In the Name of the Almighty
The response of the Islamic world to France and the EU’s plan of action
By Shahana Joshi
As the world grapples with what can be called a year rife with challenges and obstacles of a more unprecedented nature, the old and known ones like terrorism and radicalization have reared their ugly heads time and again over the course of the year. Most recently, the world learned of the gruesome beheading of Samuel Paty, a school teacher in a Paris suburb by an 18-year-old Chechen. His crime? Showing his students Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in a class on freedom of expression.
French Values Under Threat
As of today, France is home to one of Europe’s largest population of Muslims and has also been victim of a slew of terror attacks in recent years. With this incident in particular, as the world stood shocked at the sheer brutality of the crime, the moments of silence and sadness were not allowed to last for long. As President Emanuel Macaron was quick to condemn the incident as an act of terror, he also made sure to hail Samuel Paty as a hero, someone who stood up for France’s most fundamental and cherished ideals- that of freedom of speech and expression and liberty of thought. President Macaron in a very unforeseen move also stepped up his criticism of not just the crime in itself but called out Islam as a “religion in crisis.” This particular statement was crucial as it was clearly the elephant in the room that no seemingly liberal and secular European leader was willing or open to talk about. The liberal Western notion of secularism is in many ways often confused with excessive appeasement that has very often led to a takeover of conservative Islamic groups in entire sectioned areas of European cities. It is possible that this notion comes from a certain level of European guilt for colonialist and racist actions and behaviours in the past, maybe going to the other extreme of excessive appeasement is how Europe intends on making amends for past mistakes.
France however, has been consistently true to its secular fabric, not even allowing any symbols of religion to be displayed in public, making their belief in liberty and freedom of expression intrinsic to the very idea of what it means to be French.
Poland also continues to stand firm on its policy of illegal immigration and the exigent need to address Islamic extremism in the European Union. Dominick Tarczynski, Polish MP with the ruling Law and Justice party has minced no words in speaking against Angela Merkel and ultra-liberal German immigration policies which he believes in recent years, has brought the safety and security of Europe to its knees. Tarczynski has made various public statements including those to news channels, and stated very clearly that illegal immigration has no place in Poland. However, it is hard not to notice how these interviews are carried out and the nature of questioning on the same. Like most liberal media across the globe, especially those in western nations, the line of questioning to Tarczynski has always bordered on accusatory- Western media has insinuated that Poland is Islamophobic, harps on how Poland is not willing to comply with the values of inclusion set by the European Union, and how Poland discriminates between Ukrainians and refugees from Islamic nations, the former of whom are Christian, thereby making Poland a hardline right wing Islamophobic nation. Tickers running on the lower-end of the screen read “Poland: No Muslim Immigrants” and “Warsaw: only Christian migrants allowed.” Tarczynski, known for his no-holds-barred approach to Polish policies, has made it very clear that Poland will always be reserved and conservative in its acceptance of refugees from Muslim majority nations who do not have all legalities and paperwork in place, and that witnessing what the rest of the EU is going through with terror attacks or even the infamous rapes in Sweden for instance, have only strengthened Poland’s stand on immigration. The world is certainly not used to seeing such forthrightness from a European leader, and for many this has been a breath of fresh air.
The Reaction of the Muslim World
What followed President Macaron’s statements however, was certainly expected but disappointing nonetheless- a series of large and small scale protests in Muslim majority countries as well as protests by Muslim groups in secular democracies. From Mumbai to Mogadishu, the language used, the emotions expressed and the call for action was the very same- the denouncement of President Macaron’s statements and a show of strength and solidarity by Muslims across the globe, proving yet again the influence of Islamic mobilisation regardless of nation or geopolitical muscle power, thereby attempting to consolidate the concept of ‘Ummah’ or the pan-national identity of Muslims.
