#JeSuisAhmed: The World That Fears Muslims

Ahmed Merabet Charlie Hebdo Terrorism Kouachi brothers

A couple of days ago, I decided that my reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack would be to share the covers that had those journalists killed. I didn’t say whether I agreed with their content because that wasn’t the point at the time, and freedom of speech, to me, was absolute, with satire at its heart, as it aims to reconcile reason with power. Enforcing limitations puts us on a slippery slope until Paris on January 7th becomes conceivable. The world isn’t where it is today because visionaries cowered from challenging their dogmas.

In today’s world, however, freedom of speech is a reflection of the hypocritical scope with which we view things. In this relative specter, even satire becomes cruel when it’s aimed at the weak who aren’t allowed to answer back. Two days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, this is our chance to sit down and talk.

Everyone’s up in flames over how Muslims aren’t condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks enough. Over how they haven’t condemned ISIS enough. Over how they aren’t condemning themselves enough. Well, they have over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

Where have you been throughout all of this? Thinking Muslim was a member of a small village of 1.57 billion where everyone’s alike: a terrorist, a pest, an apostate to modern values in need of serious reconsideration of his religious views. But never a person who could be a victim and who is, in fact, innocent  – at least until proven guilty.

And then you call them off when they actually do what you’re asking of them.

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The victims of every attack carried out by extremists are not just those who died and whose memory perseveres in us, the media and then, when the calamity subsides, every bigot who uses their name to propagate their own version of extremism that is as toxic, but less deadly, perched on top of podiums, preaching about liberties while advocating for many to be denied of them.

The victims of the Paris attacks are that Muslim, whose kebab shop and Mosque were burned, who had absolutely nothing to do with the attack except in some amalgamation of Ahmad and terrorist.

They’re that Muslim who was afraid of going to the vigils to honor the dead of a publication that offended again and again, who was petrified at how people would view her hijab or his beard now, terrified at what it would mean to be on January 8th, 2015.

They’re that Muslim who watched in horror as the news of Paris unfolded, who gasped at the video showing the Muslim cop Ahmed Merabet being shot to death, told his children to go into their room to prevent them from seeing what he was seeing on TV and is worried daily at the poison they’re getting exposed to.

They’re the Muslim who has nothing to do with France but is told he is responsible for the actions of some French Muslims. They’re your Muslim friend at whom you looked with different sight today.

They’re that Muslim that is slowly being driven over the edge and who will come to endorse – nay, want to participate – one day in actions like those that took place in Paris yesterday.

They’re that foreign student who is now worried about what this means to his future. They’re that person trying to seek a better life for his family, whose chances are now completely in tatters.

What we demand of every single one of those Muslims is to condemn, apologize, and shout from every minaret how they are against what some of their lot are doing today, because if they don’t, then they are terrorists too.

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Defending free speech by telling someone exactly what to say. Isn’t that ironic given that whole shenanigan involving sin and first stone to be cast?

In today’s world, I – born Christian, now who cares – am never lumped with the Christians who have caused two world wars, a holocaust, several other wars, the endless support for the state of Israel and the massacre of Palestinians, the endless encroachment over the riches of Africa, the rise of Neo-Nazi parties across Europe and the many attacks they have been committed in my name.

I am never asked to condemn en masse those protests in Germany where it was called for the expulsion of impure breeds, whose religion is not original to Europe – ironic as that is – and whose skin color is not as fair.

I am also never faced with existential questions about Christianity when those Neo-Nazis kill for their brand of extremism, as has happened in Norway in 2011, an assault which ended the life of 77 people.

I am never asked to apologize for Aurora, Sandy Hook Elementary, to assess Christianity’s potential for the modern world after the 1 million in Iraq that died, because of a war that is there to defend my freedom, my rights, my security, my Jesus-given right for oil.

I am never considered as violent for contributing to the instability of Pakistan and leading to the loss of 140+ of its children in Peshawar. Those are just Muslims killing other Muslims.

Jews are never faced with retribution for their continuous slaughter of Palestinians, the last of which was in Gaza this past summer, where 600 Palestinian children died. They are never asked to apologize for their constant rape of Palestinian land, for never-ending settlements, for their constant erosion of the rights of the people with whom they are forcibly sharing the land.

In today’s world, that same Muslim we are more than willing to burn at the stake is never allowed to be offended or else he’s deemed an extremist as the world-given badge of modernity gets taken away.

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Meanwhile, holocaust portrayals can cause uproars; Charlie Hebdo in 2009 fired and had that same artist sued for hate speech for drawing a Jewish caricature of Sarkozy, and even Christians are allowed to be offended by portrayals of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

We think so little of the world’s Muslims that their deaths are a natural event, never worth a discussion. We think so low of them that we believe it’s unfathomable for them to comprehend our cherished values of freedom, democracy, and autonomy, despite those concepts – in the same context of worldwide hypocrisy – being relative: only given to those who can afford them, to those powerful enough to claim them.

How can we explain, for instance, to the Muslim Palestinian in Gaza what human rights are or what freedom is, while that same Palestinian is genuinly expected to wholly understand how it is to be a French free man in France?

How can we explain to the Muslim women of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf that they can do whatever they want with their bodies when their own governments that keep on oppressing them are maintained by the same countries where women are, in theory, liberated, open, sexual, and can drive?

How can we explain to that Saudi blogger who is now facing 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for speaking up what freedom of speech actually means?

How can we explain what freedom is to Muslims living in dictatorships, under systems that are kept there by the same countries demanding of those same Muslims to be free and worldly and Western?

We are so blinded by prejudice and hate that we can’t see who actually benefits from the attacks in Paris on January 7th.

Those are people like Marine Le Pen, who doesn’t see how the construct of modern French society has a lot to do with why January 7th happened, whose message of hate will now resonate clearer in the minds of the French and who will spear-head a regression of the theoretical values of the French state. She has already started sharpening her harpoon.

They’re people like the far-right in every corner of the world whose flags might as well be those of ISIS with inverted colors. They’re people like Netenyahu whose own brand of terrorism is never labeled as such and who will use the attacks in Paris to further advocate for the need of escalation in his terror.

They’re heads of nations like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who proclaim moderation for the world to be fooled, and spread hatred wherever they go, as they buy their way to a majority share in the European continent.

Imagine for a moment that this had been a parallel world, where we are an impoverished minority, whose countries are taken up for their natural resources, whose heads are so blinded by wealth and power they can’t see themselves being manipulated, whose poor are among the poorest of the world, whose children die of famine and war, whose lives are not judged in absolute value, whose lands are a matter of debate, whose opinions are not free, would we be asked to condemn too?

I do not understand Islam nor do I pretend to do so. I don’t know what true Islam is, the same way I don’t know what true Christianity or true Judaism are, and I don’t believe anyone truly knows – all three remain ideological constructs that are open to interpretation within frames that are entirely individualistic. Hence,  I cannot defend religions as a dogma nor am I doing so.

We say that we can root out Muslim extremism by force: by forcing them to be apologetic, by forcing ourselves over their homes, by launching missiles, armies, and rockets. That is not the case. The only way to weed out the Islamists, extremists and terrorists is to empower those Muslims who are being killed by those same extremists when they speak up, whose voices are being silenced by the mainstream voices around the world that refuse to listen, and who are not allowed to fill the vacuum in their reputation as it’s slowly eaten away by the mole in their midst. We empower them by listening, by not taking away the stability in their countries, by not making sure their countries, communities and societies never amount to anything, and by not believing the cause of their hardship is the religion they worship.

There are three ways this can deconstruct. We can either maintain things as they are, ignore any lesson Paris is trying to teach us, and carry on. We can make things worse, lump 1.57 billion Muslim with ISIS, Al Qaeda, or Taliban and assume that they’re all out there to assassinate freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Or you can ignore the hate speech, tell that terrified Muslim that there’s someone who gets it, doesn’t require him to condemn, doesn’t attribute 1.57 billions to the actions of one and understands that the actions of that one are more related to societal constructs than to religion, who knows that he too has autonomy, and needs freedom, and seeks a better life for his children, and that praying while looking at Mecca and kneeling down is essentially the same as looking at an altar and standing up, and that this world is very cruel to anyone who is different from the norms, and that it is okay to be angry and not to be okay with how things are, that you should be Charlie, and Ahmed and all shades in between, and that it is okay to be a human who just happens to be Muslim.

Extremism in Lebanon: Why Are You Shocked The Red Cross Was Banned From A Mosque?

Breaking news out of Lebanon today, because those are very few and scarce, but a Red Cross volunteer had his colleagues banned from entering the mosque where his family was receiving condolences for the passing of his grandmother, just because they were wearing their logo, which happens to be – well – a Cross, albeit having nothing to do with religion.

First with the story was the Facebook page “Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon,” and at thousands of Facebook shares and likes, as well as having the story picked up by various news outlets now, it has definitely gone around, as well as have people in shock and anger.

