Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo/Pegida or the problem of representativeness

Today is a sad day. Twelve people are dead after a shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. As a political scientist, it concerns me. As someone living in Paris, its aftermath will surely affect me. I have already received an e-mail from my university informing me of all the new safety measures put in place. I am not writing this from France, so my safety is not compromised for the weeks to come. In any case, it pains me that what is home now should find itself involved in this.
If you were expecting me to carry on this posting by ranting on the "Islamisation of the world", Islamic fundamentalist radicalism, Jihadism, or even multiculturalism, you may as well stop reading now because I will do no such thing.
You see, all I see here is a problem of representativeness. A few make all the noise, a majority is silent, fearful and stranded vis-à-vis the public arena.

Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical magazine based in Paris. Between 2011 and 2012 it published a few cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad. This being highly offensive within Islamic values, Muslims across the world were outraged at this. Indeed, the magazine's office was bombed in November 2011. This morning at 11am two (or more) men with guns have gone in and have started killing journalists, only after calling them by their names, so they would know it was not accidental. 12 people have been killed, and the attackers are as of writing (9pm CET) at large. A few journalists managed to record and leak some videos of the terrorists in action, and they should appear on every dictionary as the graphic definition of horror.
So the big question is, is this Islam? Easy answer: no. Click on the link if you speak French, in it you will listen to the imam of Drancy, a city in the Paris outskirts. Back in the day he stated his opposition to the cartoons depicting Muhammad, but he was always clear on one thing: art is fought through art, not through blood. In a similar fashion, Dalil Boubakeur from the Paris Mosque has stated that in Islam "human life is sacred". If you'd rather hear it in English, I can rescue a piece I wrote two years ago after the Rigby shooting in London. At its very end there is a video of a London imam saying more or less the same. And if that is not enough, you should know that by pure chance a few French imams are currently visiting the Vatican, and have condemned the attacks together with Pope Francis. Even the Islamic Council of Spain has spoken against it.
One of the police officers who has lost his life today was named Ahmed and was a practising Muslim. He died protecting his fellow citizens, he died saving lives.

Religion is only part of your identity. Fearmongering bigots use the terms Muslim and Arab casually and interchangeably, as a synonym of 'evil'. This entails a number of inconsistencies:
1. Muslims and Arabs are not the same. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and most Muslims are not Arabs.
2. Neither Muslims nor Arabs are evil. Some people are evil, most people are not, irrespective of everything else.
3. Even if you are Muslim and Arab, that would still be one part of your identity: you can still be German or French, man or woman, left-wing or right-wing, and none of those variables are mutually exclusive.
4. If you are not aware of the three points above, it is not them; rather, it is you who are the danger to society.

Pegida fits very well into number 4. Freely translated, it is an acronym for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West". So what is it? It is a German organisation originating in Dresden whose main aim is to protest against the presence of so many Muslims in Europe, perceiving them as a cultural threat. In a nutshell, it is bigotry in its maximum expression. Even Merkel, who once declared that multiculturalism had failed, has said she is against Pegida's values. This phenomenon is not reserved to Germany though, there is the Front National in France, and in Spain, even though these opinions have hardly no space in the public arena, #StopIslam is at the time of writing the second (most) Trending Topic on Twitter.

So this is my message today: minorities should not represent majorities. Pegida does not represent ethnic Germans, today's killers do not represent Muslims. It is that easy. The majority of European Muslims are like Ahmed, the police officer who was killed today, or like the imam of Drancy: people who are integrated, people who care, people who feel part of the community, people who do not deserve to be blamed by the actions of a crazy minority.
Europe faces hard times, I would humbly ask everyone with some common sense not to be carried away by bigotry, by the easy way out; by blaming all Muslims of it, by considering them an ethnic group. Further alienating them will do no good to anyone.

Let us all unite for the sake of Europe. Let us all together fight ignorance and bigotry, because after all, what are racism and radicalism if nothing but sheer ignorance?

Yours truly,
A concerned temporary Parisian.