OVER the past two decades, particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11 episode, there has been a flurry of political, intellectual and academic activity to try and make sense of the relationship between Islam and the West. Though this is not a monolithic, monochrome relationship and has a variety of shades, the actions of individuals acting in the name of Islam and perpetrating acts of terror in the West have fuelled the debate. French President Emmanuel Macron weighed in with his two cents on this sensitive issue while speaking in a town outside Paris on Friday. He was of the opinion that Islam is a “religion in crisis” across the world, while bemoaning French Muslims’ apparent lack of assimilation in the host country’s society. He talked of “Islamic separatism” and alleged that plans were afoot to create a “counter-society”. Interestingly, Mr Macron also pointed out that the problem of radicalisation was partly due to “ghettoisation”, in a reference to Muslim populations concentrated in French banlieues.
There is indeed a problem with radicalised Muslims who — swayed by atavistic ideologies — have perpetrated acts of violence in the Muslim world and beyond. However, the French president’s tone seemed to be heavily weighed down by the white man’s burden and the need to ‘fix’ Muslims and their faith. Radicalisation is a fairly modern phenomenon and has largely been fuelled by political and socioeconomic factors. While there can be no justification for violence, Western leaders often smugly lecture the Islamic world while ignoring their own role in creating and supporting the jihadi infrastructure, whether in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, or more recently in Syria in an effort to dislodge Bashar al-Assad. In fact, France itself has been responsible for horrific crimes during its colonial occupation of Algeria; Paris has yet to apologise for these grim deeds despite an Algerian demand to do so. Indeed, the descendants of formerly colonised peoples often face difficulty integrating into Western societies due to the latent racism that lies not too far from the surface. And while local laws must be respected, preventing Muslims from expressing their religion, by banning the hijab, or fanning efforts in Europe to outlaw halal meat, sends the message that Muslims will only be accepted if they abandon their spiritual practices. Instead of lecturing Muslims, Western leaders need to show empathy, create opportunities and open avenues of dialogue with their Muslim populations to create national harmony.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2020