What to make of Charlie Hebdo and beyond

Photo by Sarah, Je suis Charlie available under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Photo by Sarah, Je suis Charlie available under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Before I share my 2 cents, I just want to say condolences to the staff of Charlie Hebdo, the policeman and their families, the people of France and all victims and families of terrorism throughout the world.

When crazy and complicated events go on around the world, especially when they implicate my faith, I try to make sense of it. I browse Facebook, listen to NPR and the news looking for voices of reason and yes even satirical news from Jon Stewart to make sense of nonsense. I liked Jon Stewart’s comment “Our goal tonight is not to make sense of this because there is no sense to be made of this.” Then there are some wonderful articles (listed below) by Nicholas Kristof, What Muslim Scholars say about the attacks, The Telegraph (from the UK), Professor Juan Coles commentary, Ed Hussain for the Guardian, and more. The important message from them is to separate the acts of a few from the faith of many.

It is hard to read the mind of serial-killers or suicide-bombers, but they do I believe have somethings in common, and that is a narrow literal view of life and it’s purpose.

Since 9-11, there is no shortage of terrorism attacks from New York, to London, Madrid, Mumbai, Boston, Sydney and now Paris. Along with these are the terrorist attacks that take place in Muslim countries, which are an order or two of magnitude greater from Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, the list is endless and the human toll and damage to the psyche of a people un-measurable.

According to The Lancet, suicide bombs in Iraq have killed at least 12,000 civilians and 200 coalition soldiers between 2003 and 2010, and the toll has continued unabated till the present. In Pakistan over 56,000 people have been killed due to suicide bombings, since 2003. In Peshawar just last month 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren were gunned down by the Taliban. The number of physically injured and traumatized is far greater.

This is not a problem wholly owned by Muslims, there have been  plenty of serial killings of civilians in the past decade or two. In 2011 in Norway 87 people were killed by Anders Behring Breivik. Here in the US we have had Columbine (12), to Virginia Tech (32), and Sandy Hook (26 people including 20 children), where mass shootings have taken place.

With Charlie Hebdo it would be easy to place the blame on satirical cartoons attacking the Prophet Muhammad, but stepping back we can see other outrage by Muslims including Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses, the Danish cartoons, and more recently the Youtube video “Innocence of Muslims” which all depicted the Prophet of Islam in demeaning ways. The resulting outcry in Muslim majority countries resulted not only in protests but loss of life.

Much of the media coverage when events like this arise focus on Islam the faith and Immigrants. The shooters and suicide bombers cannot and should not make a whole religion, culture, or nation guilty by association. A deeper look may provide some insights.

Most immigrants to Western Europe as well as North America have come looking for a better life, as do immigrants from other parts of the world. The North African communities in France, the Pakistani community in England, just like the Turkish immigrant communities in Germany came to Europe for jobs. As time went on there families joined, and soon communities formed in the major metropolitan cities. These communities are not without faults but by in large have been law abiding, hard working, and aspiring.

The first generation established mosques, Sunday schools, and Halal Meat markets, and although religious were not Zealots. Yes, they fasted in Ramadan, and attended the biannual Eid celebration prayers, and the occasional Friday prayers.

Fast forward to the present and what happened? The hard-working immigrants have multiplied, and others have joined them from their native countries. In places like the UK, you have a third generation of Muslims. Some have done extremely well, got a good education and are both Islamically grounded and highly accomplished professionals. There are others who may not have done as well academically, but are still spiritually grounded, and then there are those who are at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

French-Muslims identify themselves as French first, and Muslim second in terms of identity. Some are culturally Muslim but may not be practicing and of those who do practice their faith, there is a cross-section of adherence.

There is a big cultural disconnect, between the immigrants and theses the second and third generation of Muslims. The Mosques and community leadership are not meeting the needs of the next generation and not as inclusive to diversity of faith and opinion. The Imams and leaders are not being raised and nurtured from within the community. The issue is not whether the Imam or the boards than run the mosques are immigrants, as there are many wonderful scholars from not only different parts of the world, but also are converts and native to the land. The issue is can they culturally connect with the youth and the issues of the time and place of the communities they are serving?

Added to these issues is the almost total marginalization and sidelining of Muslim communities and their voice in the national narrative. Instead of policies and a dialogue between the two it is replaced by an amplification of the rhetoric from the extreme right wing politicians and media. The net result is a segment of these second and third generation Muslims have a crisis in identity, are disenfranchised, and with the political vacuum and woes in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are vulnerable to the call from Jihadi groups.

So where do we go from here?  I don’t know but perhaps here are a couple of places to start.

There needs to be a constructive meaningful dialogue within religious and cultural communities as well as between the central government and Muslim communities. This is not the symbolic Iftars in Ramadan or other photo-ops that Governments do to look good. A conscious effort has to be made to address the root causes  of terrorism.  As far as I know human life in all faiths including the Muslim one, is a precious gift given to us by our creator. Before we are Muslims, and Christians, Jews or Hindus, before we are American, or European or Arab, before we are Shia or Sunni, we are brothers and sisters in humanity. If our faith is not making us better human beings then whatever faith we are following is very flawed indeed. The value of human life although so obvious and basic needs to be reinforced.

Turn off-headline news, and switch to alternate media sources that give more context and balance in their news coverage. Contemporary news media by it’s nature is negative. Find sources, that share the good things that are happening in our communities, country and the world. The year in review example is a good example.

We need more inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue not just between religious leaders which takes place to some degree already, but at the grass-roots level between citizens, co-workers, and neighbors. The only way to fight ignorance is through knowledge and nothing is better than that through first hand experience of getting to know those around us.

I will leave you with a quote. “The prominent French-speaking Muslim theologian Shaikh Abdullah bin Bayyah often
says that if there is a house on fire, everybody works towards putting out the fire. You don’t ask why is this or that person carrying the bucket of water. The house of Islam is on fire. The water needs to be carried by everybody, regardless of race or religion.”














One thought on “What to make of Charlie Hebdo and beyond

  1. I think it is a mistake to offer any solution to these type of problems. If one or two person decide to pick up a gun and shoot someone there is really not much anyone can do except to punish the culprits after the crime. While many of the things the author proposes are good on their own but hey should not be proposed in this context. This act is not connected to the marginalization of Muslim youth, or that some are at the ‘lowest rung’, or Imams of the Masjid, or lack of dialogue among the various faith groups. Just as none of this is applicable to Columbine, or Oklahoma, or Virginia tech, in the same way none of this is applicable to the Hebdo’s shooters. The two brothers got really mad and shot the cartoonist, in return they were killed by the police in a shoot out. End of story. No need to analyze much or to claim that there is a way to solve the problem of acts of random violence.

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