The murder of a Priest in Normandy is the latest in the series of terrorist attacks either inspired or directed by ISIL in the West. The frequency and audacity of the violence is unprecedented. This is not to say that Muslim majority States have been spared, most notably Turkey. However, the pattern and type of attacks on Western European targets has a clear and crude intent behind it, and one which we as a society and civilisation, at times are helpless at circumventing. It is hoped that highlighting it will bring some objective and rational common sense to associated policy discussions.
The principal elucidatory question to pose is why France has been at the brunt of the most attacks. The answer should be rather axiomatic; France has both the largest Muslim minority as well as the worst socio-economic and religio-cultural rift between it and the non-Muslim majority in Europe. Hence France provides an appropriately tense and volatile setting to fit ISIL’s twin aims in their indiscriminate targeting of civilians of all colours and religions: to sow and increase discord between Muslim minorities and non-Muslim majorities; and spur a greater desire in disaffected Muslims to flee to ISIL’s pseudo-State.
The most recent attack in Normandy, while the tears from Nice have not yet dried, has reached a new low, yet made ISIL’s intent even clearer. An attack on an elderly man of religion in a place of religious worship. Even by the most twisted, distorted and ill-informed of religious views, it beggars belief how any justification or legitimation could be attached to such an attack. The only insight that can make sense of it, is the attempt to inject and provoke a religious element to the pre-existing inter-communal tensions. Ironically, it serves both far right fascism (like Brevik’s) and the religious fascism of ISIL to manufacture the self-fulfilling prophecy of a grand apocalyptic clash of civilisations.
Not only is our desensitisation to grotesque murderous acts saddening, but the chorus of predictable responses from Muslims generally has become tired and predictable. While it might be true that enactors of such violence may have personal, social and mental issues as well as not being in the slightest religiously observant. Further still they do not perceive Islam as a spiritual phenomenon that defines their relationship with the divine and propels them towards the common good and benefitting their fellow humans and neighbours in society and community. Such a disassociation of the culprits from their own stated motivations, which to them appear to be religious, does little to mitigate the ensuing rampant Islamophobia or provide a counter-narrative to claims that assertions that such events and people have nothing to do with Islam of being oblivious to the elephant in the room.
The objective reality, as always, lies between two extremes and defies over-simplification. These brazen attacks on our way of life and our prized and cherished liberal values of tolerance and diversity are little to do with a religion that is dependent in its manifestation on its adherents. To say there is a problem with the religion is a meaningless statement, because the meaning of the religion itself is determined by the interpretation of groups and individuals. The more accurate and relevant question to ask would be which group do we take issue with.
It is ISIL that wishes for, inspires and directs death in the name of religion, but neither their aims or means exude any whiff of religiosity. They consider all Muslims who have not given allegiance to their leader as apostates, hence care little of Muslim deaths in attacks on Western societies or en mass in Muslim ones. For us to allow ISIL-related attacks to be framed as attacks related to religion and link them to all those who are Muslim is to give ISIL the authority to define what Islam is, while simultaneously render it a self-fulfilling prophecy by pushing the most vulnerable, disaffected and ignorant Muslims to consider travelling to Syria or commit a heinous act at home.
The discussion, debate and public discourse must be drastically reframed. ISIL’s terrorism emanates from them and no-one else. Muslims, by virtue of their religious affiliation, are not sympathetic to monsters, who happen to lay claim to the same religion. This should be clarified and reinforced time and time again for Western societies at large as a buffer to growing Islamophobia, which in turn forces the disaffected to consider ISIL and Raqqa as a viable alternative to a society where they feel alienated and isolated.
There is rightly intense anger amongst the French and other European States at their leaders for doing so little in the face of such wanton destruction and death. Those same leaders are doubly failing in their responsibility by an inability to be more resolute in resolving the crisis in Syria and take on ISIL with ground troops, so as to stymie their physical bases and capacity to direct and inspire global acts of terrorism. The longer we take, the more Syrian civilians die, the greater the outflux of refugees, the more terrorist attacks occur, the more of that hatred and animosity is going to be directed towards those who are seen as closest in affinity and identity to our enemies, no matter how spurious or fallacious the link between Muslims and ISIL.