Islamophobia reversed: What drives our response to terror attacks?
There is a pattern that becomes visible among Arabs and Muslims as soon as terror strikes a Western country...
There is a pattern that becomes visible among Arabs and Muslims as soon as terror strikes a Western country.
It begins with fearful queries: “Was it done by a Muslim? We hope it was not a Muslim.” This line of thinking continues until the perpetrator of the attack is identified. If it is not a Muslim, then then there is a deep sense of relief followed by long discussions over how the West unjustly assumes that terrorism is an Islamic phenomenon. You also find people talking about injustice in Western societies and how they drive “their people” to become terrorists.
Some would even ask whether such a thing should be considered as terror. Many Muslims believe that in the West an act is defined as terrorism if, and only if, its perpetrator was a Muslim. Perception is reality, so whether that belief is wrong or right does not matter.
This line of argument distracts its participants from condemning the very act of terrorism or expressing sympathy with the victims. They are just glad that the aggressor was not a Muslim. There may be a few who would even be happy that the act was actually committed.
But what if it turns out that the perpetrator was indeed a Muslim? In this case, Muslims and Arabs would one of the following two defensive positions. The first begins with expressing deep sympathies to the victims and utter condemnation of the terrorist act. Both these may be genuine but are motivated by a fear of backlash from Western governments and communities.
Condemning acts of terror and sympathizing with its victims is generally followed by a wide range of disavowing, boiling down to one statement: This is not Islam and we are a peaceful peopleAbdullah Hamidaddin
Condemning acts of terror and sympathizing with its victims is generally followed by a wide range of disavowing, boiling down to one statement: This is not Islam and we are a peaceful people. We see people extending apologies to the victims and perhaps to Western civilization. The core message is that it is our fault and we will do our best to fight radicalism and try to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Some also see these tragedies as opportunities to discredit their opponents. The region is deeply divided among many different political, religious and ethnic lines. Each camp would say this is all because of the other camp.
First line of defense
This defense is very common even though a new pattern is gaining traction. It shows disdain for what those in the first camp are saying. The argument is simple: “This is not our fault and we should not even be having this discussion”.
Some people argue that we are not even obliged to sympathize and, at best, we ought to only condemn and that we have our own tragedies to deal with. These tragedies consume our emotional capacities and we have little energy left to sympathize with every tragedy going on in this world. It is even simpler in some cases. Should we cry out against every terrorist attack in the West when they are careless about attacks in our countries and communities?
Some of those in second camp choose to reframe the entire argument from a terrorist attack to response against Western interventionism. They say if anyone is at fault then it is the Western governments and communities. They claim that it is only natural that Arabs or Muslims attack the West given the history of Western “terror” against Arabs and Muslims. Colonial French violence in Algeria and American intervention in Iraq are conjured up. Some even say that this is some form of poetic justice.
This pattern conveys several meanings – and we need more observation to fully understand it – but one thing is absolutely clear, the fact that we are terrified. Deep inside we feel that no matter how innocent we are we will still be considered guilty and will pay the price. We see how Islamophobia is on the rise and worry about our future in this world. We are so afraid that when an attack takes place in a Muslim country, like Turkey or Saudi Arabia, we say: “Look, it even happens to us”.
Islamophobia is a dangerous disease. While it drives some Westerners to hate Muslims it is also driving Muslims to fear Westerners. It is this fear that can easily turn into hate. If this is not stopped even the most reasonable among us may start celebrating terror attacks in a Western country.
Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1