Last year, as I was having dinner with Luz, a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo magazine, he told me he was being threatened and, consequently, protected by the police, after drawing a cartoon depicting an image of the prophet Mohammed. As a Muslim, I felt hurt because we venerate the prophet Mohammed and we are not allowed to represent him by drawing or acting, even in a positive way. It is part of our faith. I disagreed with what he did because it was reckless – in the sensitive political context of the Middle East during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan under the Bush administration. Those images of the prophet, in that context, were seen by the majority of Muslims, as another symbolic attack against Islam by the West.
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I also told him that I condemned the people who threatened him. I explained that threatening a person for insulting Islam is actually anti-Islamic behavior. The Koran even provides a space for expression of the opponents of the Prophet, when they treat him as a "liar," "sorcerer," "manipulative," "crazy," etc. In this regard, Koranic instruction is to prevent escalation and not to answer back. After this discussion, we went out for a drink and had a good time in Paris at night.
Luz was lucky. He escaped assassination because he overslept. He was 30-minutes late to work, on that black Wednesday morning, when 12 of his colleagues were murdered during their editorial meeting in a cowardly attack, in the name of Allah, by two French-born sons of Algerian-born parents. I am a French-born son of Algerian-born parents and I am Muslim. However, I have incomparably more common points with Luz and those who were killed. We share the value of democracy, freedom, freedom of speech, human rights and equality. Yes, I am a French Muslim, but I am a journalist when journalists are killed by terrorists, I am a Jew when Jews are killed by a terrorist in a kosher supermarket, and I am a police officer when police officers are killed by terrorists; but mostly, I am just a Frenchman whose country is being attacked by terrorism.
All over the world, there are misguided fanatics who are killing others in the name of a perverted Islam. I do not share the same vision of Islam as those terrorists. My Islam teaches me to love others regardless of their religion or belief. My Koran says, “Whoever kills a soul, it is as if he had exterminated mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” My prophet taught me to respond with salam (peace) to people who could offend my religion. I am not alone in thinking that and I am not a representative of a minority of Muslims. I speak and voices other than mine speak and will speak more and more in this direction. The majority of the six million Muslims of France share this understanding of Islam and condemn this terrorist attack against our country.
For ten years I lived in Algeria during the civil war in the 1990s, where 200,000 Algerian Muslims were massacred by Islamist terrorists. We have forgotten Muslims are the number one victims of worldwide terrorism, including attacks in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen. Terrorism is not only the enemy of the West; it is the enemy of humanity. There is no clash between civilizations, between Us (the West) and the Others (Muslims), or the other way around, depending on your perspective.
The goal of terrorists is to cleave French society so that everyone retreats to his community and rejects the others. If we give in to the temptation of simplifying matters to Us (the West) and Others (Muslims), the terrorists will have won.
Let us be clear, there is a clash indeed; it opposes itself. Those who hate others because they are different (fundamentalists, Islamophobes, racists and anti-Semites) and we, who believe in the human values of Egalité (Equality), Liberté (Liberty) and Fraternité (Brotherhood). Today, we need more than ever to come together for the love of France and its values.
Mohammed Chirani is a former representative of the French authorities in a “banlieue” (sensitive urban area), involved in the RAN European network (Radicalization Awareness Network) and author of “Réconciliation Française: notre défi du vivre ensemble.”("French reconciliation: our challenge of living together"), Editions Nouvelles François Bourin, January 2014.
This article was first published in French by Le Huffington Post.