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In light of the attacks in Paris, it’s hard to be a Muslim and be able to grieve for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting before the global focus is shifted once again onto how you are to blame because the perpetrators who did this did it in the name of your religion.
Here are some of the reasons why moderate Muslims are emotionally and mentally exhausted by recent events.
1: Muslims need to condemn/take accountability on the killings now!
Muslims have been condemning the actions of all extremists since extremists hurt more Muslims than any other group ever. Who do you think is most impacted by the existence of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Somali pirates and ISIS? Predominantly Muslims, followed by ethnic minorities across the Middle East and Asia like Christians from Mosul and Yazidis, lastly followed by innocent people in the West. If anyone wants these extremists to stop, Muslims would be the FIRST to benefit from the eradication of such groups.
This everyday extremism that takes place in our third world is only newsworthy once it gets to the first world. And when it does, the media is quick to turn around and demand an apology from Muslims, as a monolithic collective group, to defend and distance ourselves from the crazies who have been hurting us.
Let’s conveniently forget the deep-seated issue of how extremism has risen from the poor foreign policy decisions of war-mongers in the US and UK, or the remnants of colonialism. We as Muslims are tasked to take full ownership of the actions of these extremists because they incorrectly call themselves Muslims.
Guilty by association, all 1.6 billion of us.
In case you missed it, newsflash – ISIS has been killing everyone, including innocent Muslims. They targeted Charlie Hebdo because they were particularly loud and obnoxious about Islam, which leads me to my next point:
2. The extremist shooters targeted Charlie Hebdo because they’re against free speech.
The media narrative has been that the shooters’ motivation to attack Charlie Hebdo is because they oppose freedom of speech. Attacking free speech is far too broad and vague of a thing for the extremist to be protesting, but the narrative has run that way because it’s beautifully simplistic isn’t it?
Muslims benefit from freedom of speech too. There have been numerous instances where Muslims could benefit from freedom of speech or other civil rights when they’ve been detained at airports or taken to Guantanamo bay or denied access to a lawyer.
The people shot at Charlie Hebdo were innocent and didn’t deserve to die, and they also reinforced the status quo vis-a-vis Islamophobia, anti-semitism, and racism. There are no buts, there is no victim blaming, they were disrespectful and had a right to be and didn’t deserve to die for being rude. A lot of people struggle to see it this way so soon after the shootings but this is true.
They shouldn’t be held as martyrs of freedom of speech, because it’s an insult to freedom of speech and the journalists and political prisoners who have actually braved their way around governments that severely punish you for speaking against them. Charlie Hebdo wrote and drew comfortably their office in Paris, not reporting on war crimes in the third world. Even within France their satire doesn’t touch upon important social issues such as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” did, nor does it question political issues the way our favorite satirist Stephen Colbert from “The Colbert Report” does. Charlie Hebdo instead drew religious icons in explicitly pornographic positions and caricatured a black politician as a monkey once. How does that contribute to the noble cause of freedom of speech?
Charlie Hebdo enjoyed a great deal of freedom of speech, but I wouldn’t say that they stood for it. If anything, their content ran closer towards hate speech. Europe is experiencing a shift in right-wing politics as a wave of immigration continues in from war-torn countries, and instead of creating a dialog on how the growing multiculturalism in Paris can find harmony with each other or how the immigration issue could otherwise be resolved, the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo instead specialized in creating Islamophobic and racist content. In many first world countries Charlie Hebdo would not be published because their content is so offensive and, frankly, vile, as it was intended to be.
3. You’re either #JeSuisCharlie or you’re #JeNeSuisPasCharlie
The discussion on the Charlie Hebdo shooting has been polarized to either you’re either #JeSuisCharlie or #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. You’re either with us or against us. You’re either pro-ISIS and against free speech or you’re pro free speech and Islamophobic/racist/xenophobic.
At a time of crisis when solidarity and understanding is more important than ever, people are forced to choose between lionizing vile cartoonists who didn’t deserve to die and being against vile cartoonist and at risk of appearing unsympathetic at their deaths.
4. You could be #JeSuisAhmed
#JeSuisAhmed started trending once news broke that one of the response officers that was killed was Muslim. As one tweet succintly read, One tweet read, “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.” For people who still doubt that Muslims condemn violence, remember that the first officer to respond and die in defending Charlie was a Muslim. And for people who continue to doubt where Muslims stand when it comes to terrorism, remember how Malala Yousefzai survived the Taliban in order to promote education for girls. Muslims condemn terrorism because it goes against the teachings of Islam and they are often victims of it, not just in the East but also in the West. Mosques have already been attacked in France following the Charlie Hebdo incident and a leading international human rights lawyer was asked if he supports ISIS, merely because he was Muslim.
Extremism continues to be appealing to troubled people within marginalized societies precisely because of the prejudice and intolerance they face trying to go about their daily lives in Europe and the US, and the troubled ones further abroad turn to extremism after a miserable existence under drones, militarization and occupation drove them to desperate measures. Progress against terrorism will only happen once we address the root causes, and not attack people through the tenuous association of religion.
So if you meet a Muslim in the following weeks and you want to talk to them about the Charlie Hebdo shooting, start with the assumption that they’re on the same fighting side as you. Otherwise, seriously just leave Muslims alone, we have an uphill battle fight to save our reputation of 1.6 billion people away from the handful of psychotic lunatics.
Khalisah K. Stevens is an American-Malaysian living in the Middle East. A graduate with a degree in International Relations and a minor in History, she follows current events and gender issues and champions multiculturalism to create a space for third culture kids (TCKs) like her.