s your right. 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.
Besides the horrific attack, what bothered me the most was thousands of people asking, “why aren’t Muslims condemning this?”
The answer is they are, you’re probably just ignoring them. Muslims, like pretty much anyone else – except the Neo-Nazis who relish it -, have been condemning terrorism since Day 1, which, for most Westerners it seems, started on September 11, 2001.
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, but with many more national, cultural, and individual differences. There are Australian Islams and there is French Islams and there are Saudi Islams and Malaysian Islams. Hell, there’s even a 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 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!”? 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 (public diplomacy) – and prefaces “we as Jews” whenever he declares that Gazan children are about to be slaughtered. Over 500 children were murdered in Gaza in 50 days last summer – which he called “making noise“. Would Bin Laden have gotten away with calling 9/11 ‘making noise’? Do I message my American Jewish friends every time this Neo-Nazi par excellence makes a racist speech (which happens to be 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. It's 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.
Breivik killed 77 in Norway & no-one asked me as a white male of Nordic Christian background if I felt the need to condemn it. #CharlieHebdo
— ChristianChristensen (@ChrChristensen) January 7, 2015
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 that 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.
Based in Lebanon, Joey Ayoub covers Palestine, Lebanon and the Middle East for Global Voices and runs the blog HummusForThought, where this post was originally published. He wishes to push fellow Atheists to speak out against discrimination of all kind, including religious groups. He tweets at @JoeyAyoub