The manifesto signed by some 300 figures including former French President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manuel Valls published on 21 April 2018 in the Le Parisien claiming that the Qur’an incites Muslims to violence against Christians, Jews and unbelievers and that it ignites anti-Semitism is another example of the troubled relationship between France and Islam.
Put differently, or more precisely, it reflects a hostile and unaccommodating attitude adopted by a trend in France towards Islam and the sizable French Muslim community. Significantly, this statement and the saga of the veil in France are cases in point of a tension that does not exist or at least has not reached this pitch in other Western countries.
This troubled relationship should be addressed wisely before it leads to a wave of xenophobia and Islamophobia that will impact adversely on the integration of Muslim communities in the Western societies.
For centuries, Orientalists have portrayed Islam as inferior to the West, its culture and religions, and jihad (often mistranslated as holy war) as a creed that incites violence against non-Muslims. Apart from the media, libraries of the top universities in the West contain hate literature about Islam and specifically a stereotypical caricature of jihad that is being taught now in classes.
Over the last decade, such literature is increasingly reminiscent of “weapons of mass destruction”, because it leads to misinformed and hostile policies of current and future Western leaders. This is one of the reasons for the radicalization of young Western Muslims who find their religion attacked and the cultural heritage of their family not welcomed, let alone respected in the societies they are born and brought up in.
Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and bigotry, in general, are the products of ignorance and ethnic supremacism and if we want to rid our world of these crimes/illnesses, we have to educate ourselves about othersAmbassador Idriss Jazairy
Freedom of religion
However, the fact remains that Muslims still do enjoy freedom of religion and expression in the West. Despite the popular and hate literature, the positive developments are that, first, following Edward Said’s Orientalism published in 1978, generations of Western scholars were prompted to re-examine the old Orientalist literature.
Second, many prominent Western professors of Islam and jihad, such as James Turner Johnson, explain that the doctrine of jihad is the most poorly understood topic in the Western study of Islam because of what he describes as “lack of researchers with the necessary training and language skills” which resulted in what Fred McGraw Donner calls lack of “preliminary work on a vast subject,” i.e., jihad.
This is not the place to adequately explain how the claim of this manifesto is a major error and to engage in a scholarly discussion of such a complex and highly specialized area, but scriptures and laws can be interpreted differently and can be used and abused depending among other considerations on how they are misinterpreted.
But the claim that the Qur’an urges Muslims to commit violence against non-Muslims, especially Jews, because of anti-Semitic crimes committed by a number of Muslims in France is irrational, simply because if this claim were true, then Muslims would have been killing those who are not Muslims everywhere.
We have not heard that such crimes are committed by Muslims against the Jews in Muslim countries such as Iran, Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia or other Muslim or Western countries. First of all, anti-Semitism is originally a European problem, not an Islamic one.
Second, Arabs are Semites and in Islam Jews and Christians are part of the same family of ahl al-kitāb (people of the book, i.e., Divine religions), while the followers of other non-Divine religions are brothers in humanity, as Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib explains.
Third, the specific texts in the Qur’an referring to a number of fighting incidents that took place between the nascent Muslim society and their enemies between 624 and 630 A.D. were defensive battles.
The reference to the Muslims’ enemies in these specific incidents of fighting by their religious affiliations does not justify hostility to non-belligerents from among followers of these religions, as misrepresented by some Islamist radicals and misunderstood by some non-Muslims alike and as others would like us to believe.
Therefore, the psychological and social factors as well as motives behind these crimes must be investigated and analysed if such crimes are to be stopped. The demand to delete some verses from the Qur’an is not only naïve but certainly dangerous and will further escalate the tension in such an already troubled relation.
This demand resembles, for example, asking Christians to change or delete the doctrine of the crucifixion because it can lead to anti-Semitism or violence against those who do not believe in this doctrine. It is unfortunate that we have invented weapons that can annihilate human existence on this planet, but we are still in the twenty-first century unable to understand others!
Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and bigotry, in general, are the products of ignorance and ethnic supremacism and if we want to rid our world of these crimes/illnesses, we have to educate ourselves about others so that we can understand and respect them as long as they do not commit crimes and violate the law.
In short, prosperity will be the bounty of peoples that celebrate diversity; and adversity of the fearmongerers of “the Other.”
Ambassador Idriss Jazairy is the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures. He was previously Algeria’s Ambassador to Belgium, the USA, the Holy See, and Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva.