As the brutal attacks in Paris were happening on Nov. 13, scattered thoughts jammed my brain. Please don’t claim to be Muslim, please don’t let me carry the burden, please don’t force me to denounce and condemn… My heart sank as I flipped from tab to tab online reading about the gruesome murders. The attackers targeted six sites Friday night killing at least 128 people. I prayed with all my strength for the protection of the hostages and wellbeing of everyone in the city.
One plea was buried behind all the noise: Please don’t claim to be Muslim. I could almost hear my thoughts begging, over and over. Please don’t be Muslim.
Without any confirmation as to who committed the attacks, Muslims started apologizing and condemning on social media. Others were blaming Muslims and refugees for the crimes. As our team gathered together virtually to discuss the news, our group chat swelled with sadness and fear. No matter what information came to light, the backlash would make everything worse for Muslims regardless of geographic location.
According to a Quartz article, data from the FBI indicates that anti-Islamic offenses have jumped five-fold in the US since 9/11.
Public perception of Muslims is currently low. A 2014 poll by the Pew Research Centre found that Americans had the least warm feelings towards Muslims of any religious group in the country. Another poll in March found that 55% of Americans have a ‘somewhat unfavorable’ or ‘very unfavorable’ opinion of Islam.
Then, what we all dreaded was confirmed: the Islamic State claimed responsibility. For a few hours, my feelings were conflicted. I was angry, yet I felt vulnerable. I was outraged to witness another violent massacre take innocent lives and distort my faith. I felt helpless because I knew this would provoke an adverse reaction from Islamophobes against us all; more scrutinizing for Muslims at airports and public spaces; more name-calling and threatening; more hatred and bigotry. We take one step forward to overcome a tragic terrorist blame-all-Muslims attack, only to take two steps backward when another occurs.
Things have not been pleasant for Muslims. Islamophobia continues to be on the rise. Activist Akeela Ahmed told the BBC in a report that she has suffered anti-Muslim abuse for years but it has recently worsened. She witnessed extremely derogatory language directed toward Muslims on social media. She was referring to negative comments posted online following the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in which gunmen said they were killing in the name of Islam.
“Post-Paris, the abuse increased and it was a lot worse,” she says. “As we see more terrorist incidents globally, many people feel anger about terror attacks and they go online and use their medium to vent their anger. But, as a result, there is an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment generally.”
I rushed to speak to a friend to regain my sanity. Her words brought me back to my senses. She made me ask myself why should I, and all Muslims around the globe, bear the brunt of every terrorist attack committed in the name of Islam? Why are we condemned as the enemy and not the real perpetrators? Why are we obliged to apologize?
“Stuff like this happens and the fear that comes with it is so different than it used to be. When I was Christian, I was never afraid. Certain events just didn’t touch me because I’m a US citizen and I’m white-passing. But then I became Muslim and suddenly everything was my fault. I’d become the enemy overnight. And, while I still don’t fear for my own life, I fear for the lives of the girls I’ve mentored. Like, what would I do if someone hurt one of you guys? Or got disrespectful? I’d totally lose my mind,” my friend said to me.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross Caner Dagli wrote in a CNN article that neither should we as Muslims feel apologetic for terrorism done in the name of Islam nor should the world expect us to be. “People should demand public statements like, ‘I condemn this act,’ from those who have some kind of accountability in connection with the act. There is always a crucial line between feeling revulsion at a crime and feeling it necessary to dissociate oneself from that crime. Did you benefit from a crime? Could you have stopped the crime? Did you contribute, even unwittingly, to the crime? If so, you may have to stand up and denounce it,” wrote Dagli.
Politics staff writer at Salon Ben Norton wrote an article in response to yesterday’s horrific Paris attacks titled, “Our terrorism double standard: After Paris, let’s stop blaming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves.” He calls on governments to think critically about their policies abroad and at home. “Every time Islamic extremists carry out an attack, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are expected to collectively apologize; it has become a cold cliché at this point. Who benefits from such clampdown on Muslims and refugees? The hegemonic ‘solution’ is always more militarization, both abroad and here at home. Yet it is in fact militarization that is the cause of the problem in the first place. If these are the strategies our governments continue to pursue, attacks like these will only be more frequent,” wrote Norton.
Violent murders are horrific. Terrorism is ugly. But terrorism has no religion. It’s not our fault. It’s no one’s fault except the murderers themselves.