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17 November 2015

Paris attacks: anti-Muslim bigotry in the West will play into the hands of Islamic State

We must show Islamophobes that there is no clash of civilizations; just a clash of moral values between decent human beings and mass-murdering lunatics.

By Ro Waseem Ro Waseem

Paris was stuck in tragedy on Saturday morning. Terrorists wreaked havoc, murdering 129 and injuring approximately 350 civilians. Now is the time to mourn and grieve for the victims of the attack, so it makes me slightly uncomfortable to write a piece arguing that we shouldn’t let Islamic State define what Islam is.

However, to be clear, I write this not to win a theological debate. I write this, rather, because I fear anti-Muslim bigotry rising considerably in the West as a consequence of this attack. 

The Paris attacks have left us feeling devastated, confused, and powerless. Fear can lead to irrational acts, and already there have been some reports of Islamophobic attacks. A mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, was set on fire Saturday night — an act that police say was intentional. At a bus stop today in UK, it has been reported that a man shouted: “They need to all die, these Muslims need to die. Look what they’re doing in Paris.” 

It can be hard not to fall for simplistic narratives fed to us by mainstream media during such times. After all, it seems more convenient to believe that the Paris attacks demonstrate that there is a war between the West and Islam as it provides a relatively straightforward answer to a largely complex problem. However, such rhetoric, whether we realise or not, only strengthens the narrative of IS.

“Attacks like the ones tonight in Paris are committed to purposely trigger an Islamophobic backlash,” writes Nader Atassi, an anti-IS blogger. “That backlash is not an unintended consequence of such attacks; it is part of their logic. Isis wants an Islamophobic backlash because it lends credence to their narrative that there is a war between the West and Islam. By strengthening and emboldening the xenophobic right-wing in Europe, they strengthen their own worldview as well. And the most tragic irony is that the backlash may target refugees who themselves had been fleeing Isis’ reign of terror.”

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As productive citizens who wish to play our part in combating Islamofascism, we must start by acknowledging that the vast majority of Muslims, whether they are conservative or liberal, reject this terrorist ideology. Muslims, after all, are themselves the biggest victims of Islamofascist violence. Ergo, in the fight against Islamofascism, we are together and not against each other.

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It can be tempting to see Islam as the problem by cherry-picking certain “violent” verses, and to argue that IS represents “true Islam” since the group happens to take the Quran “literally”. However, literalism was never really the issue; selectivism is.

After all, a literal reading of the Quran would also take into account the fact that it gives permission for combat only in self-defence (2:190, 60:8-9). However, all of this is assuming that religion is the primary motivator in the radicalisation of Muslims, a view that is challenged by most think tanks and experts, including the MI5.

Islamofascism indeed poses a serious threat. This is a complex phenomenon that thrives on different forms of grievances, and can only be eradicated at state level through long-term strategies. However, we have an important role to play, too. On an individual level, we must not play into the hands of IS by granting it the religious legitimacy they crave to attract new recruits.

To counter the appeal of Islamofascism, we have to build bridges of love and understanding between each other, regardless of our differences in metaphysical beliefs. We have to show potential Islamofascists that there is, in fact, no clash of civilizations; just a clash of moral values between decent human beings and mass-murdering lunatics.

Ro Waseem is a liberal Muslim. He runs a weekly blog on Patheos, and tweets @Quranalyzeit.