As I may have mentioned before the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo is laying bare all sorts of double standards, not to mention the odd weasel word or two. The latest to cross my path was an article published by vice – titled “Internet Commenters: This Is Why I and Other Muslims Won’t Apologise for the Charlie Hebdo Attacks”. My friends have for some reason shared it as being an excellent article, with the (usually sound, though in this case I’d suggest reading the comments it’s informative) advice not to read the comments. Which has rather forced me to conclude either we are reading different articles or inhabit different realities.
The author quite rightly objects to being asked to apologise for something they didn’t do. However they are setting up the most flimsy of straw men. The quotes they use all ask why aren’t Muslims condemning the attacks, not apologising for them but condemning them. Now I realise that educational standards have fallen and both “apologise” and “condemn” are quite long words but really they are quite different. However having confused these two radically different concepts they go on to demonstrate exactly why people are asking where are the peaceful Muslim voices condemning the Charlie Hedbo attacks.
“It goes without saying that I feel immeasurable sympathy and compassion for the victims and their families. But asking me to say sorry for the actions of extremists because I happen to be a Muslim is like demanding I apologise for another writer’s spelling errors.
Barbaric terrorists who describe themselves as Muslims have nothing to do with me, my beliefs, my soul or my person. Apologising for their heinous crimes makes little sense to me when I have absolutely nothing in common with them, and zero understanding of their grotesque interpretation of Islam. Why should I take responsibility for someone else’s sins? Sins that I can neither fathom nor comprehend?”
It’s good to know that they have sympathy for the victims and their families, and reassuring that they don’t feel that their version of Islam has anything to do with the attackers. But well it’s not exactly condemning the attack and standing up for free speech is it? Having told us that we should conflate their form of Muslim with the bad form of Muslim they continue with this:
“I’ll go on a solidarity march not because it’s my duty to show the world that Muslims don’t abet murderers and terrorists, but because I’m a human being and I feel empathy for those who have been hurt. I will talk about my faith and try to dispel misgivings, but apart from that I’m as unrelated to these extremists as the “patriot” having trouble differentiating Islam from violent Islamism in his UKIP-town bungalow.”
So again no condemnation of the attack, no standing up for freedom of speech. Just a desire to persuade people that “not all Muslims” whilst at the same time painting a rather broad brush view of those that might currently be a little concerned about what views Muslims actually hold.
It’s worth repeating that some Muslims have condemned the attack (presumably ones that understand the difference between “condemn” and “apologise”) – but let’s indulge their confusion for a bit. They won’t apologise (though no one has asked them to) but instead want to distance themselves from the attackers by saying nothing. Which is where the problem arises because if you don’t speak up for your beliefs and community then how does anyone know that the attackers don’t speak for you. After all we have in recent years seen our prime minister apologise for a slave trade we ended 200 years ago, no one alive today had anything to do with it. Organisations have had to apologise for the private tweets of their staff. The Catholic church has had to apologise for so many things I’ve lost track of. Christians are forever having to speak up and distance themselves from the wetboro nutters. Anglican clergy have apologised for pretty much everything up to and including existing I think. Libertarians, Euro-sceptics, climate change sceptics, Tories and all sorts of other groups constantly speak up to distant themselves from the nuttier fringes. Muslim leaders have demanded apologies from all sorts of groups for all sorts of actions of individuals. So with that sort of background to thinks really one can see why some sort of clear and public condemnation might be seen to be expected from the leaders of the Muslim communities and from Muslim bloggers. This apparently though is an unreasonable thing to request of followers of the “religion of peace”.
Just to make sure you don’t miss it they do get round to condemning the attack eventually – though not without repeating that tricky confusion between “apologise” and “condemn” which I do think rather weakens the sincerity of their condemnation.
“Plenty of Muslims and Islamic groups are condemning the attack. I condemn it, too, not just as a Muslim, but as a sister to anyone who believes in the sanctity of human life. And if we’re going on that premise, then the entire population of Earth should be apologising for the events at the Charlie Hebdo office.”
As a final point some people are saying (including in the comments) that “no one demanded that the church condemn Anders Breivik”, there’s a reason for that, the church didn’t wait to be asked but condemned his attacks unprompted. It is of course possible that the media are doing a poor job of reporting condemnation from Muslim leaders, but if so it’s something neither the author nor their commentators nor the independent have seen fit to correct.