By Torek Farhadi
The heinous murder of Samuel Paty in Conflans near Paris by a Chechen refugee who had been living in France since the age of six and the recent attack in Nice in a Church shocked us all with their degree of violence. We are all wondering if it is not the start of a new wave of attacks. This is very difficult to predict as these attacks were the work of isolated individuals and it is almost impossible to know in advance the future actions of individuals and their underlying drivers.
For the French, sacrosanct are the values of the Republic. Their secularism has its source in Greek philosophy, then the French philosophers of the enlightenment era and finally the separation of the church and State since their famous 1901 law. Freedom of expression constitutes in France the cornerstone of all freedoms. Add to this the fact that for decades the role of religion has diminished in France and very few people attend churches and many people do not see why one must respect religions. No surprise therefore that the satirical press laughs at religions. Small circulation satirical magazines have to invent subjects to gain readers. If mocking a religion makes people laugh, of course they’ll be utilizing the subject. As expected, French civil society supports a free press and freedom of expression.
When such crises happen, foreign heads of States love to take advantage for themselves, and as the French say, do some “political recuperation“. Without fail, we have seen Mr Erdogan of Turkey, Mr. Imran Khan of Pakistan and Mr Mahatir of Malaysia utilize the crisis in France to galvanize some support for themselves among Muslims of the world. We also note that these same leaders are remarkably silent on the persecution of Muslim Uyghurs in China. So, it is safe to say, for the large part, their positioning, declarations and boycotts can only be pure political opportunism.
What does Islam say about such satire and disrespect of Muhammad?
In the Koran itself, sacred book for Muslims, Muhammad is only responsible for transmitting Islam as a massenger. God tells him to “get away from those who take his verses in mockery until they get into another subject.” In no case is violence recommended to Muhammad or for that matter to any Muslim against someone who mocks his religion. And if we take the example of the life of Prophet Mohammed himself, it is full of anecdotes where he was mocked by enemies, and he always chose patience and modesty instead of getting angry when the subject of the taunt was himself. There wasn’t much of a choice for him as in the Koran, God instructs him in 21:107 “And we have not sent you (Oh Muhammad) except as mercy to the worlds”. It is clear, there is a need for young Muslims in France, Europe and elsewhere to better understand their religion. It would allow them not to become emotional in front of a simple caricature, although they have every right to love their Prophet.
What can the French and European Governments do?
Governments, especially in France must focus on better integrating young Muslims into the economic fabric of society. Education can guarantee a good staircase for social rise. But statistics show that compared to the United States, young Muslims who mostly live in the suburbs are not cruising through the path to social ascent in France. More efforts are needed to integrate them in larger society through knowledge. It is also the pre-election season in France. Mr macron wants to run for a second term in 2022 and the extreme right party is after his seat at the Elysée Palace. Each terror attack takes various political turns and interpretations on Mr Macron’s performance. What is sure in the long term is that France needs to find peace with its large mass of Muslim Citizens. Understandably also, after each isolated attack, all Muslims in France feel anxious. Not all Muslims are terrorists, they are citizens of France. Not only should the media avoid placing them in one corner, but also Mr. Macron himself and his government should be mindful of that. It has not always been the case.
Islam and French secularism can coexist, but this requires a better integration of young French Muslims into French society. We have known that for a long time, but building a better and harmonious future for France requires it. By in large this is true for the rest of European countries with Muslim populations as well. Meanwhile, Foreign leaders outside of Europe better focus on their own problems.
Torek Farhadi is a former advisor at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.