But whichever side of the fence one chooses to sit on, there is one thing that is undeniable- the stoic, deafening and almost ominous silence of the Muslim world on the killings of the innocent lives themselves. Rather, the focus has been on how the Prophet has been insulted and how President Macaron’s words are offensive and degrading the fabric of Islam.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey who hasn’t missed a chance to pick a fight with France in recent times, once again lashed out at Macaron accusing France of being Constitutionally Islamophobic. Quite expectedly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan adopted a similar stance on the issue by penning a letter to the leaders of the Muslim world condemning the treatment of Muslims in Europe and the need to break the cycles of “violence bred by ignorance and hate.” Again, it is so interesting to note Khan’s choice of words- where the beheading of a teacher is almost condoned by his silence on one side, we have him calling for a change in the behaviours of those harmed instead of taking a long hard look at what exact version of Islam he chooses to stand for.
To add fuel to an already raging fire, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad went on a tweet rampage, going so far as saying “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” From press interviews of right-wing leaders to the statements of leaders of Muslim majority countries, it’s becoming quite apparent that falling back on the Spanish inquisition or the Crusades is being used as a justification for crimes committed in the present. Liberal media sources are also seen too often paint all terrorism with the same brush, which is not just factually incorrect, but is also extremely unfair. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, the fact still remains that in the modern world, Islam is the religion that human life is sacrificed for the most. The sooner we as citizens of the world accept this fact, we move closer to finding a solution. The world is after all up against not criminal activities in isolation but a transnational jihadist ideology, in itself.
In the days following the ruthless murder of Samuel Paty, we were witness to yet another crime in the name of the Prophet- a Tunisian Muslim man who rushed towards and beheaded a woman and killed two others in a Church in Nice, France, after shouting “Allah-hu-Akbar” (Allah is Great). Once again, the Islamic world either stood in deafening silence or went on to school the French government on how to avoid further inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims as did the Turkish Presidential Communications Director, Fahrettin Altun, almost insinuating that this should serve as an example if the French were to encourage freedom of expression with regards to Islam and Prophet Mohammed.
The world order as we see it today, is not in the most favourable state of affairs and these incidents in Europe bring out this fact with lucidity. With the secular world taking a firm stand against the killings, including the most recent one in Vienna, where 5 people have been killed after a gunman with links to the IS opened fire at various locations in the city. While countries like the US and India were quick to condemn these attacks and rightfully offer their solidarity and support to France, once again Muslim majority nations offered close to nothing.
EU's Refugee Policy- Malaise or a Humanitarian Gesture
Coming to the initially celebrated and now often criticised EU Refugee Policy, it needs to be noted that not all of Europe is very bullish about it. The refugee quota system for instance, has been enthusiastically adopted by countries like Germany, but has not seen as many takers in other EU nations, such as Poland and Hungary, who have been very emphatic about not meeting or even accepting the European Commission requirements concerning filling the quotas for receiving illegal migrants. Moreover, differences on migration issues give rise to controversy on other issues of domestic and foreign policies within the EU.
Consequently, the question the European Union needs to deliberate upon very ardently is where they choose to draw the line. EU’s new Migration Pact offers little respite for member countries who are still being pressured to share the burden of refugee rehabilitation. Resistant member countries continue to ask the same question- Why is this only the EU’s problem and why have Islamic powerhouses such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait turned the other way, without taking in a single refugee? There is a desperate need in the EU to redefine and rethink its immigration policies for refugees in a real, concrete way, not just for reasons of safety and security of the region, but also to mitigate the possibilities of further fractures that may arise between its member countries in the days to come. For now, all the world can do is hope for a day when heinous crimes in the name of religion are a thing of the past. Countries across the world need to come together and re-evaluate their internal security priorities, and stand resolutely with France during this trying time.
Lest the world should forget that the challenges that France is currently facing may soon be their own.
Shahana Joshi is a Fellow at Usanas Foundation. She is a graduate in Public Administration and Policy from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.
Disclaimer: This paper is the author’s individual scholastic contribution and does not necessarily reflect the organisation’s viewpoint.