A: I’m a humorist. I’m a satirist. I’m a journalist. I’m a writer. It’s terrible.
Q: Have you condemned the attack?
A: I’m sorry, what?
Q: Do you as a Muslim condemn this attack?
A: Well yes. But.
Q: Why do you hesitate?
A: If I condemn the attack I could make it seem like I’m justifying a collective guilt. That worries me.
Q: CNN is asking Muslims to condemn the attack. It’s not just me.
A: I didn’t see CNN ask anyone to condemn the bombing of the NAACP office in Colorado. But that happened too. I guess it didn’t matter as much. #FrenchLivesMatter more than #BlackLivesMatter.
Q: It’s not the same thing.
A: Three mosques were attacked in Sweden in the last three weeks. One was set on fire, with people inside. Just recently thousands of Germans gathered against ‘Islamization.’ Somehow I don’t think they mean a handful of radicals.
Q: So you’re saying you don’t condemn the attack.
A: I already condemned it. What else do you need to hear?
Q: Well maybe Muslims should go out in the streets, to protest, to show people they don’t agree. To make it clear.
A: I should think when thousands of French are gathering in solidarity and #KillAllMuslims is trending on Twitter that being visibly Muslim in public would not be a good idea.
Q: Well then condemn it in print. On the radio. On TV. Where, for example, are the Muslims condemning ISIS?
A: You mean other than the tens of thousands of Muslims who are fighting them, being killed by them, and trying to stop them? You mean the 140+ children who were slaughtered in Peshawar by the Taliban? Most of the victims of Muslim violence are Muslim.
Q: So you’re saying Muslims are more violent than other people?
A: I never said that.
Q: Well why does it look that way?
A: When’s the last time you saw concentration camps for Muslims on the news? But that’s happening, in Myanmar.
Q: So you’re saying Muslims are innocent?
A: I’m saying the world is a complicated place. And just as I condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo I condemn attacks on all people. I fear what this selectivity means. It betrays a structural bias so powerful we can barely see it.
Q: Are you saying this attack is justified?
A: No. Of course not. I’m saying let’s not make this an occasion to empower still more people with violence on their minds.
Q: Context can be mistaken for justification.
A: It’s a good thing CNN isn’t providing any context right now.
Q: So where does this leave us? Do Muslims condemn terror?
A: If I speak, it is used against me, and if I do not speak, it is used against me. I condemn violence against the innocent. I think what happened in Paris was horrible. Do I need to say more?
This current article from ‘Religion Dispatches’ illustrates the difficulties faced by Muslims who oppose the recent catastrophic terrorist attack in Paris, when asked how they view the situation from their own perspective.
This begs the question as to whether fundamentalist religion is helpful for the prevention of misunderstanding of both religious tolerance and due respect for the religious faith convictions of other people. A valid question may be: “Where does one draw the line in the level of respect required for religious belief?”
There has been enough evidence, over centuries of the existence of diverse religions, that there will always be those of a fundamentalist sectarian belief, whose tolerance of others of a different version of faith is negligible. Fundamentalism – of any particular faith system – which seeks to thrive on the elimination of other faith traditions, would seem to deny the element of freedom that human beings have long sought to preserve – the freedom to believe in the existence of a deity, in whatever way they choose to believe.
Christians are not free from intolerance of the faith of others; the evidence of the crusades in the Middle Ages; and of a puritanical fundamentalist strand of belief in present-day GAFCON-ites, who have separated out from other Churches of the Anglican Communion on account of their acceptance of gay clergy; bears witness to a continuing persecution of fellow Christians who are different from themselves.
Real evidence of fundamentalism is when a minority group of a particular faith system is intolerant of the beliefs of the majority whose faith is based on a God of universal love, rather than a God of sectarian vengeance. The fact that the majority of Muslims do not seek to annihilate believers of other faith systems, preferring rather to ‘live and let live’, is in itself indicative of the reality – that most Muslims are peace-loving citizens of a multi-faith world community.
The real problem with the present situation – which has led to terrorism against journalists in Paris – is that secular organisations often take advantage of their freedom of the Press to lampoon, in words and pictures, the deeply-held religious sensibilities of faith communities.
Where once, even in the West, there were laws protecting faith communities from what were perceived to be blasphemous depictions of their religious symbols; modern thinking has allowed for such sentiments to be expressed – without recourse (certainly in the more liberal countries of the West) to legal action on behalf of the dis-respected community. However, in their own, less liberal, societies; Muslim majorities are protected by laws against such activities that are perceived to show disrespect to the local religion.
The anomaly in all of this is that, even in Western societies with a more liberal outlook on matters of religion and morality, the dignity of the individual is often protected by laws that promote the human rights of each member of the community – irrespective of their religious affiliation or position in society – to be treated equally at law. An instance of this is that, though, in England, same-gender couples are free to marry, the Church is not compelled to perform religious ceremonies to celebrate such marriages.
Finally, in the context of the above post, it is easy to see how a practising Muslim – such as the person being interviewed – may find it difficult to condemn opposition to what he perceives to be blasphemous comments in the Press. However, he stops well short of acceptance of acts of terrorism against its perpetrators. This is surely as it should be.
Freedom of the Press ought still be subject to the rules of common decency – which ought to be at the heart of all religious reportage, of whatever spiritual provenance. For a liberal Press to take advantage of its right to publish offensive material calculated to disrespect a faith community’s sacred symbols, is surely to court the discomfort, if not anger, of the public at large. I say this as one who was distinctly uncomfortable with a local depiction of the BVM in the representation in our local New Zealand context of ‘Virgin in a Condom’ – which item was criticised, not only by Christians, but by the non-Christian faith communities. The difference was, of course, that the controversy did not lead to blood-shed. Perhaps that difference marks out the problem of fundamentalism!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand