When I heard that there was a fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels my heart dropped. I knew what was coming, the media at first reported that they had no idea who had carried out the attack but I implicitly knew, and I’m sure so too did everyone else, that it had something to do with an extremist acting in the name of Islam. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the news broke and it was confirmed that 29-year old French citizen and radical extremist, Mehdi Nemmouche carried out the attack. He’s part of ISIS – a group so radical that Al-Qaeda is distancing itself from them. The attack was shocking and cold-blooded and the ramifications are still being felt all over Europe, indeed in the Parisian Jewish quarter at 11pm on a Sunday night, eight days after the attack, there were two police officers with firearms patrolling the Jewish Museum of Art and History.
What’s jolted me into writing on this Tuesday morning was a special report yesterday on France Info – a French radio station. In discussing the incident I realised how the specifics are nothing new: a young, radicalised Muslim named X, joined radical group Y and carried out terrible act Z. The same old phrases surfaced – I can recite them in my sleep: ‘neighbours say he was polite…radicalised in prison…went to Syria…politicians addressing the issue of radicalisation…’ Though the language is different, the rhetoric is the same.
Then on came Marie La Pen offering her two cents. She was bloated with authority, flushed from her win in the European Parliament last week, vehemently attacking politicians for their lack of pre-emptive action and spewing out hate-filled policies to send ‘them’ to special prisons whilst (inevitably and irrevocably) tightening the borders from immigrants who – and this is what I inferred from subtext – bring their extremist ways to our beacon of democracy and moderation. The irony of her vitriol was not lost on me, with her final remarks demanding the protection of ‘ma famille et mon pays’ (my family and my country) and demonstrating yet again the right-wing nationalism of her branch of ‘politics’.
At first it angered me that she was given a platform to spread her ideas, after all, there are other members from other parties who surely would have something less hate-filled to remark on the affair? Then I remembered with a jolt that she recently won 25% of the vote in the European elections. Politically speaking, she had every right to be on the airwaves, because electorally, we, the people picked her – or rather our abstinence and apathy from voting did. In fact, from now on, she probably has more of a mandate to talk than other commentators do and it’s demoralising and frightening to think of the next few years where this woman and her ‘non-racist’ cronies are taken seriously (incidentally let it be known that any group who have to specify they are not racist, are, by virtue of that, racist).
Interestingly there only one line where she caught my attention and (dare I add) endorsement, she said she did not conflate extremism with Islam. Although I don’t really believe her, I realised that tragically and unsurprising, few like to speak out to differentiate the two. Just over a year ago, I released my first video with my friend Dorothy, it was a Muslim response to the Woolwich killing called ‘Not in My Name‘ about how these nutters do not represent Islam – not my version, nor my mother’s, family’s or community’s and a year on I’m repeating it. These extremists preach hate, violence and intolerance. People like Mehdi Nemmouchemake make our lives – the lives of regular Muslims – that much harder on a daily basis: they make it harder to take public transport, to go shopping, to go to work or school. They embed those divisions that have been years in the making whilst straining the open-mindedness of tolerant people and validating the opinions of intolerant people. They do not punish those they attack but those they pretend to defend.
These disillusioned, angry youths see what is going on in Palestine and the wider Middle East and are outraged by it. I understand, it makes my blood boil seeing what has become of my country and my people at the hands of the Israeli government, I understand what a destabilising and demoralising reality it is for the Palestinians who’ve lost their homeland and their identity too. I understand because it sits on my heart like a physical pain knowing that my father is 67 years old and still hasn’t been back since he fled as a refugee. But this extremist, like those who came before him, is foolish enough to think that by murdering three people in Belgium, he has helped the Cause. No, this man has made it harder – he’s reasserted the myth that the Arab and Muslim world should be treated with a heavy hand and that Islam is synonymous with violence. He’s added fuel to the fire. In short he has used our religion of peace as a conduit for hate. He needs to realise that the pen will always be mightier than the sword and that a functional mind is worth infinitely more than a ‘martyr’s’ blood. My point in all this – I’m almost getting tired of saying it – is that the Brussels attack is not Islam. And it’s not in my name.