Terrorism and the Need to Acknowledge Accountability

I have a mixture of feelings of relief, angst, and anger following yesterday’s dramatic end to the search Earth_Western_Hemisphere_transparent_backgroundfor the Charlie Hebdo attackers.

Relief, because two psychotic murderers no longer roam the streets of France.

Angst, because of the brutal backlash that has already started against Muslim communities in the West.

And anger, partly at my fellow Muslims for seemingly wanting to fully distance themselves from any accountability for the current state of the general Muslim mindset/culture. And partly at the general Western world for not wanting to take accountability for a whole context they have played a huge role in creating.

I was glued to the television set as I watched events unfold live yesterday in Dammartin-en-Goele and Porte de Vincennes. I was awash with relief to see them come to an end. But at the same time I was horrified that yet four more had died in the midst of it all. For some reason I need to know who those four people are. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was to turn on the news, hoping more information had been released. It hasn’t. There is a connection I need to make with those remaining four.

Yesterday night, just as the events ended, I learned that a friend of mine had recently moved to France. “Today they put a pig’s head in front of the mosque,” he told me. “Several women had their hijab pulled off their heads and there is a horrifying incitement campaign [against Muslims]. People are directing their anger at Islam and not just the murderers,” he said.

Early this morning I woke up to a status from a Dutch Muslim friend reporting that within her own limited network two mosques were firebombed, two women were soaked in beer by a co-passenger on the train while being called “fucking terrorists”, the mother of a friend was pelted with coca cola bottles, a young woman was told at the supermarket register that she should feel ashamed to still wear “that rag on her head”, numerous friends of friends were cussed at, slapped, lectured on their obligation to apologize, violated, etc., while bystanders did nothing. All the victims she had heard of were veiled women, she said.

I fear for my friends’ lives and for their families’ safety.

What frustrates me the most, I think, is the constant blame game that ensues after these sort of horrific events. No one wants to take responsibility for the mess we’re all in.

There is no simple answer to the question: what makes a person become a terrorist. Terrorism is the result of a very large number of complex factors. What acutely annoys me is that most of us have a very good idea what they are. 

There are decades-worth of constantly mounting anger from Muslims towards the West. I am not a historian. But as a normal Egyptian who knows lots of other normal Arabs, I can tell you that much of it stems from the times of British colonialism, their drawing of the borders of the modern Arab world, their installment and the West’s general support of a now lengthening list of Arab dictators, and the planting of that huge thorn-in-the-foot, Israel.

Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, live in one of the most troubled regions of the world. The West, historically and recently, played a major role in making it as troubled as it is. The lives of Arabs/Muslims lack the most basic of human rights: security, healthcare, education, democracy, freedom… Much of this we have done to ourselves. But much of it is also the result of Western involvement in our region.

Also, many Western societies have failed to make many of their Muslim residents and citizens feel a part of those societies. Muslims are commonly marginalized, ostracized, and not accepted for who they are and what they believe. Their core identity feels threatened and they thrash back in defense, commonly isolating themselves even more from the societies in which they live.

In the past two days I have frequently heard pundits and politicians talk about the Western value of “the right to offend.” This talk completely baffles me. Since when does Western society support hate speech as a value? I grew up with the understanding that Western values abhorred language that was racist toward or intolerant of “an other”. The language I now hear sounds hypocritical to me. It sounds to me like the West wants to have the right to offend Muslims and incite hatred towards them while not accepting it when it comes to anti-Semitic or homophobic speech, for example.

In all frankness, I could care less about the content of Charlie Hebdo and how offensive it is or has been towards Muslims. I have not made any effort to review its content. I will not. I have no reason to. That is how I deal with potentially offensive messages: I ignore them completely. In my view, the world is full of bigots. Let them say what they want to say, for all I care, as long as it isn’t in my face. People who want to read or listen to bigoted language can do so if that is the kind of person they are. I believe in the right of human beings to discern right from wrong for themselves.

I have grown up hearing bigoted language my whole life. Western society (I grew up in the United States) is chock-full of it. But it’s not only them.

