Long before “Je suis Charlie,” “nous sommes tous Américains.”
In college, I thought I’d become a lawyer. On more courageous days, I dreamt of studying Czech and teaching in some lovely, out-of-the-way college town in Eastern Europe. But in my penultimate semester, the United States was attacked. My hopes and dreams gave way to more urgent questions of identity and civic responsibility.
It wasn’t just me: many American Muslims made similar calculations. Fearful of the rhetoric of war that overcame our country, wary of the challenges ahead of us, and inspired to reclaim our religion, we pushed back against hate outside our community and within it. We would not allow circumstance to deny our potential. I am sure the same pressures and possibilities will reshape French Islam.
Inclusion alone won't prevent violence.
This is not to minimize the significant differences between France and the United States. In many respects, a more operative analogy to France’s Muslims is not America’s Muslims, but America’s Latinos. Further, France and the United States understand secularity and diversity quite differently. But enough similarities pertain, perhaps most significantly in the matter of anti-Muslim prejudice. Maybe Marine Le Pen’s National Front, and nearby PEGIDA, will compel France’s Muslims to new levels of political activism, cultural production, and institutional sophistication.
The pressure on France’s Muslims is far greater than that on America’s. Laïcité enforces the cultural norms and habits of a secular majority upon and against a religiously defined minority. While you are free to insult the Prophet, you are not free to dress as you believe the Prophet would have wanted you to. And there can be no successful battle against Islamophobia without also battling ills found in too many Muslim discourses, including widespread anti-Semitism, patriarchy and misogyny, racism and ethnocentrism, sectarianism and factionalism.
Which is to say, I agree with John Bowen that France must address its “ways of living together,” in order to be more inclusive and fraternal—and Muslims too must address concerns, even if at times the scrutiny we face is unfair. But I do not believe an ethic of inclusion is sufficient to prevent violence. Although we are often reluctant to admit it, there is incitement to violence in inclusive societies as well.
Not all violence is radical, and the selective focus on such violence concerns me. Recall that after the Charlie Hebdo staff and Hyper Cacher were attacked, Rupert Murdoch weighed in on Twitter: “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful,” he said, but until all condemn the “growing jihadist cancer,” we “must be held responsible.” It was a sermon on collective responsibility from the man who made millions cheerleading the Global War on Terror, without which we would not have ISIS.
Jihadist radicalization happens when a person experiences injustice or identifies with those who do. He then builds on this injustice a crude and reductive narrative, which not only allows but one solution, it also demands it: violence. Hence the occupation of Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Muslims, the carpet-bombing of Chechnya, and sanctions on Iraq—separate and terrible realities, woven together to make a profoundly anti-Muslim tapestry. Convinced the world is at war with his religion, the extremist contorts his religion to justify war in turn.
Material circumstances are relevant to the choices people make, insofar as they limit the opportunities people have. And yes, France can do more to heal its divides, and make Muslims feel more a part of their societies. Bowen is right to draw on republican traditions to build trust and fraternity between France and its Muslims, for these would convince people on the margins that there are viable and humane means to effect change. But inclusion alone is no guarantor of morality, just as wealth and economic opportunity do not mean we are better people.
What causes many Americans to support torture, to shrug off widespread surveillance, to condone police brutality, or to ignore the arming and abetting of regimes, such as Israel and Egypt, which do not share our values? Who among the neoconservatives was so economically disaffected and deprived of opportunity that he had no choice but to launch a war with Iraq? Who takes responsibility for the Rupert Murdochs of the world?
We can’t look to inclusion to solve these problems as well.