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What can the Charlie Hebdo Tragedy teach us? – No to Islamophobia.

The events of the past week and the deaths of 17 innocent people have sent shockwaves around the world. The BBC reports that 1.6 million people and more than 40 world leaders have gathered to show solidarity, protest against terrorism and mourn over the horrific events. This is one of the biggest rallies in the history of Modern France. Support has not only come from Parisians and world leaders but from all over the world: in London, Cairo, Montreal, Beirut, Sydney and Tokyo amongst others.

The murder of the 17 individuals is an unfortunate event and the perpetrators should undoubtedly be internationally condemned. However, the temptation for a chilling number of people is to jump to illogical conclusions. The idea that “the killers were Muslim, therefore Islam and all Muslims are a problem” is problematic. Pressure is present for you to conclude it – if you fail to make this questionable link, you may be criticised for being “lazy” as Cultural Secretary Saijid Javid has claimed. According to Mr Javid, it is “no good” for society to claim that the killers in Paris were not true Muslims. This is the essential point however – no one is denying they were Muslims. What there is to deny is that this extremist and rare mindset that belongs to a miniscule number of people belongs to all Muslims. It may be more the case of what Frank Furedi notes, namely that “they are simply terrorists who happen to be Muslim”.

Shortly after the deaths, UKIP leader Nigel Farage contributed to the debate with his messiah complex to save so-called liberal and tolerant Britain from immigrants. Unsurprisingly, he took this opportunity to engage in some good old-fashioned victim-blaming and stereotyping.  The reason why these three Muslim individuals executed such a horrific act was because multiculturalism had failed and why might that be? Because too many immigrants entering Britain and other European countries are refusing to integrate, resulting in “no-go zones” for non-Muslims.

This is not an entirely alien, novel or even revolutionary comment sadly for Mr. Farage , considering that it was only four years ago that Mr. Cameron stated multiculturalism had failed and proposed his new and improved multiculturalism – “muscular multiculturalism”. This “radical” departure from your everyday multiculturalism sought to forcefully integrate Muslims.

Muslims in Britain are expected to speak English and learn the country’s “common culture”. What this “common culture” is, no one really seems to know especially since Michael Gove decided to give his intellectual opinion on what should be taught as common culture, but that is another debate. Common culture seems to be the imposition of purportedly ancient Western British values (which by the way are probably ripped off ancient Greek values).  Ironically however, not even Britain which is the beacon of these values tends to implement or follow said values accurately.

Another brilliant policy promulgated by Mr. Cameron to integrate Muslims was essentially to economically blackmail them. In short, respect the British values of equality, law ,freedom of speech and promote integration or lose government funding.

So what is the result of this? As Frank Furedi quotes, a “silent culture war”. This is not only present in Britain, but of course in France and other European countries. Sole emphasis on British, German or French culture tends to suffocate those that deviate from said cultures. The anti-Muslim rampage that is at an all-time high in Europe, the US and other Western countries depict Islam as essentially anti-Western. There is no common ground for these two ways of life, as the Western way is portrayed as “tolerant and liberal” whereas the Islamic culture is depicted as “intolerant, illiberal” and its followers as “irrational fanatics” as Wendy Webster correctly states. The multiculturalism that Mr Cameron et al nurture, institutionalises a binary into social and political discourse that only alienates individuals. This results in advocates of western values alienating Muslims and as Owen Jones warns, “the homogenisation of Muslims”. Muslims grow up in communities and feel estrangement, loathing and hatred towards the unwelcoming culture and feel external to it. If there is anything that radicalises people even more, it’s this damaging rejection.

The temptation to engage in the “Islamisation of issues” as Tariq Ramadan calls it and to use the Charlie Hebdo case to enforce the Islamophobia is extremely inviting for victim blamers and those who find a witch-hunt mentality alluring. It appears that extreme-right wing politicians and their fellow bigots are manipulating this event so they can stare you in the eyes and somberly whisper, “I told you so” with a wise look on their face. What they really want to do is just fortify fears. Events such as 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings and other extremist activities are adopted to reinforce stereotypes that narrow-minded and prejudiced people jealously embrace.

Personally, I don’t like Islam. I dislike Islam as I dislike Christianity and Judaism.  Essentially, I dislike religion in general. Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher, George Carlin, Lawrence M. Krauss and of course the wonderful Christopher Hitchens are all personal favourites of mine. They debate and question religion on a rational basis based on religion as a doctrine rather than judging it by extremists who claim to represent all followers of a religion. My dislike of religion is not an outcome of me generalising the actions of a couple of individuals and applying to the religious population in the world.

23% of the world’s population are Muslims. It is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity.  But the right-wing fear-mongers will strategically avoid this vital fact. They will demonise the Muslim population to suit their ideological agenda. They will take the 3 Muslims that committed a crime and conclude that 1.6 billion people are just as evil, depicting them as bloodthirsty animals that hate the “liberal” culture and want to destroy your country’s (arbitrary) history.

It is true only the prejudiced will jump to conclusions. It is true that in the rally in France, Muslims, Jews, secularists, humanists, communists, liberals and all diverse-minded people gathered in solidarity. In Sweden, an Uppsala mosque was “love-bombed” after the Muslim community had been subject to intense Islamophobia by the public and the mosque had been vandalised with anti-Muslim messages.   A day later the mosque was bombarded with hearts containing supportive messages from individuals in the community and Sweden’s biggest cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo condemned the attacks against the mosque and protested with the slogan “Don’t touch my mosque”.

Unfortunately, the reality is that that many Muslims will face discrimination, violence and hatred. Many will hijack this attack as an opportunity to criticise Islam and dehumanise Muslims.  I am not saying criticising Islam is not an option – far from that.  Debate is always welcome. However, Islam must not be criticised on the basis of extremists or those that follow said extremists. The Jewish Press released an article stating “Many Muslim students in several French classrooms refused to stand up and participate on Sunday in a ceremonial minute of silence in memory of the victims”. It follows on to state “students who had the decency to stand in solidarity against Islamic terror paid for their humanity by being beaten up by fellow Muslims”. This clearly implies that Muslims are not remorseful for the events.

In Dresden, Germany, a so-called grassroots movement named Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West also known as Pegida protested in the streets, drawing an estimated 18,000 people.  France, already having a large number of attacks against mosques prior to the Charlie Hebdo events has seen a rise in such violence. The Telegraph reports that recently, shots were fired at Muslim Prayer Centre in Digne-les-Bains and at a mosque in Sussions. Mosques are being vandalised and bombarded with graffiti, writing “murderers” and racist slurs like “dirty Arabs”. In Corsica a pig’s head was hung on the door of a prayer hall. This is not unheard of, it happens in “tolerant” Britain. The aftermath of Lee Rigby’s death can be an example of the discrimination against Muslims. In Blackpool, for instance, shortly after Rigby’s death, a pig’s head was thrown into a mosque.

All these cases demonstrate discrimination and hatred against Muslims as a result of actions performed by extremists. The Charlie Hebdo tragedy is not an isolated case. Extremists have killed and destroyed lives before, but the Charlie Hebdo tragedy shows us that despite these 3 Muslims carrying out appalling actions, the Muslim community has condemned them. When Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people, no one said all Norwegians are murderers. When world leaders who purportedly represent people allow the killings of innocent people under the guise of “international security”, you don’t generalise their actions it to their whole country. This lesson should be learned.

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