Dyab Abou Jahjah
(Published also in French in the Newspaper Le Soir)
As I sat behind my desk to type these words, my wife and two daughters were preparing to go for a walk in the city, and suddenly, all I could feel was one emotion: Fear.
I was afraid that while in the metro, or while enjoying the new pedestrian parts of the city, or while sitting on the terrace of a café, some Daesh terrorist, blinded by hatred and fascist ideology, will open fire and kill my family. I was also afraid that some far-right extremists will see my Arab looking family and decide to take revenge for the Paris attacks.
Fear is now the most prevailing sentiment among the Muslim community in Europe. We could be killed by the terrorists just like any other citizen; we could be killed in reprisal attacks. We could be arrested, humiliated and even shot by the police for having a “terrorist head” in their eyes. And wherever we go we have to answer for the acts of a murderous sect that is mainly and above all, killing Muslims and destroying their countries.
Fear, the logical result of terrorism, takes even more subtle forms; I am afraid that my children would be harassed at school, that they will no more be able of living their innocence. My kids do not know yet what a religion is; their identity is their innocence. Last January, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a teacher asked my five year old daughter if she would be willing to eat pork in solidarity with the people killed by the two evil “Messieurs” in Paris. Next to the fact that my daughter was horrified to hear about evil people killing people in real life, she was confused as to the weird question of the teacher. My daughter has no concept of what is Halal and what is Haram. Yet she answered no! When I asked her why, she said to me “ Papa, I do not eat pigs, because pigs like Peppa Pig are my friends”. My heart broke. My kids changed school this year, and I am hopeful that the new school has a different approach to solidarity than tormenting little children. But the idea that my daughters still may have to answer for the acts of some fanatics terrifies me.
We live in quite segregated worlds, we watch each other from far, and every now and then we pretend that we live together, that we are the same. But now something is ironically uniting us: We are all afraid. And believe me, among the fearful, Muslims, whether by faith or by culture, whether practicing or not, have the most reasons to be that way. The important thing is not to give in to this fear and not to give in to the urge of building new separation walls and fences. What we need now is courageous leadership. We need harder security measures against the terrorists, and at the same time a softer and more citizen friendly and democratically guided police. The police should not scare us, it should protect us.
We also need a paradigm shift in how we understand our religion as Muslims. We cannot dehumanize people by calling them “Kafir” and adhere to the teachings of hate preachers like Ibn Baz and Ibn Taymiya, and at the same time expect tolerance.
We seculars also need a paradigm shift in how we understand secularism. We cannot expect to have more tolerant religion without having a more tolerant approach to secularism that is not anti-religious. Push people continuously into a corner, and not only they will be defensive and conservative, some of them will be easy prey for extremist recruiters.
We also need a paradigm shift in how we manage our diversity. We cannot have harmonious societies while protecting the privileges of some above the rights of others. We need a more balanced and ethical foreign policy. We cannot support wars, bomb people, have violent and colonial and dictatorial allies, and then expect to be taken seriously when we preach pluralism, justice and peace at home.
Today we are still in the same boat; we are still together in this fight against the terrorists. My biggest fear is that blind repression and populist politics that some are preparing for us all, will divide us, and that we will soon find ourselves at each other’s throats, each on his side, and each on his barricade. Then it would be too late. This should be our biggest fear.