When news first broke of the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, I assumed it was something like the shooting in Australia; a lone gunman, a tragic one-off, the act of a madman. Throughout the day, it became clear that the shooting at the Paris headquarters of the satirical paper was not the act of a deranged individual; it was an act of terror that would turn into a tense three days of violence.
I still struggle to wrap my head around the reality of events unfolding in France, but what’s more, I initially had a hard time believing where the violence was taking place. Though Europe has suffered its share of terrorism and violence, mass shootings are a form of violence I associate with America, not France.
I don’t know if that says more about me or the recent history of this country, but either way, the details continue to unfold and it wasn’t long before the true motivation behind the attacks was made clear.
When news that the perpetrators were radical Islamists broke, it was an inevitably short time before the anti-Muslim vitriol bubbled to the surface of the Internet. There is something more problematic than the outwardly racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim sentiment, any decent human being can realize that statements that “all Muslims are terrorists” aren’t right; it’s profiling, among other things.
What’s more insidious and problematic, is the idea that any person who might be Muslim or anyway related to the culture is somehow responsible for the actions of a minority faction.
This problematic sentiment is, perhaps, best summed up in a Jan. 10 tweet by media mogul Rupert Murdoch: “Maybe most Moslems [sic] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”
Some might ask, “What’s wrong with that? Muslims must hold jihadists in their community accountable?” The problem is that we live in America, where the “guilty” are held responsible for their actions. The idea that a whole community should start out on a world-wide apology tour, and launch an “anti-terrorist” war against radical Islam, although ludicrous, is not a new idea.
There is a long history of minority communities being held responsible for the actions of small numbers of people who don’t reflect the culture as a whole. Over and over again, religious scholars, community leaders and random individuals interviewed on the street have repeated phrases like: “Islam is a religion of peace;” “These individuals are corrupting the words of the Prophet;” “Their words and actions are a contradiction of our beliefs” so on and so forth. Nevertheless, any act of violence that is tied to a Muslim is suddenly a reflection on the entire community.
Interestingly, this collective responsibility is a one way street. The Ku Klux Klan are not shy about their “Christian” affiliation, in fact, it’s a major foundation of their beliefs, but I don’t hear the masses clamoring for Christians to apologize for their actions.
Why can we assume that white supremacists don’t reflect the beliefs and behaviors of the majority of Christians, but we can’t offer the same courtesy to Muslims as it relates to religious extremists, to feminists as it relates to misandrists (“man haters”), to the black community as it relates to criminals, members of the LGBTQ community as it relates to sexual deviance?
Why does guilt by association only apply to cultural minorities? Why does presumed innocence only work for white, male, heterosexual Christians? The answer is highly unpopular and it starts with a big, fat, capital “P.”
The events in France were a tragic example of terrorism; the violence has occasionally been referred to as “France’s September 11th” and I think that conveys to me, an American currently abroad, the type of fear and anxiety the French people must be feeling.
As Americans, we have become all too familiar with this kind of national grieving; but we can’t forget our compassion for the estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Their religion has been hijacked, mutilated for political gain and used as a weapon of hate.
This corrupted bastardization of a peaceful religion has also been used as justification to persecute those who peacefully practice their religion. The Muslim community doesn’t have the privilege of assumed innocence, so it’s up to the rest of us to remember our empathy and remember that just like freedom of speech, freedom of religion is a fundamental right that should be valued and protected.
A Muslim is not a terrorist, in the same way that a Christian is not automatically a member of the KKK. A fear reaction in the wake of terrorism is only natural, but to let that fear turn into a tirade of fear and hate against a whole community is the definition of un-American.
Brionne Powell is a junior political science major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected].