‘Islam Is Not a Country’ - Foreign Policy

6:03 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

PARIS — A few hours after Wednesday’s terrorist attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it was French Muslims who suffered retaliation at the hands of Islamophobes who blamed the entire religion for the massacre. At least three mosques throughout France were attacked between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, with assailants throwing grenades and firing guns at the places of worship. But in Barbès, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in northern Paris, life continues uninterrupted: Shops are open, the faithful are visiting the local mosque to pray, and street merchants who sell fake Chanel perfumes and other knockoffs are hustling as usual in the neighborhood’s sprawling market.

“I don’t feel concerned by what happened,” said Mohammed, 20, a French-born shopkeeper of Algerian descent who works on Myrha Street. “I feel equally French and Muslim. Islam is not a country. I don’t understand why people feel the need to distinguish us from others.”

Said and Chérif Kouachi — the two brothers who allegedly launched the attack that killed 12 people, including magazine staffers and two police officers — were caught in a standoff early Friday with French security forces, after taking at least one hostage in a printing facility northeast of Paris. At the same time, another gunman took multiple hostages at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. French police reportedly launched raids at both locations to end the twin hostage crises, killing three gunmen, including the two suspects in the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Most passers-by were reluctant to talk about the Charlie Hebdo attack. But those who did shared many of Mohammed’s views, expressing the belief that the French public and press were unfairly linking the violence to Islam as a whole, rather than blaming the individual terrorists who committed the act.
“It is not something done in the name of Islam but a strike against all Muslims,” said Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Boubakeur is far from the only French Muslim leader who has been quick to denounce the attack, while also calling for unity and tolerance and sounding alarms about the growing fear among Muslims of a backlash. The attack has also sparked a debate among French Muslims about how the community should explain the violence: Nabil Ennasri, president of the Collectif des Musulmans de France, said that the portrayal of Muslims as outsiders by French media and politicians has contributed to a sense of alienation among the community.

“Muslims are considered as intruders, which doesn’t improve the general climate but on the contrary further polarizes the country,” he said. “The media give a very negative representation of the Muslim identity. Women are excluded from social life because they wear the veil.”
Officials and citizens need to understand that the terrorists had incorrect assumptions about Islam, Ennasri said — assumptions which have nevertheless grown more powerful among alienated Muslims.

“Beyond the violent character of the attack, there’s also a travesty of the entire Islamic thought,” he said, condemning the attackers for wanting to “avenge the Prophet and betray his message.”

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