What 14 British Muslims Think About The Charlie Hebdo Attack
British Muslims have largely condemned yesterday's attack, but they're worried about the repercussions ahead.
Following Wednesday's terrorist attack on the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people were killed by masked gunmen, people all over the world gathered to pay their respects. In London's Trafalgar Square, hundreds gathered in solidarity, holding up pens and banners that said "Je suis Charlie". I attended the vigil, and was surprised to see that alongside fellow journalists were members of the public who wanted to stand up for freedom of speech. Among them were a number of British Muslims, who wanted to make clear that the terrorists did not represent them or their religion.
Muslims rightly fear that yesterday's attack could result in more abuse, Islamophobic rhetoric, and, indeed, physical violence. Earlier today, three blank grenades were thrown at a mosque in the city of Le Mans, and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
I spoke to a number of British Muslims about how they felt about yesterday's attack and how it would affect both British and European Muslims in the future:
1. Mohammedali Gokal, trainee solicitor and former chair of Stanmore Jafferys
I blanched with disgust when I heard that the murderers had shouted 'Allahu Akber', meaning 'God is great', when carrying out their heinous crimes. To my mind they are not Muslims, nor representative of my faith. Islam means peace, and the first principles of its beautiful teachings are founded on respect, compassion, and tolerance. I hope no one is fooled into thinking these men were 'Muslims' in any sense of the word. Suffice it to say the Prophet Muhammad would never have stood for what these murderers have done. I would therefore call on all media outlets and politicians to refrain from use of the misrepresentative and scaremongering words like 'Islamist' and 'jihadist'. Was Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim policeman mercilessly executed during the attack, a member of what Nigel Farage scornfully termed 'the Fifth Column'? I think not.My last sentiment is this – and let this not be misinterpreted as, in any way, justifying or mitigating the atrocity which took place yesterday (for nothing can). Freedom of speech is critical and must be robustly protected. But we must never let it become 'freedom to insult'. On occasion, Charlie Hebdo went too far and crossed the unspoken line, for example in referring to the Qur'an, the Torah, and the Bible as 'toilet paper'. As I said though, let this not be seen as validation for the horror we saw in Paris. It must never happen again.
When men presume to protect God or protect the memory of the Prophet by killing, they break God's laws as well as man's laws.
Muslims and others must move on from mere condemnation to reclaiming Islam, a profound religious, spiritual, mystical, and ethical tradition, from the hate-filled extremists. French society must also do more to manifest its exalted ideals of fraternité and egalité, as well as liberté. Roughly 10% of French citizens are Muslim, of overwhelmingly North African origin – the percentage is much higher in urban areas. But this percentage is much lower in media, politics, police, and armed forces. Many French Muslim youth feel disenfranchised and discriminated against, experiencing marginalisation and racism. Unless the above issues, i.e. reclamation of the noble ideals of Islam as well as of the French Republic, are addressed, terrorists will continue to exploit the situation and recruit more people to their perverse cause.
At AoBM, we have maintained our differences with the editorial policies of Charlie Hebdo. We always have had questions about the judgment (but not the right) of publishing images which are predictably deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. However, at the same time we stand in support of freedom of expression and believe that there is no justification whatsoever to take lives of people who we disagree with while exercising this right.We note that the Qur'an instructs its believers to argue with the challengers in ways that are best and most gracious. The attacks in Paris symbolise nothing close to these Koranic instructions but instead represent a distortion of faith which is forgiving and open to debate.
Nothing justifies the taking of life. Those who have killed in the name of our religion today claim to be avenging the insults made against Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. But nothing is more immoral, offensive, and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder. Our thoughts, prayers and solidarity go to the families of the victims and the people of France.Naturally, and unfortunately, discussion will now fall on the right to intentionally publish hurtful material that denigrates religious figures and traditions. But however offended we may be, the ultimate denigration of our faith comes from these murderers who have unjustifiably taken life.In the coming weeks Muslims will face the test of having to justify themselves and their place in Western society. As Muslims we are ever mindful of our Lord's injunction to convey our true faith with wisdom and beautiful words. Indeed in the noble Qur'an we are told: 'The true servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth and when the ignorant address them they say: Peace.'
The trouble we seem to have found ourselves in is that we place such little value to life and its enormity, each individual is so much more than their politics and just a number or a name. I fear this heightened political climate will serve to further polarise communities all over, adding fuel to a hotbed of unrest.
