Paris, the Palestinian Authority and Israel unite against terrorism

Paris, the Palestinian Authority and Israel unite against terrorism

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However they must also unite against secularism, embrace a pluralistic society

ABC News Screen Grab
ABC News Screen Grab

WASHINGTON, January 11, 2015 — Today was heralded as a day of unity as more than a million people took to the streets of Paris streets in a mass rally against terrorism.

The rally was held in response to three days of terror in the French capital that left at least 19 people dead, including three terrorists. It started with the attack at Charlie Hebdo, and ended with the deaths of four hostages and a terrorist at a kosher market. The killings outraged people around the world, including Muslims in France and across the Islamic world.

World leaders including French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stood at the front of a unity rally in Paris to show solidarity with the victims of the deadly attacks by Islamist extremists. They recognized that the loss was felt not just in Paris, but around the world.

The attacks were barbaric, committed by evil men, but it is worth asking about the conditions that encourage evil men to act, and that make it easy for them to recruit others to their barbaric cause.

France has the largest population of Muslims in the European Union, both in absolute numbers (4.7 million) and as a share of the population (7.5 percent). Many are descendants of immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa. Unfortunately, even after two and three generations of living in France, these immigrants still face discrimination in schooling, housing, and employment.

In 2014, France passed a law making it illegal to cover one’s face in public. The law applies to everyone, but it was seen by the Muslim community as targeting women who choose to wear the burqa and niqab; it was seen as an attack on devout Muslims.

It did not include the Hijab, the head covering favored by many Muslim women.

Just as depictions of Christ and the manger are banned at Christmas, the burqa is seen as a religious statement in schools.

In 2004, Tim King wrote in a Prospect Magazine article, Secularism in France:

France’s banning of religious symbols in state schools is incomprehensible to many Europeans. But “laïcité” — French-style secularism — is an ideology, defining what it means to be French.

In December last year I gave the children in my local primary school, deep in rural France, a taste of an English Christmas. While, with typically French good manners, they gazed in awe at the snow scene on the iced cake, I explained to them that, originally, mince pies were bigger and were made in the shape of the manger, you know, the manger where the baby Jesus was laid … at which point the teacher came rushing up shaking her finger: “No mention of religion in a state school,” she said, sternly. Not even at Christmas.

Like young Christians who do not attend weekly services, or young Jews who attend temple only on the Holy Days, younger Muslims, raised and educated in the West, are not flocking to mosques and Muslim clerics for leadership.

During today’s Paris Unity march, young Muslims carried signs with messages like, “Not my religion.”

These young people, like other young French people, go to school, watch TV, wear the latest fashions, look for work and raise children, and even marry outside the Muslim faith.

For French-born Muslims and Jews, though, there is a national identity crisis, especially for those who live in the “no-go” zones where many French Muslims live.

“The situation is out of control, and it is not reversible,” said Soeren Kern, an analyst at the Gatestone Institute and author of annual reports on the “Islamization of France.”

“Islam is a permanent part of France now. It is not going away,” Mr. Kern said. “I think the future looks very bleak. The problem is a lot of these younger-generation Muslims are not integrating into French society. Although they are French citizens, they don’t really have a future in French society. They feel very alienated from France.

“This is why radical Islam is so attractive, because it gives them a sense of meaning in their life.”

Is the radicalization of young Muslims due to intentional attempts to secularize them — denying them a Muslim identity, just as a Christian identity is banned from French schools — without giving them and accepting from them a French identity in return?

On Friday, France’s largest Jewish temple, the Paris Grand Synagogue, was silent, not conducting Friday Sabbath services for fear of anti-Semitic attacks. This is the first time the temple failed to hold services since World War II. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warmly greeted with shouts of BiBi before his remarks at The Paris Grand Temple.

Following are compiled remarks, not exactly recorded, from President Netanyahu today:

“On this day, the citizens of Israel and all the Jews around the world were determined to (join) President Hollande and President Abbas, who have spoken against the scourge of anti semitism and against terrorism in France. It is important, and I would like to express my condolences to the families of the journalists who were killed, these innocent people killed just carrying out their everyday lives, their everyday duties and values, and we have to fight for these values in the streets of Paris today.

