France’s 6.5 million Muslims — just 10 percent of the population — are being forced to shoulder the blame for the attacks carried out by four extremists. Yet experts warn that calls for vengeance and generalizations fan the flames of radicalism without solving the problem.
Bo Vilbrand, spokesman for “Danish Defense League,” poses for a photo with some of the group’s members in Copenhagen. The group and its larger English forebear represent a new crop of right-wing radicals who don’t fit the mold of the boot-stomping, Jew-hating neo-Nazis. This movement claims its fight is against Islam, and uses crusader symbols instead of swastikas. It frames its mission as a cultural struggle against Islam, although opponents say it is little more than old-fashioned xenophobia. Photo: Polfoto, Antohn Unger/AP
LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in France on Jan. 11, intent on demonstrating their rejection of terror and professing their solidarity with the families of the 12 victims of the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Jan. 7.
Yet as France and the world denounce terror, Muslims are finding themselves at the heart of yet another storm, as Islam is being branded intolerant and violent by an increasingly fearful Western society. The very essence of the Islamic faith and value system has been challenged and equated to violence and radicalism, playing directly into the narrative of socio-religious exclusion.
However illogical, the actions of four individuals have forced France’s 6.5 million Muslims — roughly 10 percent of the country’s population — to collectively shoulder the burden of terror and take the blame for actions they don’t support — actions provoked by an ideology they don’t adhere to.
As proof that terror recognizes no god and no religion, a French Muslim police officer, Ahmed Merabet, was among the victims. Merabet was killed in the line of duty, attempting to prevent the attackers’ getaway. But still, angry fingers have pointed toward the entire Muslim community as the party responsible for the attack, making Islamophobia the new anti-Semitism.
Picking up on rising sectarianism and ethnic profiling in France, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed, “This is yet another reminder of what we are facing together. It should never be seen as a war of religion, for religion, or on religion. It is an assault on our common humanity, designed to terrify and incite.”
Yet such calls for restraint have rung hollow for a great many people, including high-profile officials and business elite. On Jan. 10, for example, British media tycoon Rupert Murdoch voiced his opinion on Twitter, stating: “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”
Murdoch followed up that tweet by noting: “Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to US. Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.”
By Jan. 15, Murdoch backtracked on these claims slightly, tweeting that he “certainly did not mean all Muslims” were responsible for the Paris attack. Yet he added that the “Muslim community” — not the broader global community — “must debate and confront extremism.”
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, the head of the Front National, France’s far-right party, has called for tougher sanctions against all those viewed as being in favor of Islamic fundamentalism. She told the press on Jan. 9:
“I also expressed the necessity – in another inevitable way – of measures for the removal or the forfeiture of citizenship for all of those who have dual citizenship who have left to train or fight in a foreign country, and then come back to our territory, to commit barbaric crimes, which seems to be the case with these two murderers who are currently in the process of being chased.”
As the world mourns those who died in the Paris attacks, experts on radical movements have warned that such calls for retribution will only serve to intensify sectarianism and political radicalism across the European bloc, validating on many levels the return of fascist-like ideologies.
Speaking to MintPress News, Luis Miranda, founder and editor in chief of The Real Agenda News, warned that without taking away from France’s sorrow over the Charlie Hebdo attack, “The unspoken victim of the Paris attack, just as it was on 9/11 and 7/7 [the 2005 London bombings], is freedom.“
“If you study the agenda behind people who want to use localized violence to further their control agenda, you’ll see that the result is always new illegal directives on a national and international stage that limit freedom and civil and constitutional liberties,” Miranda said.
“Islam is not a victim of this particular event, but people of faith whose religion is hijacked to perpetrate crimes against humanity.”
The spirit of vengeance
Amid calls for revenge, Muslims have been forced to grapple with their faith being pinpointed as the source of all extremism in the world.
Rachel Lu, a columnist for the Federalist, wrote, “We worry about Muslims, because they’re the ones who are murdering people in the name of their God.”
At a time of such heightened tensions, Europe as a whole appears to have been overtaken by this spirit of vengeance. Politicians across the continent have urged their respective governments to take harsher measures against “runaway” Muslims, often giving in to generalizations and sectarian labelling to support and justify their views.
In Holland, Geert Wilders, a controversial Dutch politician facing trial for inciting racial hatred, called for the “de-Islamization” of Western society as a means of protecting “our democratic values and fundamental freedoms.”
“We have to close our borders, reinstate border controls, get rid of political correctness, introduce administrative detention and stop immigration from Islamic countries,” Wilders emphasized on Jan. 7.
Geert Wilders, a controversial Dutch politician facing trial for inciting racial hatred, called for the “de-Islamization” of Western society, claiming Europe must introduce administrative detention and stop immigration from Islamic countries.
In France, Le Pen echoed Wilders’ sentiments, demanding that the death penalty be reinstated, that immigration from Islamic countries be closed, and that surveillance laws to be drastically broadened.
In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage, leader of the Independence Party since 2010, reasserted his argument that Muslims stand as a “fifth column,” a threat London should recognize and address.
In Switzerland, Walter Wobmann, a politician and member of the Swiss People’s Party, who has long campaigned against Muslims, called on his government to consider banning certain groups of Muslim refugees that pose a threat to national security.
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, head of the Northern League, a right-wing faction that has gained in popularity in recent years, also jumped aboard the anti-Muslim bandwagon, arguing that Muslims’ way of life is “incompatible with ours.”
Salvini also criticized Pope Francis for being a strong advocate of interfaith dialogue and tolerance. “Peace is all right,” Salvini said. “But as spokesman of all Catholics, you should be concerned about those who are slaughtering you all over the world.”
As France mourns its dead, feelings of fear and anger throughout Europe and the world have given way to a fierce polemic on multiculturalism, freedom of speech and Islam.
In the United States, Bill Maher, a U.S. satirist and the host of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” claimed that “hundreds of millions of [Muslims] support an attack like [Charlie Hebdo],” directly linking Islam to terrorism.
“What we’ve said all along, and have been called bigots for it, is when there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard,” Maher said.
Wherever one looks, Islam and Muslims are caught in the eye of a furious storm. Although heads of state have urged their respective nationals to exercise restraint and refrain from giving in to intolerance and bigotry, Islamophobia appears to have entered the mainstream conscious. And if the anti-Islamization campaign of the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) in Dresden, Germany, or the American Freedom Defence Initiative’s San Francisco anti-Muslim Nazi bus ad campaign in San Francisco are anything to go by, Muslims need to prepare for the storm to further intensify.
In comments to Russia Today, former CIA officer Ray McGovern expressed deep concerns about how the Charlie Hebdo tragedy gave way to calls for retribution against the Muslim community and bolstered support for more invasive surveillance policies. He also warned that the attacks in Paris spoke volumes about European intelligence services’ ineptitude in addressing terror threats.
“‘Be afraid, be very afraid’ is typical of what happened after 9/11 in our country. I don’t think it helps. I think it inspires the worst in us – the spirit of vengeance. I think it inspires the worst in us – the spirit of vengeance. And when I hear the talk about increasing surveillance measures – it is fact, not interpretation that there were enough surveillance measures against these two from the beginning,” McGovern said.
Behind the smokescreen
As many in Europe and across the world struggle to make sense of the tragedy and its aftermath, wading through a deluge of information and misinformation as factions attempt to exploit fear to their advantage, some have chosen instead to look beyond the act of terror, keen to rise above the influx of raw emotions to better gauge of the motives and implications of the Paris attack.
Although the narrative coming from France has been bent on linking the killing of Charlie Hebdo staff with freedom of expression, alleging that Islamic radicals sought to crumble France’s republican tradition, Luis Miranda begs to differ.
“The Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris, France, is a reflection of forced poverty, misery and above all, forced mass migrations which are mostly originated in impoverished regions of the world,” Miranda said.
Rather than the cause of violence, radicalism and terror are the manifestation of a social fracture caused by the neo-colonial policies of Western powers.