These fundamentally atrocious actions demonstrate the most heinous traits of humanity and are abhorred by the significant majority of people, and that includes Muslims; but then they always are. Yet we see little or no progress. Instead we see retaliation and stigmatisation that further polarises the groups involved and more deeply entrenches the stagnation of any potential for change. Whilst I have found myself hurt and fearful in the past, I now find myself exhausted and disheartened; desperate for a different narrative.I hope, and pray, that this time a real difference is made, so that we, humanity, can make and see a tangible move towards preventing this kind of horror from happening again.
When I saw the attacks I was just in shock, it was horrifying that anyone had such little humanity that they could go do that – and not show any remorse. And I pray for the families of the journalists and police who died as a result of this awful attack.As a British Muslim, I'm happy that my country is accommodating to my beliefs and aren't as hostile to Muslims as other countries. But I'm worried for French Muslims – already attacks have happened in mosques, and I'm scared that Muslim women will be attacked and abused by thugs, just because they wear a hijab. Unfortunately, these abuses will probably increase, especially because of the ramped up rhetoric of Marine Le Pen and the Front National.
9. Akeela Ahmed, consultant and Muslim activist
As a British Muslim I have been shocked and dismayed by the Charlie Hebdo attacks. This shock has reverberated throughout communities in the UK, and with it comes a sense of dread of what is to come in the aftermath. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. But I am also fearful that these attacks will fuel anti-Muslim sentiments and hatred. I pray and hope that we will stand united against violence and hatred.
The actions that took place were not Islamic, and no Muslim should condone them. Violence is never the means to react. But just because there are [Muslims who] highlight Charlie Hebdo's provocative style does not mean that they support the attack.This is not just a freedom-of-speech issue, and freedom of expression was never the default position of human interaction. Sensitivities and beliefs should be respected if we want a prosperous and harmonious society.[On reproducing the cartoons:] They should have not been reprinted. How does reproducing them actually help freedom of speech? You can support Charlie Hebdo without reprinting them, especially at such a sensitive time. Second, just like other professions, journalists should have a duty of care to the public, which must come first.
The political and social implications of the cowardly Charlie Hebdo attack are yet to be seen but seeing as we are currently celebrating the birth of the Prophet, I struggle to look past his mercy and kindness as an example for us all.There was a lady who used to throw rubbish out of her window at Prophet Muhammad every day as he walked past. One day she didn't throw rubbish at him, so Prophet Muhammad knocked on her door. She had fallen ill and was scared the Prophet had come to seek revenge in her weakened state. Instead, he enquired about her health and offered to bring her food. It's only fitting that we respond to those who insult Prophet Muhammad in the way he did; with love and mercy. That's why we know him as 'a mercy for mankind'.
What happened in France yesterday is absolutely shocking, cannot be justified, and a reminder of how dangerous it has become to express opinions in an increasingly volatile world.But what's most concerning now is how the threat posed by a few will be pedalled out as a broad threat to 'Western values' and used to justify the intensifying of repressive measures such as Prevent in the UK in the name of security, which, as we've seen, affects Muslims more than any other group. I fear the development of a polarising narrative; with those defending 'Western values' on one side and those who end up becoming victims of increasingly repressive policies on the other. In the context of growing Islamophobia in Europe, it is essential that journalists, as well as community leaders do not irresponsibly propagate this polarising narrative.
13. Karim M., 35, consultant
I think Muslims are tired of atrocious acts being committed in their name and having to apologise for it. There also seems to be a huge double-standard at large in that when a mosque is attacked it's arson [and] when people are attacked in Norway it's reported as death. But this gets reported as terrorism even though casualties elsewhere were greater.I have a number of friends that have cancelled their planned trips to Paris and I myself am due there Monday and debating with myself if I should go or not.
The brutal attack at the Parisian offices of Charlie Hebdo yesterday morning was a failed attempt to silence free speech in journalism and highlighted the risks taken by those who exacted this right globally. Whilst my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those killed and injured in cold blood, my concerns as a young British Muslim lie with the safety of the majority of Muslims who dissociate themselves from acts of such aggression, yet find themselves subject to reprisal attacks. These attacks, coupled with the Pegida protests in Germany, lend weight to rising tensions in continental Europe, and I fear that such anti-Islamic sentiment will disseminate and grow here in the UK. In these precarious times, it is vital that we work collaboratively to prevent further violence in the future.