By Aijaz Zaka Syed
December 23, 2016
Yet another attack in the heart of Europe
and yet another mad rush to tie it to Islam and its followers. The Berlin truck
attack this week on a Christmas market, killing 12 innocent shoppers and
reminding many of the horrific Bastille Day outrage in France last year, has
set off tongues wagging across Europe. Many on the Right have pounced on it to
blame German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s generous welcome of a million refugees
UK’s Nigel Farage, who apparently advises
Donald Trump and has helped his monstrous metamorphosis, tweeted, “Terrible
news from Berlin but no surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy”.
His protege himself tweeted, “Today there
were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting
worse. The civilised world must change thinking!” Mercifully, the incoming US
leader has acknowledged the gun attack on a mosque in Switzerland the same day,
which has been ignored by much of the media.
Unlike others, Merkel has been very
restrained and dignified in her response to the Berlin attack – fighting
temptation to blame the usual suspects. Amid the unfolding crisis, the German
leader has remained a beacon of sanity, as Anne Perkins acknowledges.
Facing a difficult re-election ahead,
Merkel has been under intense pressure to shut the door in the face of refugees
from the Middle East. She is being pushed by the media and politicians on the
Right to crack down on civil liberties, especially those of Muslims – as was
been the case in France after the Paris attacks.
However, doing so would be a great tragedy
and would play right into the hands of extremists. This is precisely what
groups like Isis want. The isolation and demonisation of Islam and Muslims and
a crackdown on their freedom and human rights help and further their divisive,
nihilistic worldview, offering them ready recruits.
In the words of Owen Jones, “Terrorist
fanatics and the West’s ascendant populist Right are now working in tandem.
They are feeding off each other. They are interdependent. Their fortunes rise
with each other. From Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen to the
Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, the populist Right will now be carefully plotting
how they will extract political dividends from the horror. Muslims as a whole
will fall under ever greater suspicion”.
Indeed, this has been the pattern and
dominant political narrative on both sides of the Atlantic. With the election
of Trump to the most powerful office on the planet, our worst waking nightmare
– and that of Americans – has come true and now it appears on the verge of
being visited in Europe. Fascism is on the march across the continent – from
the original land of the free, France – to the picturesque Scandinavian climes
of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
This would be welcomed by the extremist
fringe represented in Isis and Al-Qaeda who have been trying hard, in tandem
with their ideological counterparts in the West, to push the apocalyptic
worldview that Islam and West are essentially antithetical and must destroy
each other to rule the world.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Arabs and Muslims around the world are as distressed and saddened by these
senseless killings and attacks targeting innocent bystanders. Indeed, their
pain is even more acute considering these cowardly acts are ostensibly carried
out in their name and in the name of their faith.
More important, more than the West and more
than anyone else, it is Islam and Muslims who have suffered the most and been
the chief victims of terrorism and extremist violence.
Look at the toll it has taken on the Middle
East. Entire countries have been destroyed by the chaos unleashed by terrorist
violence which in turn has been in response to the lopsided policies and
systems inherited by the region from the colonial order. From the sub-Saharan
Africa and Arab Maghreb to the Gulf and south-central Asia, violence has
wrecked millions of lives and many parts of the Islamic world.
Long before Russia’s ambassador to Turkey
was gunned down on live TV by a renegade cop, apparently to protest Moscow’s
role in the bloodshed and destruction of Syria and Aleppo, Nato’s only Muslim
member country has been constantly at the receiving end, witnessing some of the
largest terror attacks in recent history.
Only this past week, 46 people were killed
– 36 of them policemen – in a massive attack in Istanbul’s Besiktas
municipality. As I write this, there are reports of 13 Turkish soldiers having
been killed fighting Isis along the border with Syria. December has been a
disastrous month for a country that acts as a bridge between the East and the
Indeed, 2016 has been the cruellest year in
Turkey’s history – recording at least a dozen attacks, eight of them in its
largest and most cosmopolitan city, Istanbul.
Who can forget the savage strike on the
Ataturk International Airport that killed 45 people and injured hundreds in
June this year besides destroying the airport? Or the one in Gaziantep that
killed 57 people in August?
By taking on terrorists as well as by
opening its borders to tens of thousands of desperate Syrian refugees, Turkey
has paid a colossal price in many ways. One of Europe’s fastest growing
economies has also been bleeding on another account. Frequent attacks have been
driving tourists away.
The case of Egypt has been similar – its
economy has grievously suffered because of recurring attacks – the most recent
one being the bombing of Cairo’s biggest Coptic cathedral. Libya, next door,
has been torn into several bits and pieces by various armed groups.
Indeed, the Islamic world has paid an
incalculable price for being the battlefront and ground zero of the West’s war.
Look at the havoc wreaked on the ancient cities of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen
and other countries in the region.
Even Pakistan, panned by India as the
epicentre of terror, continues to bleed with attacks on mosques, churches and
even schools. Remember the despicable attack on the Peshawar school that killed
145 students and teachers in 2014?
Yet we are, time and again, bracketed with
terror. What would it take for the world to understand that Muslims are almost
as big a victim as anyone else, if not more, of the scourge of extremism?
Muslims and the West cannot win the war on
extremism by stigmatising or fighting each other. They must work together to
confront the sources and drivers of violence, including the rising spectre of
Islamophobia in the West. Emboldened by the rhetoric of politicians like Trump,
Farage and Le Pen, there has been a sudden rise in attacks on Muslims
everywhere. This in turn feeds the anger and sense of alienation that
extremists prey on.
We reap as we sow. What unites Muslims and the West is far
greater than what divides them. We need to promote greater forbearance and
understanding of each other’s beliefs, cultures and sensitivities. Our
diversity is what makes our world so beautiful. We should celebrate our
distinctions rather than fight over them. This is our shared heritage.
Western and Muslim leaders, intellectuals
and influencers must work together to build bridges between the two great
civilisations, not polarise them further.
Do not let a tiny fringe hold us to ransom
and destroy our humanity. We are in this together.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based columnist.
says: “The Arabs and Muslims around the world are as distressed and saddened by
these senseless killings and attacks targeting innocent bystanders.” But by
visible appearances they are far less saddened and grieved than when a lone
Western journalist writes or draws something that is demeaning of the Prophet.
Put it another way, the heaven breaks loose over the heads of the Muslim world if
a non-Muslim dares to insult their Prophet. The other day, 200,000 Muslims take
to street when a Christian governer of their province made a passing but
innocuous reference to the Qur’an – but
I have not heard of even a group of 1000 Muslims protesting against ISIS