Je Suis…Islamophobe?

<div class="at-above-post addthis_tool" data-url=""></div>The senselessness of the attacks in Paris have been accompanied by outpourings of grief, ardent messages of support, and a sea of red, white and blue...

The senselessness of the attacks in Paris have been accompanied by outpourings of grief, ardent messages of support, and a sea of red, white and blue on Facebook and Twitter. France has been wracked by one of the worst European terrorist attacks in recent history, which left 129 dead and hundreds injured.

This horrific event has been accompanied by narratives of defiant courage, national pride and humanity, which have flooded social media feeds, echoing the sentiment represented by the trending #notafraid hashtag which has come to embody French resilience in the face of such horrors. Unfortunately, as is often the case, many of these inspirational accounts have morphed into something more sinister: islamophobia, far right anti-immigrant ideology and the demonization of those who may be considered ‘other’ in French society. The fact that #notafraid has been accompanied by #banIslam and #closetheborders shows just how shallow the level of tolerance and understanding has become.

Despite how outspoken Muslim politicians, imams and citizens have been about denouncing ISIS, it has not been enough to deflect hatred from the far-right. Within hours, a massive fire broke out at the ‘Calais Jungle’, which houses thousands of asylum-seekers and migrant.[1] In the months since the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Islamophobic violence in France has tripled compared to last year, and various Muslim community leaders in France have braced themselves for revenge attacks.

Why then has it proven to be such a challenge for Muslims to disassociate themselves from ISIS? We will do well to remember that the vast majority of ISIS’s victims have been Muslim. Thus, it should make conflating the two infinitely more difficult. The reason for this is the following: fear. This powerful yet invisible force that has been behind almost every dark spot on the record of modern history – apartheid, the Holocaust, the Cold War – is so prevalent in Europe today. It is easier for some to designate an entire group as guilty, instead of facing the admittedly complex yet absolutely necessary task of integration, not only of refugees, but of marginalised groups in society.

The importance of this becomes apparent when one studies what ISIS’s objectives are, and what they desire from the West. Although this is an extremely complex issue, there are a few things that are certain: ISIS uses violence to incite fear, deepen polarisation and drive political change. The efficacy of its ideology is evident by the thousands of born-and-bred Europeans that have stepped up in support of this deplorable group.

This trend perhaps necessitates a closer look, not only at our foreign policy, but at the conditions on our very soil which have enabled this radicalisation. While there is no justification for this violence, if we want to stop terrorism it is necessary to address the causes, and not just the symptoms. For many of these recruits, accounts of Muslim marginalisation by the West are corroborated by far-right sentiment, islamophobia and their relative social, economic and political exclusion. As a result, the emergence of a vicious circle becomes apparent: alienation fuels narratives of victimhood, which encourages further radicalisation, which results in an increase in terrorist attacks.

These attacks fuel further discrimination, and the cycle continues. Support for the far-right simply legitimises the grievances so loudly expressed by extremist groups, thus empowering them to widen their support. This circle can only be broken by delegitimising these accounts of victimhood. Thus, rooting out radicalisation goes hand in hand with rooting out islamophobia and xenophobia, all three of which are so worryingly entrenched into the fabric of our society.

Shire-where does it hurtAddressing this issue begins with how we treat those within our borders, as well as those without. Despite the often understandable reasoning given for the particular focus on the events in Paris, it is unsettling how little attention has been given to similar horrors elsewhere.

The attacks in Beirut – a city ironically known as the ‘Paris of the East’ – and those in Iraq are intricately related to those in Paris. Not to mention Syria, whose people have been relentlessly bombarded on a scale that is way beyond that of the Paris attacks, for over 4 years.

Violence and extremism, whether in Syria, Paris, Beirut or any other country is vile, unacceptable and should be denounced unequivocally. Now this article does not attempt to instil a kind of ‘hierarchy of horror’. On the contrary: it advocates for the reinstatement of humanity, unity and a broadening of what is meant by the term ‘us’. Surely ‘us’ should mean those who desire peace, safety, tolerance and freedom?

The key here is not building higher walls and creating further division between groups: it is standing in solidarity against a common enemy. We are all afflicted with the same disease. Intolerance and fear only enables it to spread further and renders us immune to any to any treatment plan that sanity or humanity may formulate.

