'Charlie Hebdo' terrorist act is an attack on all Muslims

Jan 8, 2015 at 1:21 pm
Aw, fuck, here we go.

Another terrorist act committed in the name of Allah. Another terrorist act committed on behalf of Islam. Another terrorist act that I have to apologize for.
As an Arab American raised in a Muslim household, I don’t enjoy the luxury of only feeling appalled and sympathetic for families of victims murdered in acts of terrorism, such as in Wednesday’s attacks against the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in France that saw 12 dead.

I, like Muslims all over, have the unfortunate task of also bearing fear and guilt — fear for the backlash that is expected to ensue against the global Muslim community, and guilt for its misunderstood reputation. In addition to grief, Muslims have an added bonus of feeling scared and remorse for their community in the face of actions committed by psychopaths that have nothing to do with Islam and what the faith stands for.

In times like these, no amount of Muslim condemnation can satiate the constant call for Muslims to denounce them. And there’s the burden of having to listen to debates on whether Islam is or is not responsible for all the terrorism in the world, often led by non-Muslims speaking on behalf of the Muslim community.

But commentary about the “Islamic State,” or ISIS, or Al-Qaeda, or any terrorist organization claiming to act in the name of Allah without a legitimate expertise, or without meticulous regard for the subject of Islam, is troubling. The use of the word “Islamic” to depict terrorist entities is misleading and allows anyone not familiar with Islam to easily assume incorrectly that they represent all Muslims everywhere. And with a recent study by Pew reporting that only 38 percent of Americans say they know someone who is Muslim, it is all the more important for media coverage to be careful in their portrayal of Islam as much as they need to be accurate.

The unique issue raised by Wednesday’s attacks in Paris is related to the topic of freedom of speech, and whether we must defend that right or concede at times in the name of safety. I already have to explain that no, Islam isn’t trying to take over the West. That no, there isn’t a risk of Sharia infiltrating the U.S. government. I already have to defend my parents’ faith against the fallacy that Muslims want to exterminate all non-Muslims and send them to hell. But now because of a dangerous rhetoric triggered by reckless reporting on domestic and global terrorism I get to defend Muslims against the notion that Islam is anti-freedom of speech.

It’s utterly ridiculous to me that Muslims need to explain themselves in response to every terrorist act at all. I could list each passage from the Qur’an that condemns killing for any reason, including killing those who speak ill of Islam — such as through satirical illustrations, for example. I could also list passages from all of the Abrahamic religious texts that might be interpreted as condoning violent acts that could lead to terrorism.

But what’s the point of that argument? It does nobody any favors and leads down a rabbit hole of a never-ending flame war. What’s important to focus on during times like these is not who or what religion is to blame, but rather, how we can overcome the animosity. One of the most important ways to do so is to become educated about who Muslims are, how terrorists acting in the name of Islam don’t represent the Muslim community, and other topics related to the issues at hand, and use the privilege of freedom of speech bestowed on us as Americans to our advantage, and not as a weapon to instigate.

I didn’t wake up on September 12, 2001 and feel, for the first time, exposed as an Arab and Muslim American. A decade before 9/11, the villainous acts of Saddam Hussein incited an ill-treatment of anyone who shared his surname, so my “Arabness” had been long recognized. But after a life of feeling the need to defend and explain aspects of my identity, I’m done. I, like Muslims everywhere, work to try to eliminate negative perceptions about our community.

Yesterday’s deplorable attacks in Paris, like last month’s situation in Sydney, and even Tuesday’s incident outside an NAACP office in Colorado, are all acts of cowardice, and don’t endorse the beliefs of any population supposedly representative of the assailants involved. I denounce these acts, and express my sincere and deepest condolences to the families and colleagues of the victims — not as an Arab American, and not on behalf of the Muslim community, but as a human being.