My gorgeous Paris has once again been attacked. So far, the toll stands at 129 people dead, scores more between life and death in hospitals. The eight perpetrators too are dead (no great loss, that), some blowing themselves up, one shot by police. Huge police operations are underway, two more suspects were killed on Wednesday.
Once again, after September 11, 2001, after the massacre of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo last January, following terrorist attacks too numerous to list or even count in the West and throughout the world, we are left stunned and heartbroken. Then, right away, awash in pieties: Don’t paint everyone with the same brush, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t hate. Except that it is becoming more difficult every time to refuse to see the obvious: that Islam is a pretty awful religion and its followers benighted for the most part.
It wasn’t always the case. I’m not even talking about Islam historically. Over the centuries, superb art and thought have come out of the Islamic world. One might be allowed to think that these grandiose cultures—Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, etc.—flourished despite Islam as none ever grew out of the sands of Arabia where Mohammad was born. The only gift humanity received from that country is a violent religion based on a “holy” book of dubious origin (discussion of which is blasphemy and punishable by death) and forced by the sword upon countless people. Today, Saudi Arabia is still rotten to the core, home to a corrupt and repulsive highly conservative regime.
No, when I say Islam wasn’t always awful, I’m talking about the way it was before it became a political ideology when the Islamic Revolution happened in Iran in 1979. When I was growing up in that country, people didn’t pay much mind to religion and Islam was, as the grandfather of the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk used to put it, “for servants and for the poor.” I didn’t know anyone who paid more than lip service to religious belief. Indeed, Iran was not religious. Our feasts and holidays went back to ancient Persia, we celebrated the spring equinox, we jumped over fire as our Zoroastrian forefathers had (it speaks to the resilience of the Iranian spirit that not even the mullahs’ regime managed to ban these, though not for lack of trying). I don’t remember ever seeing a Koran or the inside of a mosque—except once or twice for a funeral.
All that to say that if I didn’t pay much mind to Iran’s official religion, I wasn’t born anti-Islam. But I’m fast becoming so and not only because of extremists and raving lunatics. Muslims demand respect but this cuts both ways. I cannot accept that they would block traffic on Paris streets for public Friday prayer. There aren’t enough mosques? That’s just too bad. How about praying at home? How dare Muslims ask for an equal number of mosques and churches? (BTW, how about building a couple of churches in Jeddah or Karachi?) How dare they ask that all the French eat meat from animals slaughtered according to Muslim rites? How dare they consider eating pork or drinking alcohol as an attack on their faith? How dare they harass on the streets women whose attire they find immodest? On top of all that, how dare they take offense at people’s negative reactions and their growing resentment? Public perception is going to change when Muslim communities accept that even if societies in the West are secular, their culture is judeo-christian (I myself don’t believe in anything. Faith, religion, or even spirituality are all, to me, as Bill Maher puts it, “intellectually embarrassing anachronisms from the Bronze Age.”)
But the worse part of the war of civilizations we are living through, though pretending we’re not, is, as I said above, that in the last decades Islam has become an ideology with a world domination goal. Muslims are first Muslims, then citizens of the Western countries that have taken them in. I myself am not first agnostic, then French-American. My friends in Virginia are not first Presbyterian, then American. My neighbors in Paris are not first Catholic, then French. This is as should be. We belong to a community, to a country, to a flag, to a constitution and a set of laws. But since the horrendous Paris attacks, Muslims interviewed by media or expressing themselves on various sites can only talk about the fact that their faith will once again be viewed negatively. I didn’t hear a single one—except for renegade Muslims whose numbers gratifyingly grow by the day—express chagrin at the actual events, sorrow for the victims, condemnation of the perpetrators or worry about the future of Europe–or the world, for that matter. Not one expressed fear of further attacks against the country. The extremists rejoice while all the so-called moderates have to say is “this is not Islam.” It’s not? Only George W. Bush, not the brightest intellect, ever believed that Islam is a religion of peace.
Things will change only if the Muslim communities in the West reverse their stance. The day Muslim French or British or German or Italian or American citizens define themselves through belonging to the country that has taken them or their parents or their grandparents in, and then, only then, as belonging to this or that faith, is the day they will be fully accepted. Until then, a day probably long in coming, they will continue to be resented and feared. In the meantime, another threat looms larger and larger: that of European nationalist and extreme right parties attracting more followers. Then we can all relive the horrors of seventy years ago—this time aimed at immigrant minorities—courtesy of the Prophet.