This oft-repeated #notafraid sentiment is exactly what the response to these attacks necessitate. It should extend beyond the conduct of our isolated everyday lives, to the wider social and ideological battles we are faced with daily. We should not be afraid of diversity, of providing refuge to the most vulnerable, and of allowing people to experience the same freedom that we hold so dear. Fear and polarisation is the fuel which drives terrorist groups, and if we want them to die out, it is essential that we refuse to be pawns in their strategy. Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, captures this sentiment:

What worries me most is that we will see in France and other European countries a polarisation, with different extremists egging each other on. People on the far right trying to take advantage. It’s about dividing societies.

To recycle a doctrine of hate, and turn it against the innocent would be a great injustice to every victim of terrorism everywhere. If we truly desire peace, then all ideologies advocating for intolerance and discrimination have no place in our societies.

 [1] It is unclear whether the fire was indeed a ‘revenge attack’, but the camp has increasingly been targeted by anti-migrant groups of late.

Laura Naude

Laura is originally from South Africa and recently graduated with a master's degree in conflict, security and development from King’s College London. She is particularly passionate about refugee issues, human rights and humanitarian assistance. Previous experience includes Amnesty International and various organisations in the UK and South Africa. Her skills include photography, journalism, advocacy, social media, international relations and research. Laura is currently working for Lighthouse Relief, a refugee organisation in the Idomeni area in Greece. She can be reached at [email protected] or through LinkedIn.
2 Comments on this post.
  • Roger Hawcroft
    Roger Hawcroft
    17 November 2015 at 12:56 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Laura, thank you for your timely, cogent and well written article.

    Fear can certainly be a powerful weapon. My own fear is not so much of becoming a victim of extremist violence for the odds of that are very low, as they are for most westerners. What I do fear is exactly that group hysteria and intolerance that is effectively supported by any violence that can be (rightly or wrongly) attributed to an extremist group. The massive and relatively uncontrolled, perhaps even uncontrollable, vehemence and prejudiced diatribe and hostility that insinuates itself into the minds of otherwise mainly rational and reasonable people is horrific. Indeed, I find it terrifying.

    Strangely, those that are tempted or deceived into prejudice, hostility, discrimination and even overt violence, seem not to understand that they become the very epitome of what it is that they claim to revile.

    Sadly, as I’m sure you know and have perhaps experienced yourself, those who speak out against violent retaliation are often subject to ridicule and themselves become derisively labelled by those who have previously been their neighbours, peers, workmates or friends.

    On first consideration it is difficult to comprehend how otherwise “normal” people can suddenly develop such fanaticism. However, I think that anyone who has studied or is reasonably conversant with world political and economic systems will readily see the causes of both the initial extremism and the extremism that it subsequently engenders in return. Those causes, put simply, lie with a world economic system that is utterly inequitable and unjust. A system where 1% of the population can control now over 50% of the world’s wealth is indefensible. This system is controlled and perpetuated through propagating an ethos that encourages an individualistic race to an unattainable “top” and a race in which it is tacitly accepted that one needn’t worry too much about those who don’t “make it”. Indeed, those who don’t make it are derided as responsible for their disadvantaged situation as though it were of their own making.

    This culture is one, the horror of which is disguised through promotion of the notion that wealth creation is aimed at lifting the level of all when, in fact, it only enriches the already wealthy. Until and unless society refuses to accept that it is not the floor that needs to be raised but the ceiling that needs to be lowered, the inequity and injustice will continue and extremism will flourish in its corruption.

    As do you and any reasonable and civil person, I abhor all acts of violence and I don’t for one moment condone the violence of extremists. However, neither do I condone the violence and extremism of governments who not only create the conditions in which that extremism flourishes but also injure and kill innocent civilians with impunity, using feigned indignation and their laws to justify what they do and dismiss it as, “collateral damage”.

    In short, I fully concur with you – we urgently need to remove the cause of this tragic environment and not be deluded into continuously putting out the spot fires whilst stoking the main conflagration.

  • Avatar
    Chris Zachariou
    18 November 2015 at 9:03 am
    Leave a Reply

    Hi Laura, thank you so much for expressing all my feelings and thoughts so much better than I ever could…. Chris

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