I have heard the worst bigoted language from Muslims towards other people of color, religion, ideology, ethnicity, what have you. Muslims (I generalize here just as I generalize while talking about “the West”) have the same superiority complex towards others that many in the West have. We’re the better, more ideal, more value-based, faith-based, and God-loved/loving society. We have truth. All that is beyond us is nugatory. Muslims campaign against hate speech towards them. In a few instances some will kill to defend “their honor” for words written that they disapprove of. Yet those same Muslims use the same hate speech against others. Many times they do far worse. Only what they hold sacred is sacred.

This morning, a friend of mine wrote a long status decrying the Muslim umma to hold itself accountable “for the leanings of its loud, violent minority”. Over the past few days we have seen constant messages from Muslim friends on social media stating that they do not need to be seen as apologizing for the actions of a psychotic few. They are fed up with feeling pushed into a corner to have to constantly say that neither they nor their beliefs support this craziness. BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DON’T, they think. And fair enough. It is indeed ridiculous to expect Muslims to constantly apologize for the actions of a few crazies. Just as it is ridiculous to expect that the citizens of the West constantly apologize for the actions of their governments and their involvements in our region. Yet we do expect them to rise up against their governments and create change when it is needed through their democratic process. We expect them to hold their demonstrations, their public discussions, and to vote out of government the idiots they originally voted in. And at the same time we understand the frequent failings of democracy and its imperfection.

But what are our expectations of ourselves to create change among our own?

Our system/ culture / call-it-what-you-may as a Muslim umma has many failings and imperfections. For years there have been voices that have struggled to be heard to create a discourse and perhaps even a reformation process within the Muslim umma. These voices are often dampened, ostracized, or outright attacked. One reason, not small, that these voices do not gain impetus is that they are drowned out by the state itself. States that are supported in every way by Western governments.

It is almost as if there is no hope. So many of us (Muslims) would rather not look in the mirror and address our shortcomings. We do not want to acknowledge our accountability for many of the problems we face in our part of the world and have exported to others. Yet those Muslims who do are finding it near to impossible to be heard.

If we, as world citizens, want our planet to be a more peaceful place to live, we must, as citizens, acknowledge our various roles in creating the mess we now live in. Unless that is done, we are all doomed.



  1. Hi Nadia. Another extremely well written post. Makes us all think. Congrats. A few thoughts that have come to me in more recent days.
    During the height of the Irish ‘troubles’ when bombs were going off in London and elsewhere in GB, the entire Irish community were subject of similar treatment (I am Irish). Politics eventually won out thank God, but I am fearful that the extremes of Islam are now beyond any reasoning or any of the humane intelligent decent and Godly suggestions you make. ISIS believes all democrats should be killed, as they are placing the law of man over the law of God. And the uncomfortable truth is that they have much support amongst Sunni Islam in the ME. Even if its a Sunni minority, then its a sizeable minority. How can we (I say ‘we’ as I am not Muslim but am a member of the same human family as you & all of us on the planet) deal with such mentality that is totally devoid of any humanity, tolerance or logic? I am not sure we can.
    Secondly, I am looking at how a huge Polish immigration into Ireland 15 or so years back have integrated into the 4.5M Irish population. 15 years later there is much intermarriage between Irish and Poles and grandkids are a great way to get peoples together. Which brings me back to the point I made to you a few days back, and one you are also strongly making, about some serious self analysis and debate within Islam. A muslim lady can not marry outside the faith. So the Muslim communities who live in the west can never have the mutual ‘grandkids’ scenario. 50% of every Muslim community (women) is effectively debarred from integration within the greater community in one of the most meaningful ways possible. Mores the pity. Let us pray for humanity and tolerance to prevail. Or as you say, we are all doomed. And with Muslims the numerically biggest victims of tackfeerie intolerance, perhaps Muslims will be doomed more than any others. God bless. MB

  2. In the west we see that we have a problem. We see attacks in Paris, Madrid, London. We conclude we have a Serious Problem. And we start to conclude we need to Do Something.

