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‘The Paris Attacks Undoubtedly Define Tragedy, But They Can’t Be Mourned In Isolation’

By Zoha Qamar

The Paris attacks undoubtedly define tragedy. Nothing justifies innocent civilian casualties, and I can’t send enough prayers to anyone and everyone affected.

Image source: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Image source: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Sadly, the events unfolding in France right now can’t be mourned in isolation. That’s not anti-French, anti-West, pro-extremism, etc. We live in a world where chaos and terrorism define both tragedy and daily reality for people in places like Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. In fact, havoc is constantly wreaked upon innocent civilians by groups preaching some sick, mutated strain of religion. I can’t underscore enough that mentioning these other calamities in light of Paris does not retract or dilute the pain that we feel with France; it simply proves how susceptible and easy it is to grow removed from arbitrary news headlines summarizing yet another death in ‘the Middle East’ (a whole region of the world that is itself often so reduced and instantly categorized as ‘that one place with crazy radicals, continuous bombings, and zero instability’).

It’s humbling to see people, especially in America, come together to mourn a loss of this magnitude, but it’s equally important to recognize the degree to which the US government plays in fueling the very instability in a lot of countries whose flags are not options to lay over our profile pictures. Again, this isn’t to trivialize France–only to acknowledge and observe how all too familiar it is to other regions of the globe.

This strength in US-France support right now is powerful, and I hope we can see the same compassion and love among interactions within people on our own soil. Especially on college campuses, it has been a charged week in the US regarding race. Supporting and listening to Black Americans when they speak out demonstrates the same kind of human decency.

Further, Arab refugees in France are still Arab refugees in France. They have no power in this, but they’ll likely be among the most targeted in the aftermath. I’ve read quite a lot of posts noting how unequivocally this proves Islam as simply a seed for terror and pain and to “not make this about defending Islam.” But sadly, when a radical group claiming responsibility for the attacks also claims to represent a religion, the topic of faith, along with its misappropriation, is inextricable.

Last fall on October 8, 2014, Reza Aslan wrote in NYT, “No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives.”

I, as a Muslim, can’t justify what happened in Paris. I can’t explain it. I suppose I can condemn it, which, I obviously do – the fact that this parenthetical even has to exist relays how insecure and scared I am. Perhaps that only makes me, a girl in the US, sound that much more selfish, even petty, but I guess it’s just habit after growing up in post 9/11 America. In times like this, it’s almost as if words like ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ lose meaning, beyond just calling into question the validity of who ends up claiming it; who ends up making assumptions about it; and who ends up representing it, or at least their hijacked version of it to the rest of the world.

“Some read the Qur’an and blow up girls’ schools, but more read the Qur’an and build girls’ schools,” published by Nicholas Kristof in a January 7, 2015 NYT article addressing Charlie Hebdo, has remained the quote I’ve constantly returned to this whole year. Maybe it’s, again, largely some selfish mechanism that helps me mentally process heinous terrorist attacks that claim some sick, disgusting, mutated strain of the same religion I identify with. But I think it well rephrases, perhaps also a little more comprehensively, what feels like a broken record in my head: “terrorism has no religion.”

And also that victims are of any religion.

Paying respect to one tragedy while also commemorating another does not marginalize either.

Prayers to the people affected in Paris, in Baghdad, in Beirut. Love to the people (of all religions) who build girls’ schools, who listen to those who are struggling within and beyond their borders, and who find it in their hearts to recognize the multiplicity in how sad our world is.

“Whoever kills an innocent person it is as if he has killed all of humanity.”Qur’an, 5:32

You must be to comment.
  1. Karim

    Excellent article with great points and expression. Keep spreading this outstanding message!

  2. Srinivas

    Correct. Zoha. While scratching your brains around for victims of terrorism,
    “in a lot of countries whose flags are not options to lay over our profile pictures”, I am surprised you didn’t find India
    and Kashmir, (and Punjab! Duh?!) Let’s jump start some empathy for Kashmiri Pundits also in this forum.

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