Everyone agrees the Muslim community must make amends for Charlie Hebdo, right? Well, no, not really. Here’s five facts the media tends to overlook.
1It’s not about the cartoons. Killing people over cartoons is obscene – even when those cartoons are bigoted. But nobody has been killed over a cartoon.
The kind of deranged ideas and anger that produced the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo cannot be created by something as paltry as a cartoon. Those ideas and that anger can only be generated by extreme violence: by the violence of a European society against its own Muslim populations and principally, by the enormous violence wrought upon the Arab and Muslim world by the Western powers in previous decades.
And that violence really is enormous. The numbers of citizens killed in the West's wars in predominantly Muslim countries outweighs those killed in terror attacks in the West by a factor of hundreds to one. And yet ‘Islamist’ inspired attacks account for just 0.7% of terrorism in Europe according to Europol.
2‘Islamist’ terrorism is caused by wars. The consensus on this is about as tight in the security community as the consensus on man-made climate change is in the scientific community. This reality was famously conveyed to Tony Blair by MI5 before he embarked upon the Iraq war and has been covered extensively in the respected journal Foreign Policy.
The journal found, for example, that in the six years between 2004 and 2010 there were 54 times more attacks upon Western targets in Muslim countries than there were in the twenty three years between 1980 and 2003.
3Islamophobia is far more dangerous than Islamism. Anti-Muslim bigotry has become the key organisational and polemical instrument of the fascist right. It has led to an epidemic of anti-Muslim violence across Europe.
Muslims suffer daily verbal abuse, racist vandalism, beatings, arson attacks and bombings right across the continent. In fact, in France between the 7th and 9th of January there were 53 spray paintings of racist slogans on Mosques, 12 incidents of pig heads or entrails being left at Mosques, 15 arson attacks on Muslim properties, 5 bombs planted in Muslim areas, 14 street assaults, and 15 rounds discharged and three grenades thrown against Muslim targets. And that is only the record taken by a single charity for the reportage of Islamophobic attacks for the 48 hours after the attacks in Paris.
One of the worst terrorist attacks in decades in Europe was carried out by Anders Breivik in 2011. Breivik killed 77, mostly children whom he specifically targeted, in a few hours. He was motivated entirely by hatred of Muslims and left behind a substantial manifesto calling for war against Muslims in Europe. The mania wiped up against Muslims by the media is lethal, and can easily result in this carnage again.
In France the fascist Front National has largely built up its enormous following by mobilising Islamophobia. Should it come to power freedom of speech will be in real danger, not like the scarce danger it faces from Jihadi terrorists.
4The West has nothing to teach Muslims about freedom of speech. Huge swathes of the Muslim world are dominated by despots installed or supported by the West – some of our most viciously anti-democratic allies were invited to the recent demonstration in Paris in solidarity with those killed in the attacks of the 7th.
We should remember that the radical ideas of freedom of thought and expression in Europe were birthed from struggles for freedom of religion and religious toleration. A desiccated culture of free speech which is used to cow and intimidate the already weak and vulnerable, particularly Muslims as a religious minority, is an utter betrayal of democratic values.
5 The role of the left is to defend the Muslim community. And in so doing defend not only that community, but a more free and tolerant society as well. The state and the populist and fascist right are using Islamophobia, and will continue to use it, to damage the rights of us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The French left, with honourable exceptions, failed to defend the Muslim community, and now as a result French society is being drawn dangerously far to the right.
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