On October 29th, in Nice, France, a terrorist attacked and killed three people in a church. Two died inside, while the other fled, only to die later from multiple stab wounds. The attacker was identified as 21-year-old Brahim Aioussaoi, a Tunisian man who arrived in France in early October. Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, reported that the attacker “repeated endlessly ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is greatest].” French President Emmanuel Macron said, “If we are attacked once again it is for the values which are ours: freedom, for the possibility on our soil to believe freely and not to give in to any spirit of terror… I say it with great clarity once again today: we won’t surrender anything.” A president is expected to condemn terrorist attacks, but President Macron has repeatedly connected these attacks to Islam.
(The French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned the attacks and stood in solidarity with the victims’ family. Muslims around the world took to social media to condemn this attack as well.)
When two Muslim women were stabbed in front of the Eiffel Tower on October 18th, and were reportedly called “dirty Arabs” and other racial insults, Macron did not condemn these attacks. The attackers were drunk, and had argued with the victims about whether their dog needed to be wearing a leash. The attackers deny all claims that they insulted the women, based either on their race or the fact that they were wearing hijabs. Many French media claimed that the attack was about the dog, and, therefore, was neither religiously nor racially linked.
Since October 16th, when Samuel Paty was murdered, France has imposed stricter regulations on both Imams (religious leaders in Islam), requiring them to obtain licenses, and other areas of Islamic life, to fight “radical Islam.” Paty, a teacher, showed his class political cartoons containing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him [pbuh]) from Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. This offended many Muslims because depictions of the Prophet (pbuh) is blasphemous in Islam. Many Muslims and Muslim leaders around the world expressed sorrow with both Paty’s murder and the caricatures shown. Regardless of the political cartoons, the Muslim community condemned the act of violence.
However, the Muslim community did not respond well when Macron supported the caricatures while sympathizing with Muslims offended by it. While non-Muslims justified the cartoons as “freedom of speech,” French Muslims felt that they crossed a line which should have been maintained with respect. Since then, Muslims worldwide have boycotted French products, and some stocks have fallen as a result. Macron called the boycott “unworthy” and “unacceptable,” which is unusual. Using his logic, the people boycotting French products are simply exercising their freedoms of choice and expression.
France is seeing another rise of extremist attacks in the same vein as 2015-2016. How the country and its media handle them is critical for the safety of all of its citizens – especially the Muslim population, which is facing increasing hate and discrimination. In the past, mosques and Muslim-owned stores have been targeted in “retaliation against Muslim extremists,” but this creates a divide between French Muslims and the rest of France. In reality, it should the French population against the violent extremists.
Even the term “radical Islam” has been criticized. The phrase describes extremist actions as a part of the religion, rather than acts of violence an individual chooses to justify through religion. Islam, like many religions, advocates for peace. Equating ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ with terrorism and extremism is a dangerous notion that is only set to divide people – all groups of people contain dangerous individuals. To blame millions of Muslims for the acts of a few extremists is wrong.
Uyghur Muslims in China are in concentration camps. Indian Muslims are being dehumanized. The Muslim community must continue to actively condemn the extremists who commit acts of violence using their name, and non-Muslim communities must stand in solidarity. Muslims should not have to convince everyone that they deserve to be protected and respected.
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