Friday, January 09, 2015

09-Jan-15: Moderates, murderers and jihad

Trocadero Square, with a view towards Paris' Eiffel Tower
[Image Source: Reuters]
For reasons that range from admirable to appalling, there's a great deal of focusing today in the global news and commentary on the idea of Islamophobia, "a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim".

Wednesday's massacre at the offices of a French satirical magazine is the immediate trigger, naturally enough. (See the BBC today, for instance: "Could Charlie Hebdo attack fuel tensions over Islam?") But a perception that widely-dispersed violence - mild, extreme or murderous - waged in the name of Islam and as likely to target practitioners of Islam as non-Muslims - is rising in volume and intensity is clearly part of the picture too.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a respected Israeli columnist whose public appearances and writings we have enjoyed, has an article ["France attacks are jihad's doing, not Islam's"] on Ynet today in which he shares some cogent observations about where the problems are and are not:
Millions of Muslims have nothing to do with terror but, according to surveys, hundreds of thousands support jihad, suicide bombings and even the Islamic State. Thousands of them actively join global jihad. And there are few who carry out terror attacks in France. So what can Europe do? How does it cope with this? ...The Muslim community in Drancy, a Paris suburb less than a 30-minute drive from the scene of Wednesday's attack, is led by Imam Hassan Chalghoumi, who combats any expression of radicalism. In the past few years, he has been repeatedly warning against what is happening in mosques in France. The French Muslim Council has ostracized him. All his appeals to the French establishment have been rejected. He has to walk around with bodyguards following a series of attempts to hurt him and his family members.
Imam Chalghoumi [Image Source: Le Figaro]
Imam Chalghoumi is little known outside the world of French speakers. The Wikipedia entry about his life and works suggests that's a lost opportunity:
He has good relations with Jewish organisations in France, which sometimes caused demonstrations and clashes in Drancy mosque... He studied in Syria and Pakistan in fundamentalists medersa before coming to France in 1996... In 2006, he made a speech in front of the deportation memorial in Drancy. His house was vandalized a few days later... At the beginning of 2009, he was invited to the Elysée and the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), a French Jewish organisation... Some of his opponents call him "Imam of the Jews" for his activism... He is naturalised as a French citizen in 2005. [Wikipedia English - the much more comprehensive Wikipedia French entry is here]
Why do the messages of Islamic political moderates go so unheeded in their own ranks? Why is there so little interest - among Moslems but not only - in Moslems who speak in calm and reasonable tones? Why are such men and women the target of often-violent hatred among parts of their own community? Why does Islamophobia get so much attention (about 3 million hits in this Google search). And why does it become such a hot subject when Moslem terrorists carry out a terror attack in the name (explicitly) of their religious outlook?

Factor into the analysis that certain prominent Islamic voices reject the very idea that "moderate" and "Moslem" can legitimately appear side by side in the same phrase. For instance
Speaking at Kanal D TV’s Arena program, PM Erdogan commented on the term “moderate Islam”, often used in the West to describe AKP and said, ‘These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” [Source: Milliyet, Turkey, August 21, 2007, via MEMRI, a specialist translation-to-English service]
The same Turkish politician restated the same core idea two years later at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in a speech he entitled "Alliance of Civilizations and Turkey's Role". Hurriyet, a leading Turkish newspaper, published extracts at the time (April 2009); here are three:
  • Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected attempts to call Turkey the representative of moderate Islam. "It is unacceptable for us to agree with such a definition. Turkey has never been a country to represent such a concept. Moreover, Islam cannot be classified as moderate or not..."
  • "The animosity [of different religions and cultures] unfortunately, strengthens the scenarios that there is a so-called clash of civilizations in the world. Those, who defend such speculations, may go further to identify the terrorism with Islam which is based on peace"...adding that the situation helps those who try to globalize Islamophobia
  • "It should be known that adopting a malicious and offending approach toward the sensitive issues of Islamic world by hiding behind some democratic freedoms like freedom of speech and right of free publication is unacceptable"
That last comment raises the matter of how Erdogan would have classified Wednesday's systematic murders at the Charlie Hebdo office.

How Wednesday's gunmen felt about "sensitive issues of Islamic world", about "freedom of speech" and about "right of free publication" is less of a puzzle since we have news reports [via the BBC, for instance] that witness
heard the gunmen shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "God is Great" in Arabic ("Allahu Akbar").
Today, though, Erdogan's are not the views that are uppermost in people's minds. Yemini's article offers considerably more wisdom than the Turkish politician does anyway:
  • "This terror attack was written on the wall... France is helpless. It's hard to monitor a creeping radicalization which is taking place in thousands of mosques, but all the funding sources could have been blocked, especially the capital which arrived from Qatar. Money is not the only problem, but it's definitely a problem.
  • "This is a painful attack, which is connected to the very heart of free France. The targeted magazine is not the most popular or most circulated newspaper in the country – far from that – but it has positioned itself at the front of the battle for freedom of expression and has clarified that it would not give in to threats.
  • "It would be sad to see the far right, which is usually racist and anti-Semitic, gaining political power as a result of this attack. And it would be encouraging if the free world starts taking the Muslims from Chalghoumi's school more seriously and showing them more sympathy. There is no need for Islamophobia, it's time for jihadophobia. [Ynet, today]
That last line is critical. As comforting as it is for many people to sink into melancholic reverie about the clear and present threats to freedom of expression in today's Europe (not only Europe, and not only from the Islamists), the real story here is not that. It's jihad. And the dangers are considerably more physical, personal and immediate than the (undoubtedly real) assault on democratic freedoms.

1 comment:

B. Smith said...

Nice to hear about a moderate Muslim cleric - Imam Chalghoumi.

I am sick and tired of our politicians (USA politicians) claiming that these terrorists are "not Muslim", and "it has nothing to do with Islam". Well, obviously they are Muslim, and obviously it does have something to do with Islam.

On NPR this morning they interviewed a Muslim community leader who said "you can't use Islam to justify these attacks". Well, this is blatantly false, people can and do use Islamic texts to justify murders such as the ones in Paris. What no Muslim leader ever seems to say (but what it sounds like Imam Chalghoumi is trying to say) is "We should not use Islam to justify murders and terrorism."

This is a subtle difference, but "cannot" implies that your culture and values are entirely defined by Islam; "should not" implies that your observance of Islam is informed by a larger set of cultural values (including your own conscience) - which perhaps might include living side by side with Jews and others in peace as equals.

No progress will be made unless we squarely face the facts.