There can be no “buts” when any innocent life is lost, regardless of where it happens or by whom it is perpetrated. It is as simple as that.
In the aftermath of the attack in Paris there have been discussions in many communities about how we react. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, I have been interested in the reaction from within the Muslim community.
The Muslim community – in Scotland or across the world – is not a homogenous block; there are as many opinions as there are members. However, the collective defiance I felt from the Muslim community when I attended Friday prayers this week in Glasgow was palpable. That defiance was primarily aimed at those who choose to distort Islam for their own unedifying ends. How dare they? How dare they use my faith, which commands me to show compassion even to the one who abuses me? How dare they use my faith, which teaches me that killing one innocent life is like killing the whole of humanity?
Extremists who kill in the name of Islam are the ones who insult the name of the Prophet Mohammad more than anyone wielding a pen ever will or ever can. That same defiance was also aimed towards the far-right and even towards some elements of the press who have used the attacks in Paris for their own political ends.
The demand from some quarters for Muslims to apologise for the behaviour of a twisted minority is as illogical as asking every young white Christian male to apologise for the actions of Anders Breivik, who in 2011 committed Western Europe’s worst terrorist attack since the Second World War, killing 77 in a bomb attack and a shooting. The sight of Ukip’s Nigel Farage attempt to sow disharmony and discord by blaming multiculturalism and immigration, and suggesting Muslims in Europe were a “fifth column”, was as unwelcome as it was unhelpful. Such language is both divisive and counter-productive because it is what those who commit such atrocities desire – they want us to be divided, to be blaming the other in the hope of inciting a backlash against Muslims and pushing more towards their cause.
That is not to say there isn’t a need for a debate within the Muslim community about this internal subversion which is threatening the very tenets of the Islamic faith, there is. There is little doubt that disastrous foreign policy interventions can be manipulated by extremists to cause division. However, as a Muslim community, we must not shy away from the realisation that the biggest threat to our faith comes from those within, not outwith.
Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-inspired terrorists do not fear Western interventions and bombing campaigns in Muslim countries; they fear a direct challenge to their polarising, conservative, illiberal perversion of Islam. The more their extreme beliefs are challenged by those from within the Muslim community, the more of a difficulty this presents them. If we reject them, their corrupt ideology and those who sympathise with them, they will have no followers or henchmen. No man is an island and no community lives in isolation, particularly in today’s world – and the Muslim community cannot do this without the help of our friends, from other faiths and none.
In Scotland we have a good story to tell. After the attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007, Scotland stood at a pivotal moment – how we reacted then has helped embed cohesion among our communities. We did so by realising that this brand of terrorism is a common enemy, one that will happily kill Muslim and non-Muslim alike, just as it has done in Paris. So the way to deal with a common enemy is by showing a united front, reaching out to those who are fearful and standing with them in their hour of need.
The attack on Charlie Hebdo was a deliberate assault on free speech. Cartoons do not insult my faith or the beliefs I hold dear; those who brutally gun down innocent men and women do. I am hopeful those in France and across Europe will stand together in solidarity and demonstrate that an assault on one of us is an assault on us all. #JeSuisCharlie