Whenever there is news of a shooting, kidnapping or attack, the first thought that goes through my mind is "Please don't let it be a Muslim" (with "Please don't let it be a Pakistani Muslim" following closely behind). For if it's a Muslim, it will no longer be considered an isolated incident, unlike how it is when a white non-Muslim takes up a gun and goes on a shooting rampage. If it's a Muslim, I have the onerous burden of having to do the following:
- Prove and declare to all non-Muslims that I condemn this atrocious act. This is only required if you are a Muslim. If you are a white Christian or Jew or a member of any other cultural group, you don't have to prove anything. You obviously don't believe in murder.
- Sit down my kids and explain to them that these Muslims are just murderers, while they give me a look that says, "Really, Mom, again? We got it the first time you told us."
- Respond to people's pointed looks when they talk about the incident like I, a boring middle-aged woman who likes nothing better than getting into her PJs, is responsible for the mad criminals who murder people while supporting some cause that I can't even relate to. But they look at me for answers, for an apology, because of course I, as a Muslim, represent all 1.6 billion of us, am guilty by association and have to apologize for them.
The attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was atrocious and simply a horrific crime. Yes, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine, and yes, it publishes cartoons that are racist and bigoted and are meant to provoke. Much like how someone would only abuse somebody you love to provoke you, these cartoons are meant to get a reaction. There is freedom of expression, but then we are also taught not to hurt someone intentionally. It is out of respect, and not out of fear, that people make the choices of what to say and what not to say. People who disagree have a choice as well: Do not read it. You have the freedom of speech as well and can state your disagreement -- but it does not give anyone a license to kill.
Acts of terror by someone who purports to follow Islam is very effective at getting one thing done: uniting the world even more in anti-Islam sentiment -- not that there is a need to add to it. Islamaphobia is alive and very well, thank you. We Muslims just help you along every couple of weeks, don't we? The media, once again, was flooded with news about the terrorist attacks by the "Islamists"; there were opinion pieces stating how the West too often has responded to jihadist violence with appeasement, and news hosts stating how Islam, once again, has shown itself to be anything but a religion of peace. Then of course we have the Muslims who condemned the act and opined about how we should hear more about the fallen French police officer Ahmed Merabet, who was a Muslim as well.
Any Muslims who, despite disagreeing with the act, try to justify it just a smidge, or have sympathy for its perpetrators, or try to defend the act as the radical Islamic cleric Anjem Choudary did in USA Today, writing that "the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike," should think twice. He continued by writing, "The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State." Chodhary forgets that, first of all, nowhere in Quran does it ban depictions of the Prophet (pbuh) or call for violence against those who display such images. Maybe he has even forgotten the oft-repeated story of the woman who would spit abuse and throw garbage on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) whenever he passed by her house. When she did not do so for a couple of days, the Prophet got concerned, found out that she was sick and nursed her back to health. Cynics might question the veracity of this incident, but the point is not whether this actually took place or not; the point is, as we are taught as young kids, that no matter what happens, in Islam, compassion and tolerance should take precedence.
But Choudary is not the only one. Let's accept the fact that there are many clerics out there like him who propagate a message that, if we use our own minds, we can clearly see is wrong. Any murderous act or injustice done in the name of religion -- from the 38 Yemense Muslims who died in a terrorist bomb blast the same day that the attack in France happened to the 141 Muslims (132 being children) recently killed by the Taliban, from the eight Pakistani shias killed by a bomb blast the day the French killers were apprehended to the 2,000-plus Muslims massacred by Boko Haram, from any non-Muslim who is killed to the sentencing of anyone who has committed a "blasphemous" act -- is wrong. There are plenty of examples, past and present -- from Christians burning people at the stake in medieval times to Buddhist monks killing Muslims in Mayanmar today -- that show the tendency in all of us to be extremely violent, narrow-minded, self-righteous and bigoted, no matter what religion we belong to. They are not protecting any religion, just serving their own interest. So maybe first we have to acknowledge that, yes, unfortunately, these are Muslims who commit crimes and atrocities and injustices, and yes, they are following principles that are un-Islamic. All that we can do is make sure that we stay strong on our faith -- the faith that does not believe in living i fear of radicals, extremists, terrorists, bigots or racists, the faith that teaches us to believe in humanity above anything else. Our belief in this humanity and common sense is the only answer to the fear that they are trying to use against us. As Muslims, each of us individually needs to find the strength within ourselves to do so and stand strong in front of any Muslim group or individual who tries to make us believe otherwise.
I know, even now, with all the prevalent ammunition of hatred against Muslims, that there are many non-Muslims who have been vociferous against the demonization of all Muslims, from the ones who stand by us -- relying on their own common sense and belief of truth -- to the ones who joined the march against the anti-Muslim protest in Germany to all the ones who might not get a chance to vocalize their opinions. Thank you for standing steadfast in your support of what is true. For the others, this is what would like to say: We are a population of more than 1.6 billion. We are each individuals. I am responsible, perhaps, just for two people, my children, as I can teach them the difference between right and wrong. The rest I do not have any control over. I stand with you in condemning the acts of violence, terrorism and injustice. I am not with them, and I should not have to apologize for them.