Notes on the Paris Attacks

Charlie Hebdo's new cover image.
Charlie Hebdo’s new cover image.
  • All so-called Abrahamic religions have an embedded element of disdain towards all other faith systems, one that has been clearly and unambiguously articulated in their various holy books as well as by a huge assortment of their favorite scholars and clerics, one that colors popular attitudes and feeds popular stereotypes, even among the self-declared secular segments, and inspires rejection, condescension and downright hate among a select few.

  • All so-called Abrahamic religions, among many if not most other faith systems across the world, have an embedded element of misogyny, expressed in a variety of forms in holy texts, by religious scholars and through popular attitudes.
  • Satire is not simply a legitimate form of expression in the secular world, Abrahamic religions actually endorse it in a variety of ways even in their holy books. The Qur’an and the various tomes dedicated to Hadith are certainly not an exception here. All these books include sayings and statements vilifying other faith systems not only through rational arguments but also through the use of ridicule and mockery. Popular attitudes are often informed and influenced by these sayings, which on account of their “holy” nature cannot be easily challenged and rejected even by moderate elements. As such, it is quite hypocritical for any member of the Abrahamic religions to protest against ridicule of their faith whether by authors, artists and cartoonists, or by anyone for that matter.
  • No matter what moderate elements believe or say, true believers in any of the Abrahamic faiths can always find justifications for their rejectionist and disdainful stands towards others, and for the violent ways and tactics adopted by the extremist elements in their midst, in their own holy books as well as in the example set by many of the holy figures whom they follow. The propensity to violence, therefore, cannot be solely explained on the basis of what exists in the holy books, these books only justify a decision already made and inspired by more immediate developments: political, socioeconomic and psychological.
  • Many defenders of Islam and Muslims today often make statements like “1.6 billion Muslims are” blah blah blah. This tendency is, in fact, no different or less offensive than the kind of generalizations made by bigots about Islam and Muslims. 1.6 billion Muslims do not share a common opinion and they do not speak with one voice. Even the terrorists don’t claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims in the world, since they themselves tend to denounce most Muslims as infidels, or misguided. In truth, no one can really tell what 1.6 billion Muslims feel or believe about any issue. The Paris attacks themselves illustrate this point: the attackers were born and bred Parisian Muslims, but so were some of their victims (the Muslim policeman), some of their intended targets (yes, there were Muslim cartoonists working at Charlie Hebdo), and some of the heroes who emerged from the fray (the Muslim worker at the Kosher market). Even the controversial issue of depicting Muhammad in paintings is not as clear-cut as some Muslims claim. Indeed, many academics have recently pointed out that depictions of Muhammad were far more common than people think, both among the Sunnis and Shiites. Muslims never had one opinion about anything, even Muhammad’s alleged prophethood or the existence of God. Atheism and heresy is not a new phenomenon among Muslims, but one that dates back to its historical beginnings.
  • There is no denying that bigotry is involved in criticisms aimed at Islam and Muslims, especially those living in Western societies. But not all critics are bigots, and not all issued raised by them are illegitimate. Satire is one form of criticism and free speech, a form that is offensive by nature. Its offensiveness, therefore, is not enough justification for protesting or dismissing it. People should examine the issues it sought to highlight to decide whether the satirists have a legitimate point to make. Moreover, there is bigotry on part of the Muslims as well, and not only among the extremists. This bigotry that is borne out of the Muslims’ own traditional worldview and not simply as a result of being made victims. In fact, we should note that many defenders of Muslims in the West and throughout the world seek to perpetrate the sense of victimohood among them, because that’s how this self-appointed elite often derive their power. Indeed, Muslims are often the victims of other Muslims than they are the victims of the West.
  • The issue of the holocaust and anti-Semitism is often raised whenever Muslims are criticized in order to protest against the alleged double-standard that Western societies are said to espouse in this regard. Jews are given a special treatment we are told, but Muslims are “fair game.” This analogy, however, forgets the historical context involved and that allowed the Jews to obtain this “special” status. The Jews of Europe were the victims of an attempted genocidal venture that remains very much alive in the minds of many: the Jews as well as their haters. The situation of Europe’s Muslims is far more complex. The existence of major Muslim communities in Western Europe is a relatively new phenomenon. Considering the antagonistic relationship that existed historically between Muslim-majority states and empires on the one hand, and European states and empires on the other, the road towards accommodation is bound to be rocky. Still, as European far right movements continue to attract more mainstream supporters, Muslim communities in Western Europe, their ethnic and ideological diversity notwithstanding, have ample reason to be worried. But existing substantial economic relations between Western Europe and Muslim-majority counties will limit Europe’s tilt to the far right, a reality with which far right wing movements will have to contend should they ever come to power and try to enact any legislation that can be deemed too discriminatory. In other words, Muslims have ample leeway in determining their future status in Europe. A positive outcome in this regard will not be achieved through continuing reliance on victimary rhetoric.
  • The West’s continued military adventurism in Muslim lands might complicate the issue, but people should remember that the causes for this adventurism are not rooted in a desire to enslave or eradicate Muslims and Islam, but in considerations related to issues such as energy security and combatting organized crime and global terrorism. This differentiation may not matter to those whose lives are directly impacted by this adventurism, but it can help in the formulation of a better “resistance” strategy, one that can help safeguard the various Muslim communities from the impact of extremist movements flourishing all around them as well as in their own ranks. Phrasing the issues in religious terms help the extremists and their agenda.