The attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 is a despicable criminal act and has rightly received worldwide condemnation from political and religious leaders, cartoonists, journalists, human rights groups and ordinary citizens. Twelve died in the attack but millions have been wounded. All of us naturally reacted to this heinous act of terrorism with horror and shock. Those, including myself, who sharply disagreed with Charlie Hebdo's editorial line also came out in support of their right to life and freedom. When the not-so-funny magazine published the cartoons of the prophet of Islam, I denounced it as a provocation and called on Muslims and people of conscience to ignore it altogether.
We are yet to know the full details of the Paris attack. But it will not be a surprise if the attackers turned out to be related to some extremist group such as al-Qaida or ISIS. Regardless, many have already linked the attack to Charlie Hebdo's irreverent and insulting treatment of Islam and Muslims - a treatment it has given to other religions and political figures with a few important exceptions. Whatever the motive, there is no justification for killing people for drawing cartoons. If these murderers claim to kill in the name of Islam or the prophet, they have only defamed Islam and betrayed the prophet.
What happens now will have important repercussions for the future of Muslims in France and Europe. The attack came at a time of rising Islamophobia. Now the xenophobic and racist groups will rally around the Paris attack to legitimate their hate discourse. The anti-Islam groups ranging from outright racists to atheists have already begun to turn this into an "I told you so" story. Richard Dawkins, the self-proclaimed godfather of "new atheism," did not surprise anyone when he singled out Islam as allegedly the only remaining religion that did not denounce violence. He tweeted: "No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn't." This darling of the anti-Muslim liberal left joins groups like the neo-Nazi PEGIDA and Le Pen's National Front in his bigotry toward Islam and Muslims. This is likely to be the dominant sentiment in these circles in the near future.
This reveals a larger pattern of Islam-bashing and culturalist prejudice towards Muslims in Europe. In such incidents, Muslims are hurt twice. First, they become scapegoats and are easily turned into targets of hate and discrimination. As it happens after every terrorist act committed by people carrying a Muslim name or making an Islamic claim, Muslims are treated as usual suspects, their faith and culture presented as ground for radicalism and terrorism. Secondly, al-Qaida, ISIS, Boko Haram and similar terrorist organizations kill more Muslims than non-Muslims. While the world was dealing with the shock of the Paris attack, Boko Haram is reported to have killed hundreds of people in Baga, Nigeria. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims denounces terrorism and says "not in my name" is lost in the shallow and cynical analyses of extremism and terrorism.
The double standard on religious violence becomes striking here. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Public Religion Research Institute after Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and injured more than 200 people in a killing rampage in Norway, 83 percent of Americans said that those who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not true Christians. What is troubling is that only 48 percent of the respondents said the same thing for Muslims. No matter what Muslims say or do, the majority believes that the violent ones are the true Muslims. Depending on the perpetrators, the same event takes on a very different tone.
This double standard says something important about how we are able to discern what is close to us from everything else. A believing Christian or Jew would rightly denounce terrorism committed in the name of their religion, and this will be accepted as a norm. But the same principle is not held when it comes to Muslims. This is why the culturalist stereotypes applied to Muslims were not extended to Breivik and his self-proclaimed "Christian crusade to save Europe from Islamization." Nor does anybody remember his 1500-page ideological manifesto in which he outlines his vision for the future of Europe and explains the reasons for his massacre in 2011.
Back in Paris, Ahmed Merabet, the 42-year-old policeman, was a French Muslim policeman who died defending Charlie Hebdo that constantly ridiculed his faith. So some created the hashtag #jesuisAhmed to make a point of the fact that this is not a war between Muslims and Christians or Islam and the West. But do not expect the so-called Islam experts to analyze Ahmed's ethnic and/or religious background, his youth, upbringing, family or the mosque he attended. Culturalist stereotypes are useful when you want to implicate Islam and Muslims in Europe but you conveniently avoid them when they force you to think outside the box.
This terrible tragedy should not be allowed to be used by political opportunists in Europe or the Muslim world. The position the Norwegian Government and people took after the Breivik massacre should be an example to follow for France and the rest of Europe where the Norwegians did not give in to Islamophobia in their country. Instead, this tragedy should bring people of conscience together to stand against all forms of terrorism, extremism, racism and discrimination.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey