During the past few days, we have seen protestors in France waving signs with the slogan “My name is Samuel.” Samuel is the name of the French teacher who was decapitated by a young Chechen immigrant. Many media outlets have reported the killing, yet the details remain unclear.
All we know is that the murderer was killed by the police, but we do not have enough information so far on the way he was killed or when. As part of his job, the teacher had been talking to students about the evils of extremism, as dictated by educational authorities after a wave of murders swept France in recent years in the name of Islamist extremism.
Such sweeping campaigns are often driven by two political motives: the first being increasing the hatred of the other, which has spread across many countries, and the second motive has to do with politicians taking advantage of people’s “nationalism or patriotism” in order to serve the interests of a certain party in light of an economic slowdown and the deterioration of the standard of living for many countries.
The Australian Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant, two days before the mass shootings of the two mosques in New Zealand, released a statement online saying that he decided to take a stand to secure the future of his people. Then, on March 15, 2019, 51 victims were killed, and 47 others were injured.
Let me note that this man was not a Muslim, and we cannot claim that his actions were driven by "Christian extremism"! It turned out that the man and his four affiliates were self-confessed white supremacists who believed in the supremacy of Christianity, and that it was their duty to purify the land of "heretics" of other religions. A few months later, the relative of one of the victims stood in court, looked at the killer in the eye, and clearly said, "I forgive you!" Let us remember that this woman is a Muslim!
On October 31, 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh fanatic, who was one of her bodyguards, due to her involvement in the dispute between the Sikh leader at the time and the Indian government, after Indian government forces stormed Amritsar and the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was killed in the clash. As you can see, none of those involved in these murders were either Muslim or Christian.
Furthermore, it was the Tamil Tigers movement in Sri Lanka in the 1980s that introduced the world to the concept of suicide bombing, before such an act spread among the followers of "Al Qaeda" or "ISIS" in recent years. Let me reiterate that the Tamil people are not Muslims, Christians, or Sikhs and that most of them are of the Hindu religion.
On May 21, 1991, one of the affiliates of the movement killed Rajiv Gandhi, "the son of Indira " and the youngest Indian prime minister in a suicide attack against the backdrop of sending Indian peace forces to the island in southern India, which at that time witnessed a fierce civil war.
It is important to note that intolerance, extremism, and terrorism can arise from religion as well as politics. In the eighties, British-Kashmiri author Salman Rushdie caused a debacle after the release of his book "The Satanic Verses." At that time, some fanatics issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to execute him, which brought him widespread fame and increased his book sales despite the fact that what he wrote had nothing to do with the true message of Islam.
The fatwa sought to rally ignorant Muslims and spur further political mobilization. In this context, it is not permissible for us to generalize and put all Muslims in the same basket. Current estimates conclude that the number of Muslims in the world today is over one billion, and it is ludicrous to claim that they are all "terrorists" or that all terrorism-related incidents that have occurred worldwide are tied to Islam. This faulty line of thinking is unjustified and historically inaccurate.
As a matter of fact, terrorism transcends religions, sects, nationalities, and geographical regions; and at its core it is politically motivated and directly linked to ignorance. That doesn't mean we don't have a problem. It is true, not all Muslims are terrorists; however, the reality of the situation at the present time is that some Muslims are. It is highly crucial that we face this truth and do everything in our power to properly address this issue.
In these circumstances, the root of this problem is the tendency to mix between “religious-sectarian” motives and political motives. Throughout history, many ancient texts have called for “xenophobia” or “the hatred of the other,” and we are currently witnessing these texts being stripped of their historical contexts and misused to serve the interests of political leaders who seek hegemony and expansion.
Nowadays, this approach is currently being adopted by followers of many religions. This can be addressed by deconstructing religious discourse and analyzing it by keeping two things in mind; firstly “hatred is not the answer to our problems in this day and age,” and secondly “it is important to reconsider mindlessly parroting ancient discourse without weighing it in our minds.”
Many civilizations have faced this problem, from the ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and even modern civilizations. In order to be rational in our reading of this age-old discourse, we have to seek knowledge of the reality in which we live.
In the Middle East, we are currently facing a similar phenomenon that cause growing instability and allow for the misuse of religious texts. Taking religious texts out of context is the true culprit behind terrorism. This phenomenon can be attributed to our region’s weakened sense of citizenship and governance, especially with the presence of many divisive groups and parties operating under the state, or in cooperation with foreign powers with the aim of wielding authority.
The spread of non-state actors and organizations, some of which are even armed, as found in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and even Afghanistan, is a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. These organizations operate outside the state and away from any legal or moral restrictions that limit their nefarious aspirations, thus facilitating the process of achieving certain political agendas.
Some of these organizations are not armed, yet they are classified by some countries as terrorists. Meanwhile, other countries have no problem allowing these organizations to operate freely within the state to achieve their goals, such as political Islam groups.
In both cases, the end result is the same, these countries fail to establish a national state with a community of citizens who are united in their love for their homeland instead of being religious enemies and rivals. Such organizations take up religious slogans to promote division and xenophobia. A number of countries are using these "substate and superstate forces" to expand their national influence.
A clear example on this approach can be noted when examining Turkey’s use of militant forces that are classified as terrorists in Libya and Azerbaijan, in addition to Iran’s nefarious operations in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen!
Therefore, it is safe to say that our world is currently undergoing a dangerous phenomenon that will not disappear unless international cooperation is achieved on two fronts; firstly, uniting against powers and states that sponsor these groups, and secondly, intellectually challenging outdated mindsets and refraining from mindless parroting of ancient texts.
Finally, I would like to add that in politics, finding middle ground and compromising may not make us all winners, but it certainly helps in building nations.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.