In a Jan. 8 op-ed published in the Real Agenda News, Miranda writes, “The recent Paris attacks are proof of the irrational world in which we live, where it is OK to submit entire nations by force, but it is not OK to say what we want to say about something or someone.”
“The volatile religious and political fundamentalism we experience today, are the result of the massive influence exercised by Western colonizers against any nation-state – especially in the Middle East and Africa – that dares to live without the debt, the wars and the corruption that western powers call ‘democracy’.”
Dr. Christof Lehmann, an independent political consultant and editor in chief of nsnbc international, suggested that France’s terror face off could actually be a ploy aimed at influencing the French political narrative and ultimately playing up the West versus Islam dichotomy.
“There is a lot of unwarranted and some warranted speculation about a possible false flag scenario,” Lehmann told MintPress.
“We have had a 30-year-war in Europe, allegedly over religious differences between Catholics and Protestants. We witnessed the politicizing of religion for divide and conquers purposes time and time again. During the 1970s it was the socialism versus capitalism. Such artificial dichotomy only serves political purposes.”
Lehmann is not alone in challenging the prevailing French narrative. Stephen Lendman, a political commentator and writer, is adamant that the Charlie Hebdo attack is a perfect example of political manipulation and misinformation.
Writing for the Centre for Research on Globalization, Lendman asserted, “Hyped media claims about Charlie Hebdo attacks targeting free expression are nonsense. Lots of people are angry about MSM reports they dislike. Editorial staff killings don’t follow.
“False flags are a US tradition. Other countries use them. Black flag operations designed to deceive.”
He continued, “Martyrdom usually demands striking high-profile targets. Not ones unrelated to government policies.
“Paul Craig Roberts believes America benefits most from what happened. Its hegemonic agenda. Its quest for world dominance.
“Truth is systematically buried. Big Lies substitute. Fear-mongering gets people to go along with what harms them.”
Rising above the narrative of hate
While many questions remain unanswered, Muslims throughout Europe and the world are feeling more alienated than ever.
Shaykh Arif Abdul Hussain, founder and director of Al-Mahdi Institute in Birmingham (UK), a religious studies organization, told MintPress that Muslims need to rally together and rise above the narrative of hate. Warning against a policy of double standards, political radicalization and social ostracization, he stressed, “We urge governments, civil society and our media to foster a culture of mutual respect and unity, not one of division and disdain.”
In France, Cheikh Ahmed Jaballah urged European leaders to not punish all Muslims for the acts of “a demented few,” underscoring the need to promote equal rights to all, regardless of background, ethnicity or religious affiliation.
“Islam is a religion of peace and justice. Muslims and Islam should not become the target of a hate campaign, as it will only need to a globalized social fracture,” Jaballah told MintPress.
In comments to the BBC on Jan. 8, Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, brought into focus what he describes as Western governments’ inconsistency “in their treatment of human life.”
“What is important for us on this day of mourning, in France but also in the West, is to understand that what is happening now and what will come afterwards is not only a Muslim business; it’s our responsibility to come together to know who are our enemies when it comes to violent extremism and not to go to…confusion in our discourse… and politicians, journalists and intellectuals are responsible and there is a shared responsibility,” Ramadan told the BBC, as reported by the Middle East Monitor.
Ramadan also explicitly branded Islamophobia as one of the most dangerous and insidious social threats facing not just France or Europe, but the broader Western world. “There is Islamophobia here,“ he told Al-Jazeera on Jan. 9, referring to the United Kingdom.
“We have now a normalization of this discourse [that Islam is the root cause of radicalism],” he added.
As European countries rethink multiculturalism, motivated by fear, Muslims scholars have argued that France’s Islamophobic streak is but the manifestation of Western powers’ foreign policies in the Middle East, an unforeseen ramification of neo-colonialism.
“Western powers have carried out callous policies in the Middle East: drones, renditions, torture, political manipulations … this has given way to double standards and doubletalk. This has seeped into society and manifested in the demonization of Muslims and Islam,” Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a prominent Muslim cleric in Iran, told MintPress.
“Islam prohibits terrorism and crimes against humanity,” Shirazi continued. “Terror is the enemy of all.”