Though I love Paris – it is a place close to my heart as I have visited a number times, worked there, briefly lived there, certainly enjoyed wine, cheese and food there – it was not the point. The point was the extent of the human tragedy. Paris followed Beirut, and was quickly followed by the attack in Bamako, Mali.
As an academic who walks students through their first year of sociology and cultural studies discussing race, violence and colonialism, and at the same time promoting tolerance, diversity and peace, my inbox was swamped with students asking me: How do we understand these events? How should we react? What can I do? What is the way forward or are we doomed to violence and a clash of civilisations.
I have been pondering these same questions and here are some thoughts.
Firstly, these are not the acts of madmen.
These are deliberate acts to undermine the very basis of contemporary society: trust. As I have written before, the famous sociologist Anthony Giddens, writes that modern societies are based on trust: we trust the mechanic to fix our car, the engineer to build a bridge that will not collapse, the pilot to fly us safely home and, most relevant here, we trust the stranger to act like a stranger. The stranger sits quietly on the train or walks past us, and we mutually agree to ignore each other.
But what happens when we stop trusting the stranger because of the way they look: the colour of their skin or their beard or their religion? It means we no longer trust and we live with a sense of dread – we want them gone.
If we allow ourselves to fall into this trap, then these murderers will achieve exactly what they want: they will undermine the very strength of our diverse and beautiful civilisations that have thrived when built on diversity. We cannot let this happen.
Second, the act of succumbing to this instinct confirms the very narrative that Daesh wants to create (let’s refuse to call them ISIS, IS, ISIL or anything else that gives them credit for existing – plus they hate it). This is a narrative that sees the West dominated by fundamentalists that want to exclude and eradicate Islam.
The anti-Islam protest rallies this weekend did just that: I briefly passed by one and stopped to listen. I heard selective quoting of the Quran that promoted violence or vengeance and I heard hate speech.
But what I heard most was fear and misunderstanding: I refuse to call most people at the rally ‘racists’ – though some undoubtedly are. I think most are just angry, scared and frustrated. They see these acts and wonder if they will happen here and they want to do something. There is fear that this will happen here as a Newspoll survey has found.
I understand that: but blaming Islam is the same as blaming Christianity for Hitler or the shooting of innocent people by Andres Breivik in Norway; Buddhism for the murderous generals of Myanmar; or atheism for the indifference experienced by many when we see refugees drown!
My third point that follows is that Islam is not to blame for these acts.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in this world – and almost 1.6 billion of them joined the world in condemning the attacks. If we combine all of those that are part of terrorist groups (Daesh, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram etc), the numbers will add up to 0.03 percent.
There is no clash of civilisations: there are murderers who call themselves generals and are doing what they have always done: drawn on a convenient ideology to harness discontent and send other people’s children to die while claiming glory.
If there was a clash of civilisations, 23 percent of the world’s population would be at war with the rest of the world continuously. This is more akin to what Daesh wants – so let’s stop giving them any oxygen.
And while we are talking statistics here are some facts: a study by the FBI found that 98 percent of terrorist attacks committed between 1980-2005 involved non-Muslims as the perpetrators and the statistics in Europe are similar. The history of suicide bombings is also more complex and originally brought to the world as part of a non-religious conflict (see here for a short piece from Ohio State University).
More so, there were no refugees amongst these murderers despite claims that there are.
My fourth point is that the conservative commentators in this country should be ashamed of themselves. The dust had barely settled when the likes of Andrew Bolt and his ilk started linking this to Islam. They used this to describe multiculturalism as a failure and misquoted those who argued that we should not blame Islam.
Their behaviour has been shameful: doing anything to win their cultural wars. An entire pull out section of the Weekend Australian provided some excellent commentary, but much of it was shallow analysis under the guise of serious examination – simply blaming Muslims.
So finally, how should we respond? Three things:
- Let’s avoid the urge to blame one group of people for unspeakable acts of violence;
- Let’s look at this as a complex social phenomenon that sees the emergence of ‘home grown’ terrorists: why are young people being drawn to this? This will not require a military response (which may well be needed to deal with territorial issues – though I will leave that to others) but a policy response; and,
- The West must stop supporting corrupt governments or invading foreign lands and move to long term strategies for supporting governments that govern for their people – this will deal with the crisis at its source!
My final point is to Daesh itself: F^&K YOU. You will go down in history as a blip and will be forgotten like countless other murderers.
And while I am at it: F&^K YOU to all those who have taken advantage of these tragic events for your own political and ideological gain.
We should unite – not be divided. Otherwise Daesh wins – and we can never let that happen.