<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
The terrorist attack against the staff of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has led to a series of condemnations from around the world. The reaction has been especially swift from the Muslim community in the West and in the Middle East. The general tenor of the conversation has been one of empathy for the victims and anger for what many consider the hijacking of religious principles. Many have also expressed concern over the possible backlash against the Muslim communities in Europe, where anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise.
Commenting in the immediate aftermath of the Paris shooting, some voices within the Arab American community were quick to express their condemnation of the ‘barbaric crime’, drawing a bright line between Islam and the extremist ideology of the attackers: “Regardless of the identity and motives of the perpetrators, this barbaric crime is despicable and we should condemn it collectively as a community. At The Arab American News, we feel painful sympathy for the victims, most of whom practiced our craft. If the attack was a response to publishing the offensive cartoons, as most media outlets are claiming, then it is a crime against all Muslims, especially in the West and the Prophet Mohamad himself, who preached tolerance and urged his followers to refrain from the revenge mentality. The attackers do not represent Islam....Human empathy transcends religions, cultures and ideology. Today, We Are All Charlie.”
Condemnation of the killings came also from the Arab League and Al-Azhar, a Sunni center of learning, which according to an AFP report published on the Egyptian daily Al Ahram “condemned [the] deadly attack Wednesday on a Paris satirical newspaper. ‘Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi strongly condemns the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris"....Al-Azhar condemned the ‘criminal attack,’ saying that ‘Islam denounces any violence’, in remarks carried by Egypt's state news agency MENA. In a separate statement to AFP, Al-Azhar senior official Abbas Shoman said the institution ‘does not approve of using violence even if it was in response to an offence committed against sacred Muslim sentiments.’”
Maan News reports that speaking from the Palestinian Territories, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “on Wednesday condemned a ‘terror attack’ on a Paris satirical magazine that left at least 12 dead. The president said in a telegram addressed to French President Francois Hollande that Palestine ‘strongly condemned and deplored the heinous crime that is in contradiction of religion and morality.’”
Beyond the feeling of grief for those who lost their lives in the attack, the overwhelming concern in the mind of many observers in the region has been the safety of the Muslim communities in France and elsewhere. Drawing parallels between 9/11 and the this week’s attack, Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin argues that “the Jan. 7 attack was not only a heinous attack on the media, it was also an attack aimed at triggering culture and religion-based fault lines in French and European politics....Even before this attack, France has been in an Islamization/Islamophobia debate in relation to European immigration and security policies....The issue now tops Europe’s security concerns. The British government is already working on new regulations on immigration, also with security considerations. The question has also recently been dividing public opinion in Germany....It would not be wrong to describe the Paris Charlie Hebdo attack as the 9/11 of Europe.”
The Peninsula editorial echoes the condemnation issued by the aforementioned organizations, arguing that there is no place in Islam for terrorism: “Qatar has condemned the barbaric attack, as has several other Arab countries. Muslims and Arabs are venting their fury and expressing their condemnations on social media, and have expressed solidarity with the relatives of the victims and the French society…. What terrorists have done is attack Islam and Muslims, tarnish its teachings, and jeopardize the lives of millions of Muslims all over the world. In that sense, the ultimate victims of yesterday’s attack will be Muslims, especially those in Europe and the US....Condemnation of the attack by Arab and Muslim countries is not enough. Leaders must persuade religious scholars and ordinary clerics to speak loudly against terrorism and declare terrorists as apostates.”
The challenge now for the West and the Muslim communities living in them, writes the Daily Star (Lebanon) editorial staff, is to “Curb Paris fallout…. While practical steps are needed now, it is not as simple as preventing young men from returning from Syria, or from entering office blocks with machine guns. The reasons why people become extremists must be tackled. This attack was not just about Charlie Hebdo insulting Islam in the past. It was about feelings of disenfranchisement and oppression, not just in terms of Muslims in Europe but about Muslims across the world. But the extremist groups to which the attackers belong – or at least have been inspired by – are killing more Muslims themselves than anyone else.”
Some, like the Saudi Gazette editorial staff, have tried to put the attacks in a larger context and caution against the disenfranchisement of France’s Muslims: “Whatever the two attackers thought they were achieving by gunning down two policemen and ten journalists at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, their victims actually also include the five million Muslims who live in France, the largest such community in Europe....Many Muslims and indeed non-Muslims have been outraged at Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Islamic outpourings….Nevertheless, a far greater outrage in now being felt by French Muslims at Wednesday’s depraved attempt to exact revenge. It is right that moves are made to protect the French state from further outrages. But that protection has to include France’s Muslims. They cannot be singled out by Islamophobic bigots as being responsible for this terrible crime. Instead they should be seen as the other victims of this insane act.”
The National editorial on the other hand tries to make the issue not one of Islam, but of extremist ideology. As such, the acts on display in Paris should not be considered religiously, but rather ideologically inspired: “Insulting Islam is being touted as the justification for the bloody events in Paris, however one suspects that the more accurate sobriquet is one of extremism, and in particular its appeal to disaffected youth. The religious tenor of this incident is the latest manifestation of a long tradition of extremism exemplified by Maoism, Marxism, Nazism, nihilism and a list of other ‘isms’ to emerge over a century or more....This will not end tomorrow and ending it will require force. But it will end in defeat for the extremists’ ideologically because the vast majority of society – regardless of their national, religious and ethnic affiliations –, decry extremism of whatever kind.”
The Dawn (Pakistan) editorial cautions against too much contextualizing by arguing that doing so risks providing excuses for what amounts to inexcusable acts of terror: “regrettably enough, some are still trying to contextualize the attack by bringing in the larger issue of provocation in matters of faith, extremist Islamists’ demonstrated tendency to resort to violence in such situations, and the marginalization from the mainstream that Muslims in many countries feel despite being perfectly law-abiding.... M]uch more needs to be said and done, particularly given the deep divisions that are springing up between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West....The push back [from Muslim communities] can only come from what is within their own purview: inculcating tolerance, clamping down on extremist tendencies, and controlling violence in their own societies, thus giving the signal that assaults such as that in Paris are universally, utterly, indefensible.”
For Al Arabiya’s Joyce Karam, the terrorist attacks in Paris and the increased danger of religious extremism in the West have important geopolitical messages, especially regarding what is going on in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the region: “The attack in France gives more urgency to find political solution for conflicts in Syria and Yemen, having become a magnet for al-Qaeda and ISIS....Exerting diplomatic, military and economic leverage to speed up political transitions in Syria and Yemen is crucial to defeating ISIS and AQAP, and blocking the threat from reaching Europe or other countries in the Middle East. What happens in Deir Azzor or Taizz matters beyond Syria and Yemen and is having dire implications on the threat of terrorism worldwide.”
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