I’m here to ask the very simple question: why?

To those who are shocked, I wonder if you’ve been so disconnected from life in this country lately that you haven’t noticed the fervent rise of extremism all around you. This isn’t exclusive to a single sect or religion. Of course, some get blamed more than others because it’s more popular to do so, but it is a tangible reality everywhere and in the hearts of many people around you, including people you know.

The time for you to be shocked was years ago. It was when hearing about things such as ISIS was not common place in your news. It was when people didn’t come up with excuses here and excuses there for their religious folks of choice to come off unscathed. It was when people weren’t made to believe that their entire existence in this country depended on the existence of their religious sect. It was when the discussion of an electoral law was not only about a law that allowed people of one sect to vote for that sect’s MPs. It was when I didn’t wake up every morning to the following graffiti outside my building:

Spotted in Achrafieh

Spotted in Achrafieh

The time to be shocked, disappointed, mortified, appalled or whatever you are feeling right now is long behind us. What you can and should do now is hope this is an incident that won’t set precedence, which I think is the case. This was probably the case of a few goons with near subzero IQs and near illiterate education levels deciding to flex their Allah-given muscles, as has become quite customary around this country.

Those people won’t care about explanations that the Cross on the Red Cross’ vest is not actually Christian. They won’t care that women wearing the Hijab can enter Churches whenever they want, albeit to increasing groans, and that people wearing Crosses can enter Mosques whenever they want. No, those are the people whose existence we have loved to dismiss for so long now, toning it down until we made them irrelevant in our minds.

The truth of the matter is that as everything in this country, this too will pass. You will forget about in a couple of days as something more media-grabbing happens. You may be reminded of it by some politician down the road who wants to cash in some political coins, of course.

What I hope this transpires into is more support for the Red Cross, this truly noble organization in the country that has transcended sects and political lines and religions to help people just for the sake of humanity. You want to be mad at those who didn’t let those Red Cross volunteers in at a wake? Go donate.

Ironically, at a time when some Lebanese retards were upset the Red Cross could have entered a Mosque, the Pope was praying at the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Contrast Lebanon with the following picture. As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. I’ve probably written something close to that by now, so you get the picture.
Pope Francis is shown the Sultan Ahmet mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, by Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, during his visit to Istanbul

A Lebanese Meditation House Is The World’s Best

I recently stumbled on a gallery that featured the winners of the World Architecture Festival, which took place in Singapore in early October, and which awarded the best architectural projects of the world that took place between January 2012 and June 2013. The projects didn’t need to be built in order to compete.

A Lebanese project, as I’ve found out, was chosen as the best house among future projects. Designed by MZ architects, the meditation house looks quite odd and definitely not anything we’re used to as Lebanese. It’s made as something that blends into its surrounding hills and mountains, doesn’t challenge the location it’s in and provides its owner a means for him to feel closer to God.

The house also has a room which is dug vertically into a nearby cliff. The house itself, it seems, satisfies the requirements of Islam without it being anything typically Muslim. The vertical room is akin to a minaret. Its location, overlooking its surroundings and the seaside, can be considered to be a dome and the direction towards Mecca is conserved.

You can check out more information about the meanings behind the house here.

Check out the following renderings of what the house will look like. I personally wouldn’t want my house to be like this and I’m definitely not an architect in order to appreciate the work that has gone into it. But at least this is a ranking that matters.

Ramadan in Tripoli

A friend of mine was sitting in a restaurant in Tripoli, waiting for the Iftar. At the first day of Ramadan, Iftar is a big deal. It had been a very tough day of fasting in the scorching July heat. The restaurant he was sitting in was abuzz with talks about a little girl named Jana. Everyone wanted to make sure she was doing well, that she was eating, that she was well-seated, that she was well-taken care of.

My friend, who wasn’t from Tripoli and was visiting the city oh so cautiously, was intrigued. He started asking who Jana was. She was the homeless girl selling flowers to the people having Iftar on the first day of Ramadan. As he told me the story, not knowing whether it was true or not, I decided that I must try and live – to the best of my capacities – parts of Ramadan in Tripoli.

My best friend being from the city made this quite easy. Soon enough, his mother was asking when I’d come visit. I very gladly obliged. So on a Saturday of Ramadan, I was standing at the doorstep of one of the kindest and most hospitable people I know, breathless as I was racing against a sinking sun, worried I wouldn’t be there on time. We sat on a breezy balcony that overlook a desolate street.

