I had my phone off for several days last week. When I turned it back on, I went from John Cage’s absence of intended sounds to something like Stockhausen’s Zyklus (I have different notifications for different people). Apologies for that, what seemed like an awful parade of obscure avante garde music knowledge, but that really was what I thought at the time. I am on masses of painkillers and other drugs, and sometimes it feels like I have broken through to the other side. So, I can be forgiven.
It all went very quiet on Sunday. A single ping, from a friend in France, held my attention for most of Monday. The message was, “How do we explain the beheading of a French teacher, by a person who shouted ‘god is great’ (in Arabic) and then slaughtered the teacher?” I don’t know how to reply, I said, for one, I am shit scared of being killed or branded “anti-Islamic”.
With respect to the savage butchery of the French teacher, on his social media profile, the murderer reportedly said, “In the name of Allah the most gracious, the most merciful, … to (President Emmanuel) Macron, leader of the infidels, I have executed one of your hell-hounds who dared to belittle (Prophet) Mohammad.”
The teacher’s “crime” was a discussion about caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed that had been published. For the record, a man “of Pakistani origins” was arrested in Hong Kong for alleged murder of another with a meat cleaver in a dispute over a washing line.
Anyway, also in France, a man brandishing a meat cleaver was arrested. The assailant identified himself as Hassan A, and was reportedly born in Pakistan. The suspect admitted he lied to police when he said he was 18, and had entered the country as a minor. He entered France in 2018 under the false identity that gave him access to social security aid for minors. He told investigators he thought he was targeting employees of Charlie Hebdo, but did not realise they had since moved to a new location that is kept secret because of security risks. The beheading of the French teacher and several other murders over the past four or five years, have been linked to a 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo for publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammed. In that attack on Charlie Hebdo, 12 people were killed.
If silence is complicity, who may speak against wanton murder?
Being critical about Muslims, or Islam, is a bit like criticising Marxists or communism. Only Marxists really know why communist regimes have collapsed, and anyone who criticises these regimes is either “anti-communist”, “capitalist”, “counter-revolutionary” – or a combination of any of that. Capitalists are pretty much the same. There have been hundreds of financial, banking, currency or economic crises in capitalists systems over the past three or four decades, but you’re not allowed to say capitalism is failing – you are encouraged to keep on bailing it out, and wave about your iPhone as a sign that everything is just dandy.
And so, anyone who criticises Muslims, or a Muslim, is either “Islamophobic”, an atheist, or an apostate and, at the extremes, as evidence has shown, they ought to be killed. A decade ago Pakistani lawmakers considered executing anyone who left Islam for another religion. Also in Pakistan, a man was sentenced to death for blasphemy. There is any number of extremely violent and cruel acts committed in the name of Islam around the world; from Boko Haram in the West of Africa, al-Shabaab along the east coast, Isis or al-Qaeda wherever you look, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the Philippines. Each time these acts are dismissed as “un-Islamic” or “un-Quranic”. How can so many people get so much wrong?
I have written about many things in an extended career. I have avoided a few topics. One of these topics is Islam and Islamic politics – although I taught a course in the international politics of the Muslim world at the University of South Carolina several years ago. With specific reference to Islam, I have not written anything because I value my life. Seriously.
The people at Charlie Hebdo were murdered when they dared to exercise their freedom of expression, Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal was beheaded, and the executioner was proud of his work. In March 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted to murdering the journalist. “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan… For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the internet holding his head.” A charming fellow, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Let me be clear, I believe the prison at Guantanamo is operating in a legal vacuum (where criminality and injustice thrive), and Washington has targeted innocent people – in most cases only because they are Muslim. The world has stood by while the US created a veritable concentration camp of people who may – or may not – be guilty of crimes. The US war against terrorism, itself, is a fallacy, and has led to the violation of human rights, and Barack Obama’s targeted assassinations using drones.
This is not whataboutism. It is, also, not justification for beheading innocent people. I am making a stand for freedom to speak, to seek and defend the truth – and make the claim that nobody has a monopoly on the truth. I believe that silence is complicity, but being murdered for your views is a risk I am prepared to take only in some cases.
There are some really cruel people in the world – especially those who believe there’s a heaven, and not a dark dank hole in the ground waiting for their remains after they die.
Who, then, may speak?
The other reason why it is futile to discuss murderous acts by people acting in the name of Islam – besides accusations that you are “anti-Islam”, or a shill for Washington or Israel – is because every single act of violence or brutality is fobbed off as unrepresentative of Islam. Tariq Ramadan once said in a debate that we should not read newspapers to understand Islam, and in a recent social media exchange, one fellow said the media “demonised” Islam. My response was that decapitations are often filmed by the murderers (themselves) and placed online. And as journalists, we write about what happens in the world, we don’t go around causing civil wars, assassinating people or fighting for regime change, as some newspapers have allowed, however it may be concealed.
Now, it would be ridiculous to believe, or even consider that Muslims (or Jews, Christians, or Budhists) are all intrinsically evil. We have to acknowledge, however, as did Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of al-Azhar, probably the pre-eminent centre of Islamic teaching and learning, who said, “barbaric crimes” committed by Isis in Syria and Iraq militants are acting “under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name ‘Islamic State’ [Isis] in an attempt to export their false Islam… we should not ignore our own responsibility for the emergence of extremism that has led to the formation of organisations such as al-Qaeda and other armed groups”.
The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, has also spoken out against terrorism. Like Al-Tayeb, he linked some acts of terror to the plight of the Palestinians, but emphasised, nonetheless, that “Islamic terrorism” was anti-Islam and un-Quranic.
So, between my being “unqualified” to speak about Islam, and being too scared to say anything critical (of any religion, or its adherents), what in the world can one do about the cruelty of public and wanton beheadings and slaughter? Can we even say it’s barbarism and that it needs to be met with the full force of the law; the secular laws of republics that gave refuge to people in Europe, or of Shariah. As Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad told Al Jazeera in the clip above, there can’t be two different laws for the same crime.
I have no skin in the game. I write, not as a Muslim, not as an atheist, nor as anti-Islam, or anti any religion, right now, but in the battle to get as close to the truth as possible – and defend it. In this respect, there are some very serious discussions that should be had. Because there are great dangers ahead.
For instance, after Turkey recognised Daesh/Isis as a terrorist organisation in 2013, the country has been attacked by Daesh/Isis terrorists over and again, “including 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings and four armed attacks which killed 315 people and injured hundreds”.
Addressing a summit of all Muslim-majority country leaders “to solve issues” in the Muslim world in Kuala Lumpur last year, Mahathir Mohamad said it was necessary to understand the problems and their causes and provide ways “to overcome or mitigate disasters that have befallen Muslims around the world. He insisted, at the 2019 summit, that the gathering was “not to discuss religion, but the state of affairs in the Muslim world”.
“We all know that the Muslims, their religion and their countries are in a state of crisis. Everywhere, we see Muslim countries being destroyed, their citizens forced to flee their countries, forced to seek refuge in non-Muslim countries. Many thousands died during their flight, and many more were refused asylum,” Mohamad said.
I would suggest that Muslim leaders should act more decisively against people who rape, burn books and ancient manuscripts, behead, and bomb innocent people, and destroy the religious symbols of non-Muslim people, in the name of their interpretation of Islam. That is not an anti-Islamic statement, it is not an atheistic statement. There are very many things going wrong in the world, today, one of them is terrorism (by white supremacists, separatists, irredentists, and Muslims), Muslim leaders should not hide behind whataboutism, past European world wars, or the Crusades. Innocent people are being killed every day – in the name of their religion. DM