Source: Washington Post
By Ezzedine C. Fishere, who is a senior lecturer at Dartmouth College, where he has taught courses on Middle East politics and culture since 2016. He previously taught in the Political Science department of the American University in Cairo.
Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to regulate Islam in France and clamp down on so-called Islamic separatism. His statement drew criticism immediately, obscuring a deeper point. Recent events underscore the need for a reformed reading of Islam. But such reformation will not be brought about by stigmatizing Islam or Muslim communities, as the French president did. What is needed is to challenge Muslim institutions to take a clear position on Islamic jurisprudence justifying violence.
Macron’s speech of Oct. 2 wasn’t supposed to be a criticism of Islam. It was a policy statement about cracking down on “radical Islamist” influence among French Muslims to prevent their transformation into a “counter-republican” community. However, Macron’s bizarre remark that Islam “is in crisis all over the world today” unsurprisingly got most of the attention in the Middle East. The response was swift.
Countless voices in the Middle East and beyond decried French anti-Muslim bias, both now and during its colonial past, and warned that Macron’s remarks would trigger a far-right anti-Muslim backlash. Al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading religious authority, slammed Macron’s “racist” “hate speech” that will “inflame the feelings of two billion Muslim followers” around the world, and “block the path to constructive dialogue.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t miss the opportunity to belittle his French nemesis, with phrases such as “beyond disrespect,” “an open provocation” and “like a colonial governor.”
What was meant to be a debate about combating Islamic radicals in France turned into an outcry against “Macron’s stigmatization of Islam.” Nuanced Muslim voices got lost in the noise.
The Macron fiasco didn’t overshadow the problem of violence in the name of Islam for long. The beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, on Oct. 16 for showing his students images of a caricature depicting Islam’s prophet came as a crude reminder of the problem. Calling it an isolated act, as the grand mufti of Egypt did, doesn’t cut it any longer. Nor does the lamentation over French atrocities in Algeria half a century ago. The problem of violence motivated by a certain interpretation of Islam is real.
Twenty-six years before Paty’s beheading, Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz narrowly escaped the same fate in Cairo for “insulting Islam” in one of his novels. The attacker who stabbed him was following a ruling by a leading Muslim cleric. Mahfouz and Paty are neither the first nor the last victims of this interpretation of Islam.