Craig Harrison writes for us on the response to ISIS attacks in Paris and the recent local elections in France.
Last month was one of the darkest that Europe has ever seen. Terrorism of any kind is abhorrent, but the scale and indiscriminate nature of the blow struck at the heart of France on 13 November mean that the attacks in Paris will forever be etched in the memory of anyone old enough to comprehend the devastation.
The desire to do something has been inevitably strong, and in the case of the UK Government, apparently too powerful to ignore. In France itself, the shadow of last month’s attacks also seems, to some extent, to have swayed the electorate – who swept the far-right Front National to victory in nearly half of the 13 regions in mainland France during recent regional elections (according to early estimates). And further afield, in the U.S, the ever controversial Donald Trump has been predictably hawkish, calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering America.
These reactions are perhaps understandable. Anyone watching news coverage of the attacks – listening to ever more gruesome details emerge, until eventually learning that around 130 people had lost their lives – can’t have helped feeling that revenge should be taken.
But while there is no question that we have a duty to respond, reverting to bigotry, discrimination and Islamophobia is not the answer.
Muslims are not the enemy of the democratic West. To arrive at blanket judgments on an entire religion, with around 1.6 billion active practitioners, is to forsake the very things that make us different than those who commit acts of terrorism.
Tolerance. Freedom. Equality. These are the values and principles of democratic society that we hold most dear. It is these principles that we endorse every time we visit the ballot box. And it is these things that give us the moral right to look at the actions of international terrorist groups and denounce them for their heinous crimes.
May history condemn us if we decide to sacrifice these principles. Make no mistake, Islamophobia is just violence in different dress, and the bigotry and intolerance that fuels it are just as much of a scourge on the West as the threat of groups like ISIL.
We cannot turn to the Muslims in our own communities and blindly lump them together with those who commit violence in the name of a warped understanding of a peaceful religion. As strong as the urge is to find a dog to kick, everyday Muslims are not responsible for the acts of terrorists. They can be held no more accountable for the violence of a tiny minority – who claim to be acting in the name of Islam – than can the peaceful majority of white people for the acts of a white supremacist claiming to serve his race.
The solidarity shown around the world with the people of Paris demonstrates how much good we can do when we push together in the name of freedom and democracy. To turn that energy for good and channel it into hate is to throw away an opportunity to look evil in the eye and say ‘we are better than you’. Islamophobia is not the way.