“I would like to give my thanks to the citizens, including the Muslim citizens, who fought against the terrorists.  We remember those who died in our hearts, for years we have been fighting against terrorism and the pains of terrorism and the pains of the losses of those who have died from terrorism.

“We are thinking today of these victims, of the ancient proud people that we are. We will overcome this together.

“It is not Islam (that we fight) but radical, fundamentalist Islam that we fight.”

Without a doubt there is a strong anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment in France. These two groups have a long history in France, both groups being offered historical French citizenship.

Young Muslims are aware of the fight between radical Islamists and everyone else, but more are standing up to say it is not their fight. After Paris, we may see more of these young Muslims emerge as a driving force behind a more tolerant and pluralistic Islam, and of greater respect between Muslims and Jews.

Out of the Paris attacks come stories of great bravery from young Muslims. Lassab Bathily saved lives at the deadly hostage situation at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Vincennes when he moved hostages downstairs into a walk-in freezer. He told them to be calm and that he would be the one to go upstairs in response to the gunman’s demand that everyone downstairs come up or be killed.

Bathily turned off the freezer, according to French television station, BFMTV, and took the elevator up not knowing what would greet him when the doors slid open.

Bathily worked at the kosher supermarket where four young Jews were murdered — targeted, reports say, for the fact that they were Jews. Bathily, a Muslim, saved lives while the terrorist above took them.

#JeSuisAhmed – a play on the popular #JeSuisCharlie or “I am Charlie” – is a cry that arose on social media.

Ahmed Merabet, 40 years old, is the French police officer who was shot, then while lying on the sidewalk was shot again in the head — executed — as the terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo.

Merabet was of Algerian heritage, and like almost 8 percent of France’s population, Muslim, as where his killers. Only Merabet’s life was ended by the terrorists who were rampaging in a fit of Islamist extremism against Charlie Hebdo.

It is doubtful that in the final moments of his life, Ahmed Merabet identified with the terrorists who executed him.

Merabet’s police beat that day was outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, where he was on protection detail for the magazine. As a Muslim, he may not have appreciated the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, but he was there to protect the offices.

This lead to tweets repeating Voltaire’s oft cited quote:

Dalia Mogahed, the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and an advisor to President Obama on the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, tweets against the prejudice inherent in the demand that Muslims reject the terrorists and their actions and that they be denounced by Muslims.

Echoing many who have adopted the #JeSuis hastag, Mogahed tweeted

Malek Merabet eulogized his brother this morning, a moment ignored by much of media as the Unity March was conducted in Paris. He said:

Good morning all,

My brother was French, Algerian, and of the Muslim religion. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the French police, and to defend the values of the [French] Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity.

Through his determination, he had just received his judicial police diploma and was shortly due to leave for work in the field. His colleagues describe him as a man of action who was passionate about his job.

Ahmed, a man of commitment, had the will to take care of his mother and his relatives following the death of his father 20 years ago. A pillar of the family, his responsibilities did not prevent him from being a caring son, a teasing brother, a generous uncle, and a loving companion.

Devastated by this barbaric act, we associate ourselves with the pain of the families of the victims. I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes, and anti-Semites:

One must not confuse extremists with Muslims.


I want to make another point: stop painting everybody with the same brush, stop burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It won’t bring back our dead, and it won’t appease our families.

Thank you.

While the following is not translated, for those that do not speak the language, the obvious pain of a brother who has lost his brother brings to mind Shakespeare’s words in Merchant of Venice: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Thus Shylock expresses the notion that all people are human and able to experience the same hopes, desires and pains.

Let us hope we can all stop short of Shylock’s vows of equal vengeance, and that Paris will be a time to finally recognize that terrorists are terrorists and unify against them.

And heed Malek Ahmed’s words and not turn to violence to combat madmen.

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