And now a female police officer has been murdered in Paris, the perpetrator of the crime unknown.
It is now about twenty-four hours since I uploaded “Je suis Charlie, nous sommes Charlie” and, on my email, I’ve had a few extremely thoughtful responses to it. People are beginning to realise that part of the purpose of “Faith and Belief Forum” is to encourage a sense of empathic understanding (seeing the world from the perspective of other people), perhaps especially a sense of empathic understanding for people whom we might routinely despise.
The blog would appear to be having its intended effect because Mohsin of Keighley (West Yorkshire), a self-declared Muslim of Iranian origin, wrote to say:
The wholesale destruction of Syria, which has caused the death of almost 200,000 people, the internal or external displacement of another nine million people (yes: the war has created nine million refugees) and the physical destruction of some of the Middle East’s most beautiful towns and cities, many with unique heritage sites, is the result of Muslims fighting Muslims. Syria, until less than four years ago the Middle East’s country with the most exciting ethnic and religious diversity to survive from the past, will almost certainly end up a far less culturally diverse nation state, and one possibly run in the interests of a brutal government shaping its laws according to shariah, a legal code which discriminates against non-Muslims, girls, women, gays, lesbians and many others in ways that no civilised society can condone.
When Muslims next complain about the death and destruction caused by Israeli arms in Gaza or Lebanon (such death and destruction are unforgivable, of course), they would do well to remember what Muslims have done to Syria (and what Muslims have also done to Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter). In comparison with what has happened to Syria (or to Iraq and Afghanistan), Israel’s crimes against humanity (and Israel has committed crimes against humanity, let’s be in no doubt) pale into insignificance.
Another Muslim, Ahmed from Waltham Forest (London), says:
I am told to accept everything in the Qur’an as God-given, but even the extremists select from the Qur’an only that which serves their purposes. Also, anyone familiar with how existing copies of the Qur’an are said to have come into existence must doubt how human additions and changes can have been excluded from the final text. Why should I interpret the Qur’an literally when commons sense tells me that at least some of the holy book must be the work of man and not the work of Allah?
Mohsin and Ahmed: thank you for restoring some of my confidence in humankind’s capacity to think clearly and with empathy.
Next, something from Sohan, a Sikh living in Tyne and Wear (North-East England):
For a long time, peace-loving people have nurtured the belief that the “pen is mightier than the sword”, but for now it seems that the sword has taken the upper hand and the gun is holding sway. I believe that we Sikhs do not for one moment condone satirising any faith or the printing of cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed, or any prophet for that matter. However, one does wonder if it is right to kill eleven innocent people because of the work of one cartoonist. From reports in the press, it is certain that the gunmen knew their real target, Charb the cartoonist, but why then kill his colleagues?
Where is dialogue to clear the misunderstanding and raise the awareness of media people about your faith and your sensibilities?
As a consequence of these brutal murders, there will be much paranoia in France in particular and the West more generally. Burgeoning anti-Islamic attitudes will be grist to the mill for right-wing political parties, and particularly for the Front National, now, according to some people, the most popular political party in France. This paranoia needs to be resisted otherwise the terrorists will have won. We can condemn the perpetrators of the brutal murders, but must not malign the entire Muslim community or subscribe to Islamophobia.
Thank you, Sohan. Now some thoughts/insights I encountered in the “Independent” newspaper (one of the UK’s most responsible newspapers) the morning following the murders. The first cluster of thoughts/insights derive from Jamilla, a French schoolteacher and Muslim aged thirty-four:
Jamilla held up a poster of a front page from “Charlie Hebdo”. It read, “Love: stronger than hate”… Jamilla pointed toward her poster depicting a Muslim man in an embrace with a man representing “Charlie Hebdo”. She said, “I am Muslim and I defend until the end what this poster says – hate cannot win. These killers tried to kill not only people but also the idea of peace and debate. I won’t let them do that and everyone in France won’t let them do that. Mohammad would be turning in his grave. Tonight we are all Charlie.”
What an astoundingly brave and clear-sighted woman, a woman courageous enough to say, in effect, that nothing – nothing – should be precluded from discussion or debate (no doubt because it is only through discussion and debate that we can hope to arrive at anything approximating the truth), even if discussion and debate cause disquiet or angst in certain quarters.
Mohammad, another Muslim, is described as the manager of a dry cleaning shop near the “Charlie Hebdo” offices. He is quoted as saying:
“A newspaper isn’t a gun. Who was ever killed by a sheet of paper? These men cannot win. We won’t let them.”
Not long after the murders took place, it was confirmed that one of the two dead male police officers was a Muslim. Unforgivable though the murder of the two police officers is, the “Independent” concludes that:
It takes a special kind of brutality to murder a nation’s lampooners and jesters. At 11.30am yesterday, the “Charlie Hebdo” editorial team… were considering returning to one of their favourite subjects, the comical absurdities of extremist Islam… In November 2011, “Charlie Hebdo” published a special magazine “edited by the Prophet Muhammad”. It consisted of cartoons in which the Prophet Muhammad despaired of the brutality perpetrated in his name.
Tell me. How many Muslims do not think that “extremist Islam” is absurd, that Muhammad would not despair “of the brutality perpetrated in his name”? More often than not, “Charlie Hebdo” has reflected mainstream Muslim thought rather than been in conflict with it. Moreover, the reaction of the many millions of Muslims all around the world who have shown their support for the murdered cartoonists and police officers confirms that this is so.
But, just as the murderers no doubt hope will be the case, we must expect a backlash from all those opponents of ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse societies; of “multiculturalism”; of the free movement of people; and of more privileged nation states such as our own providing a safe haven to refugees and asylum seekers. It is time for everyone to hold their nerve and act in ways that are proportionate (the latter being what the murderers in Paris self-evidently and absurdly failed to do, and what extremists everywhere fail to do. In fact, acting disproportionately may be an indicator that an extremist exists, or that an individual inclines toward extremism).
But participants in and advocates of interfaith dialogue: now is the time to take action to unite all those repelled by the extremists responsible for the “Charlie Hebdo” murders. And the action taken must engage with people in all communities and be imaginative enough to have some lasting beneficial effect.