How debates are framed is very important and it’s hard to change people’s perceptions when they are bombarded with the same types of images for a number of years. For those of us who steadfastly fight against extremism in our own ways, news stories like these are important. Circulating stories like these makes people feel better but it acts as a weapon against group-think and reactionary views. We are conditioned by everything we see and hear, but keeping hold of fundamental truths about the world prevents sloppy thinking from taking root.
On 11th December 2016 a suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS walked into a church in Cairo and blew himself up. 26 Coptic Christians were killed and dozens of others were injured. The attack was widely seen inside Egypt as an attempt by ISIS to undermine Egyptian President Abel Fattah al-Sisi, who since becoming President has stressed the importance of protecting Coptic Christian communities.
The attack itself is not the main point of this story, the aftermath is. In the days that followed, Christians and Muslims from across Cairo came together in the streets around the bombed-out church to mourn the victims. According to Amr Emam of The Arab Weekly: “when a Muslim preacher went to the mourning ceremony for one of the church attack victims, the relatives of the victim asked him to read out verses from the Qu’ran”. This is a fantastic example of people coming together in the face of a threat that wants to tear people apart. I recommend reading Emam’s article in full for more context.
Terrorist groups want us to overreact to their actions and blame all Muslims for their action as it allows them to claim that non-Muslims are out to get them. It is stories like these that illustrate that people will not be coerced into supporting the hateful ideology of ISIS, but that across the world there are Muslims who denounce violence and support freedom of worship. Muslims across the Middle East are experiencing terror every single day, in a way that is hard to fathom when living in the West. Certainly there is a risk of an attack wherever you live in the world because terrorism, by its very nature, is asymmetric, but in the Middle East it is a completely different ball game.
With knowledge of the millions of Muslims around the world that want nothing to do with ISIS’ death cult, we need to be vigilant against the rising tide of bigotry against Muslims. Much attention is being played to the rise of populism in 2016, and the escalation of rhetoric from politicians that face elections in the coming months, namely Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, is deeply worrisome. These neo-fascists need to be called out for what they are and their abhorrent rhetoric must be defeated in the ballot box in their respective elections.
However it’s also incumbent on us to pay close attention to things that we can do in our everyday lives. Whether its studying the Qu’ran or reaching out to a local mosque to build inter-community relations, we all need to counter the dominant narrative of the mainstream press and decouple the idea of Muslims as being synonymous with violence. I’m not saying that we all believe Muslims are terrorists, but for many people in our own societies passively watching the news on television creates this perception. It’s up to us who are informed about the nuances of Islam to share it with others and dismantle this hostility.
The Western press is notorious for ignoring stories like this because it doesn’t fit the narrative that they have helped to construct. It’s very hard for right-wing tabloids to sell newspapers scaremongering about burkas or halal food when Muslims are standing in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters against terrorism. Discourse in the West around terrorism and Islam more generally has become toxic, but sharing stories like this humanises people, whom we will probably never meet, and undermines the ‘us vs. them’ narrative pushed in the wake of terror attacks in the West. It’s up to us to act rationally and counter anti-Muslim sentiments wherever and whenever they arise.