Another day of terror and bloodshed, another day splitting opinions about how to react besides mourning the death. Reading the statements of local academic Professor Farid Esack I actually have to hold my breath. He writes in a Facebook post: “I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I? I had nothing to do with it,” and continues “I am sickened by the perpetual expectations to condemn. I walk away from your shitty racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.”
I honestly don’t think this is the way to comment on a tragedy killing innocent people – it is an insult to those suffered the loss of a loved one, but on the other hand it shows a pattern clearly visible in a lot of statements and talks about acts of terror, about the rise of ISIS and the Muslim faith: A toxic mix of emotions and perceived facts, intermingled in a way not helpful at all to see through the factual side of what happens in the moment. This mix, felt by most bystanders and those having lost loved ones is played with quite heavily by those in power, by politicians and fundamentalists and those trying to create havoc and push their own agenda and ideology without counting the losses.
So how to untangle this mix?
Firstly – and this is directly addressed to Prof Farid Esack: I am sickened if you don’t condemn barbaric acts of terror – you don’t have to feign horror – because it is horror. Realize your sensitivity on real or perceived Islamophobic attitudes and acknowledge that as a Muslim Scholar, you have to deal with it. And “it” means you have to deal not only with perceptions but with the question how Islam is connected to violence in our days and how those developing and studying the doctrine and the teaching of Islam define the relationship between violence, statehood and faith. There are dozens of open questions and you can’t hide behind politics. You are part of the Ummah which has to distance itself clearly from all forms of violence and acts of terror.
Secondly – yes, there is the level of politics and there the West has to come to the party: With the unlawful war in Iraq we seeded what we now reaping. And if there is a human justice in place, people like Georg Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld initiating not only war but terror, torture and renditions should face the music in a court of international law together with Tony Blair and others. We continue to earn money with weapons delivered readily to fuel the war in Syria, we bomb a country to its knees like Libya and then let it run its own destruction – the West is two-faced and ambivalent when it comes to those questions. There is a lot the West, you are accusing has to account for.
Thirdly – again yes, it was the West introducing the word “war” in a very unconventional way – the “war on terror” created by President Georg W Busch is the mother of lots of evil today because it was used by its own creator to justify the unjustifiable giving a blueprint also for those now in charge in the “caliphate”. Pandora’s box was opened with the abuse and waterboarding and orange jumpsuits now famously seen in beheading scenes.
Fourthly – all lives matter and yes, there is in our global village a clear tendency to react more emotional when European lives or US American lives are at risk – and global diaries like Facebook make this suddenly so much more visible. And it feels wrong to many as could be seen by the reactions of so many African voices on social media. I find it remarkable that there is a sense that life is valued differently in our earthly village – and we have to work on it to change this perception.
We are in a mess – we reap what we have allowed to be seeded and we have to get out of it. But this can only happen if we overcome our emotions and start working on a better world. And it means first of all to pray and mourn those innocently slaughtered on a daily base, to keep track on all life lost on a daily base. I don’t expect the narrowness of politics to make an immediate difference but I expect us religious people to lay the grounds for a better world. The world ethos of Hans Kueng describes that there will be no peace on earth if religions don’t get it right and they are coming to a basic understanding. We have to lead, we have to challenge each other, we have to have a robust debate on our relationship to God, to human mankind, to violence and much more, we have to find common grounds. And it all starts with mourning the death of Paris and Kenya and Nigeria and Syria and all those other hot-spots of terror, be it state sponsored or committed by others.
And let us start agreeing: ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, the word “jihad” cannot be used for terror attacks and “suicide bombers” are not connected to any religious faith whatsoever. Lets eliminate all those verbal connections loud and clearly. lets declare that killing and God does never go together and we have done the first step in the right direction. May the dialogue – urgently needed – begin after untangling the emotions from the facts. And lets pray together for Paris and include the rest of the world in pain and agony…