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We should thank Charlie Hebdo for inviting Muslims to stand up against extremists

Je Suis Charlie

There was a time when it wasn’t entirely ridiculous to feel a vague suspicion that Jihadism had many more sympathisers among Muslims, than what was revealed by either Muslims themselves or the press. This suspicion arose from what became evident through Danish journalism in 2006, that many Muslims had a tendency to become very loud when a certain religious figure was drawn and then very silent when the caricatures were violently retaliated.

When grotesque medievalism paid Charlie Hebdo a visit last week though, this suspicion was swiftly replaced by clarity. First was the sudden yet concurrent sense of solidarity and bravery among surprisingly many Western members of the press, who finally took the responsibility to challenge the Jihadists on one major issue. Remember when Al Awlaki or Al Zarqawi used to boast that the West was infected with cowardice and had absolutely no principle for which they’d fight? Well, at last, we’ve shown these barbarians that we too have principles that we’d fight and even die for and that no amount of fanaticism and violence could quell that fact (though one has to admit, with a pang of shame, that this responsibility was, initially, single-handedly assumed by Charlie Hebdo alone and this very fact enabled the attack upon them. Now, the terrorist won’t know where to begin).

The greatest loss that has been inflicted upon international Jihadism the last week, though, is not this, but the blatant and unavoidable sight of so many Muslims feeling the same way. Jihadists are now the number one manufacturers of secularised Muslims. And this is only possible because there has been a collective effort to allow polarisation to run its course. No attempts to relativise Jihadism, no justification for it, no reference to Islamic grievances in defence of it. Just sheer and unadulterated contempt for their world-view and an wholehearted attempt to create an unbridgeable moral distance from it. This is the strength of polarisation.

And so I don’t sound utopian, yes there are still many members of the Islamic faith who insist that they are moderate and who spend more time sobbing about the caricatures than the murders. And there still are significant members of the press who are engulfed in overwhelming spinelessness. But it seems time has arrived when neutrality will no longer be an acceptable excuse for neither whimpiness nor doublespeak. Neutrality is to be understood as it is, a declaration of partisanship with the thugs and criminals. It is pleasing to point out that these factions, those who claim impartiality or disinterest or relativism have been shrinking in numbers, to the point where there no longer is a crowd for them to blend in to. If any of these attitudes apply to you, it seems you have to hold them standing by yourself. For once, at least in this case, conventional wisdom does not include neutrality. The few that remain in that spot, unusual as dispersion is for them, will have a hard time remaining there.

I also think it’s dishonest or thoughtless (or, generous as I am, both) to suggest that ridicule of Islam will isolate Western Muslims. No, its an act of inclusion. Its the annihilation of the common prejudice that Muslims are incapable of self-irony, introspection and argument. To suggest otherwise would be lumping all Muslims in with the fanatical literalists of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. It was well said by Zineb El Rhazoui, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo, that Hebdo considers Islam a normal religion and has therefore to accept common treatment. If the suggestion is to assume a straight face at every mention of Islam, then one has to live with the consequences of what without ambiguity is a clear strategy of isolation.

A sense of isolation is, by the way, the first thing a Jihadist feels upon seeing a caricature of the Islamic prophet. His rage is of course clerical, but is invigorated by a sense of confusion. The thought of temporarily swapping piety for wit is absurd to him. The realisation that this is possible for others will stir him into psychosis. The absolutist mind is evidently a very fragile one. It is a mindset that can only be sustained in a permanent state of total correspondence. He needs to hear identical thoughts, to always be reassured and comforted. The Jihadist yearns for a world in which individuality and uniqueness is exterminated. He would wish that the human species was deaf to the language of irony and introspection and doubt. Since that is not the case, he’s feels an obligation to inflict aphasia on those who practice it.

To stand up against this sick and macabre psyche, and to refuse the false solace of neutrality or relativism, is the duty of anyone to whom freedom and individuality means something. One should, without restriction, thank Charlie Hebdo for inviting Muslims to stand up against this too.

Words by Hanad Mohamed Ali

Picture by Jodi Sharple

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