By Jeffrey Michels
Muslims are more than Al-Qaeda. Over the past couple of days this argument has been repeatedly made—and necessarily so, given the large presence of those quick to label a recent spate of insurgent violence perpetrated by a relative few as inherent in a centuries old religion claiming over a billion adherents.
What also must be noted is that Europeans are more than PEGIDA, the xenophobic party gaining increasing notoriety in Germany. In the deluge of media responses since the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Europe’s nationalist groups are too frequently thrown into focus as the dangerous inheritors of anti-Muslim support.
Groups like PEGIDA and France’s far-right Front National are brought up as the long repressed subconscious of Europe that has been unleashed. Angela Merkel’s condemnations of PEGIDA’s rallies is said to have been “ignored” (despite the thousands in Germany who have gathered to protest in response to these rallies). Slate’s Yascha Mounk calls Europe both “too Islamophobic” (despite large outpourings of support after mosques were firebombed in Sweden) and “too timid” to respond to Islamic fundamentalism (despite innovative initiatives like those taken in Denmark to combat such fundamentalism at its religious, societal and economic roots).
Europe, too, is being lumped in with its extremists. And this is reducing the discussion to the tired East vs. West, “clash of civilizations” dichotomy that ignores the complex forces at play.
Islam has proven dangerous, like all creeds, when it is gravely distorted by those who seek political gain through violence (for examples of Christianity being similarly distorted, see: pogroms, the Ku Klux Klan or the National Republican Army). It is so frequently distorted in this way because in the majority Muslim Middle East and North Africa, there is a small minority who not only hold the belief that religiously-justified violence works but have convincing enough evidence to their claim (ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram have all become territorial forces to be reckoned with).
But even in these areas, this distortion is far from defining. Most soldiers fighting jihadists are Muslim, and so are most victims murdered by them. The same day as the 12 were killed in Paris, 38 people died at the hands of a suicide bomber in Yemen. Our solidarity must extend to them.
Similarly, extreme European nationalism can prove dangerous when its means of political gain—mobilizing the disaffected against a scapegoat—is also seemingly confirmed. To take the power out of their hands and to defend our values (after all, freedom of religion is in the same amendment here in the U.S. as the freedom of speech), we must fight to debunk a logic as simple as “all Muslims deep-down identify with jihadists, all jihadists identify with global-domination, ergo all Muslims want to take over the world.”
Surely, the influence of anti-Muslim parties will rise. Horrific attacks like these are bound to incite responses not conducive to digging deep into their underlying causes. But as the days pass and information is processed, I am expecting a lot more from analysts of global affairs. The enemy of extremism on either side is not each other. It is nuance. Let us not forget the real recipient of Charlie Hebdo’s last barb before the attack was not the Prophet Muhammed, but a fear-mongering Frenchman named Michel.