This week, I’m told I haven’t apologised enough. Not nearly enough – being a British Muslim, and confining my expressions of disbelief, alarm and anger, to only my circle of friends, colleagues and family – when in Paris, 17 are dead, Europe is in mourning, and the freedoms enshrined in my own profession have been barbarically violated.
Rupert Murdoch, that upstanding pillar of the community, reminded me of my responsibilities in a tweet: “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognise and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” Plenty disagreed, though more than a thousand yesterday had “favourited” the comment. He joins the chorus across TV and radio stations, newspapers, and social media: “Muslims need to apologise”.
So I must publicly declare myself contrite. Until I do, I am suspect. It is not good enough for me to be flabbergasted in private. I must apologise, as an ordinary Muslim, living an ordinary life in the West.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times the most high-profile faith leaders condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre; there was joint condemnation from Iqbal Sacranie, co-founder of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a vociferous critic of Islam, on the BBC’s Newsnight on the day the news broke.
The following morning, Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-Egyptian scholar, sounded his condemnation. Executive members of France’s umbrella organisation for Muslims, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), added their sense of outrage, alongside – to name a few – Baroness Warsi, Maajid Nawaz of the counter-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation, and imams from Finsbury Park and a mosque on the outskirts of Paris.
For us, the media, to say that not enough Muslims have spoken out is hypocrisy. If we point a camera at an imam in Bradford, or a congregation in Luton, or vox-pop Muslims on any given high street, they would all – if of sound mind – express their disgust and dismay over the attacks. Short of running down Oxford Street with a sandwich board, how is an “ordinary” Muslim supposed to make his or her specific apology? I have no doubt that imams across the nation were condemning the attacks at Friday prayers this week. And aren’t we forgetting that Muslims are also Britons, and that they will have responded to the news in the way that fellow Britons did – by going to vigils, by writing on Twitter and Facebook, by booking a ticket to Paris for today’s peace rally?
Yet no amount of condemnation seems to be enough. Simone Rodan Benzaquen, the director of Jewish advocacy group AJC Paris, said in the aftermath of the supermarket shoot-out: “While most of the Muslim leaders have spoken out very clearly… [we] need to have individuals speak out.”
Baroness Warsi was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre Baroness Warsi was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre (Paul Cooper)
Firstly, not every anti-Semitic attack in France is down to “the Muslims”. There is also the small matter of the anti-Semitic far right rising across –Europe that we should take into account. But I find her statement more perplexing because I don’t recall a demand for individual apologies from America’s Christians in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing, or from Norway’s Christians after Anders Breivik. In fact, did we even require Christian leaders to apologise, condemn and be held to account? Did we, before these Christian terror attacks, debate the intrinsic violence of the Catholic church when the IRA allied itself to it for its own political purposes?
The fact is, the Kouachi brothers and their accomplice were not unlike McVeigh and Breivik and the IRA. Just as these men were no ordinary Christians, the Kouachis were no ordinary Muslims. Naming these men correctly is essential if we are to be saved from bigotry. Ian McEwan, on his website, calls them psychopaths and that is what they were – psychopaths who hijacked the Islamic faith and grossly misappropriated its messages with twisted fantasies of martyrdom and holy war for their own insane ends. Is the onus on me, and others like me, to apologise for their abominations? It would be ridiculous, if not offensive, to say so.
We know that religion has, though the ages, been hijacked, Christianity never more so than during the crusades of the Middle Ages, and with centuries of European imperialism after that which enlisted missionary Christianity to subjugate, abuse and kill. Muslims have made it perfectly clear that these lunatics are not manifesting the true spirit of Islam, but manipulating it.
For Muslims to apologise is for them to admit that they – we – harboured these men, we invited them to our mosques and listened to their bile and hatred, and perhaps even their planning. How many of us were and are complicit in this? I’m not, and the majority of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims aren’t either. After 9/11, I spoke to the brother of a Muslim victim. Who should apologise to him? The policeman shot dead in the line of duty was a Muslim. Who should apologise for Ahmed Merabet’s death? Me?
How far do ripples of responsibility extend? Should an imam in Southall apologise for the actions of these men in Paris? France has a significant Muslim minority with its own tensions – the ban on the veil and high levels of disenchantment among this largely banlieue-dwelling minority. It is all rather more complex than can be smoothed over with an apology.
I can only speak for myself when I say how sorry I am. I am sorry that three men killed 17 other human beings in the name of my religion. I am sorry they killed members of my profession, doing what they had a right to do. And I’m sorry that this violence will generate a spiral of terrifying vengeance – the firebombing of mosques has already begun. Doubtless women in headscarves will be assaulted and more will die.
Is this apology enough?