    The complication is that it is a very difficult problem. We have concluded that the problem has something to do with Islam (the people mounting the attacks are justifying them with claims of Islam, so that seems a reasonable conclusion on our part). Except we in the west mostly don’t know much about Islam. Even when we do know a bit, as with all humans, we are not as wise as we would like. And, as with all humans, some of us are self-serving and intentionally making things worse.

    But we still conclude we have a problem and it has something to do with Islam. We think we should Do Something. After the attack on New York George W. Bush tried invading Iraq, which was disastrous

    When Syria started to fall apart we tried something else: the UK and US Congress made it clear we should do nothing, so we did nothing. Syria has also been a disaster.

    If there are a few more attacks in France, if a war mongering Republican wins the White House in 2016, we might again decide to act.

    We think we have a serious problem that requires action. We conclude it has something to do with Islam. We aren’t very good at this, so we will probably do something stupid. In the Muslim world.

    Islam might be a peaceful religion–or it might not be, it doesn’t matter, the west will again one day act decisively. And we will likely do something stupid. And we will do it in the Muslim world.

    Therefore, the Muslim world has a serious problem, whether these attacks are your fault or not, the attackers are claiming to do it for you. Denouncing these attacks is good. Saying these radicals are not true to Islam might be true. But this isn’t anywhere near enough. The Muslim world has a SERIOUS problem here: the west will act again, the west will act boldly, the west will (in every likelihood) act stupidly.

    We are rich, well armed, and well organized at causing trouble.

    The Muslim world has a problem and the Muslim world needs to act. It needs to act *MORE* decisively the west does, and do so before the west can.

    We in the west, and particularly in the US, are quite happy to be isolationist and keep to ourselves (how do you think we got so ignorant of the rest of the world?). Some of us peace-minded internationalists know more about the world and argue against such things as invading Iraq. The isolationists and internationalists will argue against the west’s next stupid adventure (we did last time), but we need some help.

    The Muslim world needs to take on this problem with such energy that we in the west think you are getting something done. You can’t point to a few liberal Imams who denounce attacks, you in the Muslim world need to act, you need to make this a big, visible, energetic project.

    The Muslim world needs to realize that it is your problem. When the west is attacked and the attackers say they did it for Islam, that becomes your problem. And get get to work before we in the west get off our lazy arses and we start another stupid war.

    Unfortunately, one thing that seems as certain as the west acting stupidly, is the Muslim world not acting. Or doing something stupid, itself.

    Whether you start the fire or not, when your house is on fire, you have a problem.

    Dear Muslim world: Your house is on fire!, and whining that the West didn’t draw fair lines on a map a hundred years ago (indeed, we didn’t), or whipping a blogger to near death, is insufficient.

    From a purely practical perspective, you have a really big problem here and need to act in an appropriately big way.


  3. ““the right to offend.” This talk completely baffles me. Since when does Western society support hate speech as a value?”

    You have to see the cartoon, know the history of this newspaper office and the western tradition at satirizing religion/ religious figures to understand with this means. This is not about hate speech. It’s about freedom to mock religious figures and all religions by media platforms. For example, do you watch shows like south park where Jesus is a recurring character? Well this is a reality. How often do you see Christians here in the West act beyond writing letters to the editors? If they replaced Jesus with Muhammad on that show what do you think would happen? Have you seen the satire musical known as the “Book of Mormon”? What did the Mormons do? For the most part nothing. Do you think they could do the same with the book of Islam and not expect violent backlash? This is the point here. This particular newspaper who mock all religions had their office firebombed in 2011 because they satirized Muhammad. They then decided to continue because they see this as part of free speech and they want to treat all religions equally. This continue satire of Islam resulted in 12 dead in 2015.

    This newspaper office was also in France and isolated from war areas. This incident was likely not related to foreign policy or imperialism. These Islamist went after newspaper staff members who worked for a newspaper that satirized the Prophet Muhammad in a cartoon strip. They also shouted “”the Prophet is avenged” and “Allāhu Akbar.” It’s likely they were seeking revenge for perceived blasphemy regarding depicting their prophet. Revenge for imperialism or foreign policy is a stretch at best.

    Westerners are not used to refraining from criticizing religion and religious figures. They see this reaction as foreign and a clash in civilization. This is their point of view.

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