Before I begin, I must stress that I in no way, shape or form condone the actions of the gunmen who shot dead twelve people after storming the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, or the subsequent acts of terror that took place in the Île-de-France region thereafter. Moreover, I do not sympathise with the aims and objectives of al-Quaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, or any other group associated with Islamic radicalism. However, I have certainly struggled to comprehend the growing antipathy towards muslim communities – and against the integrity of Islam, as a result of the fatal shootings in the French capital. In the last few weeks ‘Islamophobia’ has heightened across the Western world, perpetuated by the reactions of politicians, various media outlets, and other commentators, leading to a profusion of verbal and physical attacks against Muslims, most notably epitomised by the Chapel Hill shootings.
On 7 January 2015, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi would initiate a chain of attacks that would stun the world, generating immidiate attention worldwide and causing shockwaves across social media. In total, 17 people were killed with many others wounded, in what was the deadliest act of terrorism since the Vitry-Le-François bombings of 1961. The events would receive widespread condemnation from across the world, most evidently from Britain, the United States, and Israel who voiced their detestation and reinforced their aims to tackle Islamic radicalism. The French people would also rally against the actions of the terrorists, with the rest of the Western world quickly following suit under the banner of “Je Suis Charlie.”
The Île-de-France attacks – what did we learn?
However, despite the public knowledge that the terror attacks had been motivated by Charlie Hebdo’s controversial lampooning of the Prophet Muhammad in the newspaper’s previous publications, the West comprehensively defended Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the ‘founding father of Islam’ in support of the liberal concept of ‘Freedom of Speech.’ This directly challenged a key Islamic principle that forbids images of Muhammad and in turn, was an demonstration of the West’s attempt to sow a dissension between Islam and Western ideology after the Île-de-France attacks. This was exemplified further by Barack Obama’s and David Cameron’s statement that they would “continue to stand together against those who threatened their (the West) values and their way of life” and along with France, they made it clear to those “who think they can muzzle freedom of speech and expression with violence that their voices will only grow louder.” There was a defiance to remove all accountability from the publications of Charlie Hebdo, and an unwavering ignorance by the West of the undeniable disrespect shown by the newspaper against a faith followed by millions of people across the world.
Not only did the Western world largely disregard the argument that the portrayals of Muhammad were a suitable catalyst for the Île-de-France attacks, but Charlie Hebdo would also receive unprecedented support for their first edition immediately after the events in Paris – that once again depicted the Prophet Muhammad satirically. The edition of 14 January 2015 sold over seven million copies in contrast to the standard nominal amount of 30,000. This exposed the scale of the support for ‘Freedom of Speech’ and the extent of the West’s insolence towards Islam and negligence to what the religion’s believers considered as blasphemy. The wide-scale publication of the edition also served to disillusion a large number of Muslims across Europe and the United States and was yet another example of the West’s naivety in relation to the impact the publication’s success could have in fuelling Islamic radicalism further.
‘Islamophobia’ was not only confined to the events surrounding Paris but manifested itself into a number of other ways; a week after the Île-de-France attacks, 128 ‘anti-Muslim’ incidences were registered with the French Police in comparison to a mere 133 in the whole of 2014. In fact, many of the incidents included shootings, attacks against mosques and threats or insults, many of which received minimal or no media attention. This illustrates the considerable disregard for the welfare of Muslims in France and is evidence of the contrasting approach to acts of terror when Muslim communities are on the receiving end. Furthermore, there were many reports of Islamophobia in Germany, United States and other parts of the Western world.
As predicted, the Île-de-France attacks invigorated the far-right movement, with the likes of Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders using the events to rationalise their anti-muslim agendas. There were also other high-profile episodes of ‘Islamophobia’ on social media; for example, Rupert Murdorch’s comments on Twitter that suggested that Muslims must be held responsible for the acts of terror. This is unsurprising given the racist nature of some of Mr Murdorch’s statements in the past, and the fact that Twitter and Facebook has been used as a fitting avenue for the flourishing of ‘Islamophobia’ as per an investigation by the Independent. The views of terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson, who falsely claimed that Birmingham was a completely ‘Muslim city’ and that in areas of London (and I quote) “there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire,” only reiterates my argument that Western ‘Islamophobia’ is on the rise.
Arguably the most identifiable instance of ‘islamophobia’ was carried out on the 10 February 2015, commonly known as the Chapel Hill shootings. Merely a month after the Île-de-France attacks, three innocent Muslims were shot dead by Craig Hicks in another incident of terror. In what has largely been reduced to an ‘isolated dispute over parking,’ there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the murders conducted by Craig Hicks were motivated by hate and his aversion towards the religion of his victims. Again, unlike the Île-de-France attacks, the Chapel Hill shooting was also given minimal attention from Western media, and received a deafening silence by the very politicians who argued so valiantly against the atrocities in France. An American news company even went as far as interviewing Craig Hick’s wife, during which she was given the opportunity to defend her husband’s actions, and proclaim his efforts in ‘championing the rights of others’ despite considerable reports of his ‘gun happy’ and extreme atheist tendencies. Undoubtedly, it would be hard to imagine Western media ever interviewing the wife of an Islamic man after orchestrating a potential hate crime, particularly in a world where Islam is often feared and repudiated.
As demonstrated, there has been a dramatic rise in ‘Islamophobia’ in recent weeks since the Île-de-France attacks that have once again served to stigmatise and vilify Islam and its worshippers. A concept that has solidified in Western culture after the events of September 11, ‘Islamophobia’ has resurfaced to target muslim communities and reinforce the historical divisions between the Islamic and Western Judeo-Christian civilisations. Can we foresee an end to the cultural persecution of Islam? Maybe, however if if remains the West’s objective to antagonise an entire religion for the actions of an isolated few, the world may not see a cessation of ‘Islamophobia’ for a considerable time yet.