Tripoli might as well have been a ghost town at that point. Everyone was busy eating. I was served some soup, followed by fattouch then some mloukhiye the likes of which I had never had before. I daresay the food passed by quite fast for what I had in mind but I didn’t mind. The mloukhiye was coupled with some rice and chicken and other Lebanese mezze items. Soon enough, we found ourselves drinking jallab and other kinds of juices while the smokers puffed on that cigarette that had been sitting in their pockets waiting for such a long time. The chit chats grew louder. The conversations veered toward the medical as my med student status was revealed. The women started asking me questions about C-sections and normal deliveries. Cake was served. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. In fact, I might as well have been part of the family, all to the backdrop of the tarawih chants emanating from the many minarets surrounding us.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the footsteps of a shabby bakery that did what I was told was incredible nammoura. “How much is the kilo for?” I asked. “6000LL,” the old man replied. He then took a sealed box, weighed it, looked at me and smiled: “It’s 1.5 kilos, but it’s okay – 6000LL it is. Have you tried the coconut-based pastry?” I shook my head. So the next thing he did was take one that was freshly baked, handing it to me to taste. I tried to decline. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I smiled as my teeth sank into it, taking pictures of the place in the process while one of the employees pointed out to things I should include in my frames.

After buying enough sweets to last our household a month, we walked around the busier streets of the city towards my favorite cafe, Ahwak. The place was unusually empty. We ordered some oreo cheesecake and carrot cake while we forcibly listened in to the conversations taking place around us. Two guys were discussing politics fervently, which is quite normal for a city whose entire current strife is based in those politics. Two girls were discussing keeping their figure with Ramadan fasting. We spoke about how things could have been in the city, in the country. Nothing like demotivating conversations to take you through the night, which was ironic given that the cafe we were in was pillaged a few days earlier by Islamists who accused its owners of serving alcohol. Then we saw her, a little blond girl in a blue dress, holding flowers in her hand.

A couple of friends then decided they were craving some Hallab sweets. So we walked to where Hallab originated, the only place where I find you can get the authentic experience of those Arabian sweets. We don’t take any of those Jounieh wannabe franchise places and their ad wars. The place was busy as well, though nowhere near as busy as in years past. Those friends had some ice cream and mafrouke.

The clock was ticking the night away as we made our way to Azmi street. I was told about its shops opening way past midnight to allow the city’s residents to buy all their Eid’s new clothes and gifts. As we got closer, the music grew louder. I jokingly said this was obviously emanating from a convertible 1980s BMW. I wasn’t mistaken. After all, who else would blast some horrible Arabic music at near 2AM?
The shops were open but mostly empty. The streets were stuck between wanting to be lively and succumbing to the reality of a city that is coming to terms with how economically dead it’s being forced to become.
“I expected more,” I told my friend as we walked past the coffee sellers, clinking their cups to attract those passing, and impromptu stands selling cheese kaaks hoping the smell of their sandwiches would bring in some hungry people in for an early Sohoor.
“I expected the same,” he replied. “But I guess this is what happens when a city has had the year Tripoli had.”

We made our way up the street, wondering what to do next. It was around 2:30AM and nearing the Sohoor time for the city’s residents. “Do you wanna go to Bab el Ramel for a typical Sohoor setting?”
I shook my head. My circadian clock was nowhere near equipped for the rhythm Ramadan required. I was getting tired. So we returned to my friend’s house where we saw his mother sitting on the veranda, quietly looking over the city as she was waiting for dawn to break.

As she offered us tea to get time to pass, we told her about how Azmi street was much different than the year before, how Ahwak had much less people than when we went last, how it didn’t really feel like Eid was approaching, only eleven or twelve days away. So she told us about the city she once lived in, where she had a Christian friend who used to be closer than a sister to her. We spoke about how things changed from my mother being able to go to Bab el Tebbane alone a couple of years ago to how the city feels today. We spoke about the politicians of the city who couldn’t care less. We spoke about the Syrian civil war/revolution whose hold on the city seems won’t know an end. She told us about how she fears the Islamists ruining her city more than everyone else. She told us how she is considered a kuffar because she’s one of the many who don’t agree with what they do. She told us how she is ashamed of the reputation they have forced on her and her family and the people she holds dear. She told us how she is worried about the future of her children in the city she can barely recognize. We spoke about life in general, our families, our aspirations, our hopes for the future.

It was then that we heard a faint explosion sound. I looked around, intrigued. “Don’t worry, they said. It’s the madfa3 announcing dawn getting nearer.” A few minutes later, an ominous voice rang across the city to tell the people to stop drinking water. Soon after that, the minarets started chanting again.
“Here we go again,” she said before going up to her feet to go to bed. “Do visit again, okay?”

I nodded. It was the first time I attended all Ramadan-related proceedings. We talk about how we are a country of coexistence and whatnot, but how many of us have truly attended another person’s religion-related practices? Almost no one. “I would love to,” I replied as the first streaks of sunlight slithered over the concrete walls.

The Myth of All Terrorists Are Muslim

Bad luck Muslims: they drew a deep sigh of relief when the Boston bombings turned out not to be done by a Saudi citizen… it turns out they were European Muslims who, ironically, are literally Caucasian. I guess racial profiling is out the question now?

I didn’t know that a simple comment on a BuzzFeed article from yours truly would spark a debate of over 50 comments and a hundred “likes.” The article in question was simply about the Islam leaning-Youtube page of one of the bombers. My comment was: how is this relevant?

Many sided with me. Many called me overly politically correct. Many others said that even though not all Muslims are terrorists, all the terrorists are Muslims.

If you ponder on that last statement, you are sure led to believe it’s true: the Boston Bombings, 9/11, etc…. However, it turned out to be the furthest thing possible from the truth.

There’s a hypocrisy when it comes to the categorization of “terrorism” in American media. For instance, the Aurora and Newton shootings were not carried out by a “terrorist” but by someone who was mentally unfit. If in a hypothetical scenario that person worshipped Allah instead of God, the “terrorist” label would have been used. Labels tend to stick.

The American and international media have been doing a “fantastic” job at highlighting select bits of acts of human violence and throwing them as representative of an entire sociological or religious aspect. Their portrayal of any violence that happens to come from Muslims tends to be sensationalized à la Middle Eastern way of reporting and, since their extent of knowledge regarding Islam and Muslims is very limited, it also comes off as ignorant. But not to those who take that media as scripture.

Moreover, the numbers to back up the “all terrorists are Muslim” claim is simply not there.

A study published by the FBI – could you get a better US-centric reference? – about the acts  of “terror” on US soil from 1980 till 2005 revealed approximately 318 terrorist attacks that varied in magnitude which break down in the following way:

Terrorism by event USA 1980-2005

Luckily enough, the numbers and data in that study have been turned into a pie-chart (here) that categorizes all the terrorist attacks by religion/ethnicity/background:

Terrorism Islam USASure, many things happened since 2005. But not all of those things were from Muslims. The above percentages may have fluctuated slightly but they’re still representative. For instance, Jewish extremism has over a period of 25 years committed more acts of terror in the United States than Muslims had. Now isn’t that interesting? Did any American know about this or is it hail-Israel and bomb-the-Muslims all the way?

To back this up even further, CNN published a study about the threat of Muslim-American terrorism. The study was done by Duke University and the University of Chapel Hill and found that the supposed danger of the radicalizing of Muslim-Americans post 9/11 has been severely exaggerated. The level is “small compared to other violent crime in America, but not insignificant.”

Violence Begets Violence:

The more societies across the world shut out, categorize and work against people just because they wear a headscarf or pray in a different way, the more these people will find refuge in doctrines that may not represent their true beliefs. The actively-fueled verbal, moral or even social violence only serves to increase the physical violence of those on the other side of the equation. There could be a linear relation there. Sure, the aforementioned premise is an over-simplification but talking about Saudi or Qatari policies of exporting radical Islam coupled with American policies in the region which help fuel this export will take forever.

Is there a growing trend of radicalizing in Islam? I only need to look at samples across my country to say the answer is yes. But fighting this growing radicalization doesn’t happen by clumping those who haven’t fallen prey to erroneous indoctrination with those who have anti-American, anti-West or anti-non-Islam agendas.

The whole point is: political correctness is perhaps something that we need in a time when it’s very easy to judge and lump people in a batch of stereotypes just because we think we know everything there is to know about them, especially when said-political correctness isn’t really coming from a higher moral ground as much as it’s emanating from actual reality.

Empathy isn’t a one-way street. Those terrorist Muslims are the ones dying in the tens and hundreds daily across the world today and it’s not only because they’re fighting among each other.

So next time someone wants to “kill all the Muslims,” know this: not all Muslims are terrorists and it’s a certainty that not all the terrorists are Muslims – not even half of them.

PS: A note from all those big bad Muslims to the people of Boston:

Boston Bombings Syria