A teacher has been killed in France by a lone Muslim after displaying provocative cartoons in his classroom.
Every time such an incident happens, the same groups respond in the same manners. Almost all people have an instantaneous emotional reaction, and very few are able to take a step back and look at multiple facets in this complex narrative. For Macron and the anti-Muslim Far Right establishment, this isolated attack fits perfectly into their broader narrative of the incompatibility of Islam in their society. Hence, Macron jumps on this murder and politicizes it immediately, fully aware that he is going to rise in the polls as a result.
For disenfranchised Muslims, some of whom are sympathetic to the attack itself, quoting snippets of fiqh works and hadiths out of context is sufficient to legitimize this act. These individuals have neither studied uṣūl al-fiqh (which would preclude vigilante justice in all circumstances) nor give any weight to the concept of maṣāliḥ and mafāsid (as there is no question that the harms to come out of such attacks to the entire Ummah far outweigh the harms of the initial, localized provocation – what would have potentially emotionally hurt a few people in a classroom is now going to backlash on an entire nation’s community and policies).
For the conspiracy theorists, any and all such incidents are plots of the CIA, Mossad, or other shadowy nefarious entities that somehow control every leaf that falls. For these people, no Muslim is ever to blame and no extremism actually exists. To compound this narrative, there are undoubtedly some confirmed incidents of government provocation, hence one is genuinely confused as to what to say or not to say; but no person can deny that there is a real trend of extremist thought within our ranks, no matter how small it might be (even as we acknowledge that at times certain entities entrap or entice such behaviour for their own purposes).
For most mainstream Muslims who condemn, the condemnations are simply worthless, and they realize it. No matter what they say or do, the Right has already made up its mind and such ‘apologies’ fall on deaf ears, and the Left understands that most Muslims are not blood-thirsty killers hence no need for the disclaimers. If they don’t condemn, they are called out for their silence; if they do condemn, it’s not good enough: damned if you do damned if you don’t! As well, the more such mainstream Muslims condemn this terror, the more some members of their own community begin turning away from mainstream body due to the servile nature of these apologies. “Does the Establishment ever apologize to us for what they have been doing for the last two centuries?” they bellow. Frankly, such disavowals from the ‘moderate’ Muslim leaders directly fuel the anger in a small minority, who already view the mainstream Muslim community as being sell-outs and liberal Muslims in the first place. To compound this problem, many mainstream leaders (and even some clerics) don’t directly address the fiqh texts involved, and simply proclaim liberalist views as being fully Islamic. There are texts and fiqh issues that need to be discussed frankly- hardly anyone has done that (still!).
What needs to happen is a more balanced narrative: one that takes time to explain, and requires an open heart and mind to listen to. In the absence of either of these two factors, it is almost impossible to begin a fruitful conversation. This random act is not stemming from a classical ruling on blasphemy. Such provocations against our religion and Prophet have happened constantly around the globe for the last millennia. Rarely are they met with such violence.
This act needs to be understood in the broader socio-political framework of French Muslims vs. the French Establishment. The visceral anger and rage that causes one to ‘snap’ doesn’t happen by reading a fatwa on blasphemy: it comes from a lifetime, or even generations, of systematic dehumanization and rejection. This is not to justify the attack; it is to contextualize it.
Where does one begin? France’s invasion of Algeria, and the murdering of over 1.5 million of its inhabitants during its colonization, is just a brief over-looked chapter in French history books. The sheer brutality with which the French dealt with their Algerian citizens needs to be learned by all of us (side note: ‘The Battle of Algiers’ is a great award-winning movie to introduce this subject). As well, the visceral hatred and disdain that the French had and continue to have, and display at all levels, for the cultures and religion of the very populations that they pillaged and raped, and the second-class citizenship that N. African Muslims occupy in that country to this day, are more direct cause for the violence than any verse or hadith. The blatant hypocrisy of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” as these three factors are constantly denied to the Muslim citizens of that land all exacerbate the feelings of anger, frustration, and disenfranchisement. The ghettoization of the community, and the social barriers placed on them from birth, education, university placement, jobs, promotions, and social status are well known. In my own travels across Europe, and from my anecdotal encounters with European and Western Muslims, I know of no Western society that is more anti-Muslim than France.
Simply put: one cannot discuss or understand (much less prevent) such isolated attacks without a discussion of the broader treatment of North Africans, and even of the religion itself, in that land. Sadly, the knee-jerk reaction from both sides typically further entrenches the stubborn attitudes and reinforces the narrative of each side.
It’s a complex situation, and one that does not bode well for civil society unless it is resolved with wisdom, foresight, and a long-term commitment to the greater good of all parties involved.