By Manahil Hassan, January 5 2021—
Islamophobia is a concept that many Muslims are familiar with. Whether we like it or not, it is something we must grow accustomed to because — let us be honest — the world is not always full of rainbows and butterflies. I spent most of my life living in the Middle East. Perhaps it was my naivety and young age that fueled this misconception, but, as a twelve-year-old girl, I figured no one could be racist to me in Oman (a predominantly Muslim nation). This misconception was re-evaluated after I had the pleasure of enduring my very first racist interaction. The most memorable one, however, occurred when I had just turned twelve years old.
I was at our recreational club one day and decided to sit by the community pool. Now, because it was the weekend, the pool became quite busy and so I sat at the edge of a lounge chair. On that chair lay an unattended purse, so knowing this, I sat as far away from the bag as I could. Not long after, I looked up to see a woman glaring at me. Despite my visible distance from her purse, the woman made a theatrical display of checking her handbag to see if I had stolen anything. When she found that everything was there, she rolled her eyes and muttered “terrorist” under her breath.
There was nothing I could have said or done at that moment to change the woman’s mind. She walked away while I stood there feeling stunned and helpless. Now that years have passed, I forget the way I felt many years ago but occasionally, news stories remind me of that very feeling. The poorly-disguised Islamaphobic expressions in the aftermath of Samuel Paty’s beheading were the greatest reminder of how I felt as a little girl.
Earlier this month, 47-year-old Samuel Paty, a high school teacher, was brutally beheaded by his eighteen-year-old attacker. The act that prompted this gruesome killing was the displaying of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) by the teacher during a lesson regarding free speech. Days after the beheading of Paty, tensions insurmountably grew between France and its Muslim minority whilst fears of collective punishment were coming true.
Regardless of how offensive the actions of the high school teacher in question may be, no innocent man should ever be brutally murdered in the way Paty was. He was someone’s father, brother and child. He had a family that loved him, and his life was taken as if it meant nothing. Nothing can excuse the actions of his attacker.
The tensions that have grown following Mr. Paty’s tragic death, however, are due to be discussed.
In the aftermath of Paty’s death, French President Macron took the liberty of informing the world about the “state” of the Islamic religion. He took the time and energy to state that “Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today.” Not only did the leader announce his plans of introducing a bill in December to strengthen the 1905 law, but the reason behind this targeted bill was the growing radicalization of Islam. His “high hopes” include improving the ability of everyone to live together by grossly violating the rights and freedoms of his citizens. The president did not stop there. His greatest gift to Muslims were his “pure” and “innocent” intentions of liberating French Muslims from foreign influences.
There are clearly many issues with this. Firstly, an innocent man was murdered and instead of taking the time to mourn his loss and find ways to deal with the perpetrator, collective punishment was enforced upon innocent individuals. There are over a billion followers of Islam globally. There are many well-respected scholars and intellectuals that thoroughly follow this religion. If Islam really were in a state of crisis, then would not the 1.8 billion people all over the world know it?
A small minority that kills in the name of Islam does not mean that every Muslim on the planet is a terrorist or is blindly following a “violent” religion. Terrorists make up 0.01 of the Muslim population, and not all terrorists are Muslim to begin with, either. If all Muslims are following a religion in crisis, how are so many of us able to live peacefully within our communities?
Secondly, a nation’s leader should dedicate themselves to protecting their citizens and make them feel welcomed. Minorities in nations should never be marginalized for their beliefs or for choosing to dress in any way they wish. What about individual rights and freedoms? How is wearing the hijab affecting other people and stopping a community from living together? Do we not realize that berating a woman for wearing her hijab is equivalent to objectifying a woman for bearing her skin?
These bills and laws are, in reality, poorly disguised attempts at discrimination and racism against Muslims. As a representative of Islam and a follower of this peaceful religion, it hurts a great deal to see your biggest fears come true. It hurts watching from the sidelines as your community is punished. It hurts watching your brothers and sisters pay the price for something they did not do.
Finally, although individuals should have a right to free speech, there are limitations. You can have your opinions and express them but in a respectful manner. What is not acceptable is using the idea of free speech to spew hate or say disrespectful things about highly respected individuals in a community or religion.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated that: “The right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.”
If President Macron wishes to have his community feel united and live cohesively, it is time that he starts living by this statement.
This article is part of our Voices section.