“Please don’t be Muslim. Please don’t be Muslim,” was the very first thing to go through my mind when I first read the headlines about the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this week. I was following my usual morning tradition of waking up via scrolling through headlines on my phone. I hadn’t yet made or drank my coffee.
That was a fucked up reaction. Would I have preferred a different radical group carry out the attack? Or would I have rather it be a crazed gunman whose motivations remain unknown? And if it was one of these different options, would I have felt better about the event? That if these attackers were anything other than Muslim it would confirm my personal beliefs, or be a convenient example to use in my next argument? Well, look at Anders Behring Breivik, you wouldn’t describe him as a representative of Christianity.
Its fucked up that I have become so desensitized to violence that my first reaction is to find a way that I can make it consistent to my beliefs. I have a point to prove, a cross to bear, and I need to be prepared to prove why I’m right.
Perhaps my favorite piece of commentary I’ve read so far was Nick Kristoff’s piece, “Is Islam to Blame for the Shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris?” And I took from his op-ed a line that put words to a feeling I couldn’t yet express.
“One of the things I’ve learned in journalism is to beware of perceiving the world through simple narratives, because then new information is mindlessly plugged into those story lines.”
To expect consistency in world affairs is a fool’s errand. To expect simplicity is the same.
Many are able to see the forest through the trees. In another blog I read recently on “How Not to Respond to the Charlie Hebdo Attacks” scholar Barbara F. Walter writes,
“Let’s be clear. The main goal of the three gunmen who attacked Charlie Hebdo yesterday was not revenge for printing cartoons critical of Islam. This misses the larger strategy al Qaeda was likely pursuing. The main goal was something far deeper.”
“Treating this as an isolated act of revenge that deserves a harsh response plays into the hands of the gunmen and the organization that supported them.”
Walter’s piece reminds us (or, at the very least, me) that we need to treat terrorist groups as exactly that – political organizations that effectively use violence as a strategic tactic – and not a representation of Islam. That the gunmen were Muslim essentially means nothing. That they were connected to a larger network of organized terrorist organizations who recruit, train, and attempt to bring about political changes that they want to see…well, that means everything.
I worry about the rise of Islamphobia in Europe and the US as much as I worry about future terrorist attacks. The attribution of these attacks to Islam only plays into destructive stereotypes – ones which primed my reaction to these attacks. To end this rambling post, let us not forget the other values that stand in face of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks: our propensity towards tolerance.