The True Terrors of Terrorism: "Us" and "Them"
I was obviously shocked upon learning about the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 (as much as I was shocked about learning what had happened in Beirut and Baghdad that same week) and I’m condemning them as much as everybody else, however I am also scared by some people’s reactions and bothered by Facebook’s double standard policy (which in my opinion is a reflection and/or integral part of the first issue, the people’s reactions). Firstly, I’ve observed, largely through social media, that many people have engaged in a discourse which places “Us” against “Them,” with “Us” being a confused term which seems to refer to Us as Westerners and “Them” referring to an even more confused term which seems to encompass all Muslims and Arabs, which are considered synonymous in this discourse.
In this light, even if this categorization will appear (I hope) obvious to most readers, I’d like to specify it once again: the term “Arab” is merely referring to an ethnic group , while the word Muslim describes a person who, in one way or another, follows Islam as a religion. Thus, there are plenty of Muslims who are not “Arabs” (i.e. Cat Stevens, just to quote a notorious example) and “Arabs” who are not Muslims (Lebanon is a perfect example of an “Arab” country with a vast religious diversity).
Furthermore, it must be said that Islam itself is extremely ramified: for starters, there are Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims, whose division goes back to the times immediately following the death of prophet Muhammad. Hezbollah is a Shia organization and it can be said to be inherently different from Al-Qaida or ISIS, which are both Sunni. The latter, in turn, are inspired by Wahhabism, an extremist Sunni line of thought born in Saudi Arabia in the 19th century . They consider Shia Muslims and a grand portion of other Sunnis who do not agree with their vision of Islam to be infidels themselves. Going even in more detail, Al-Qaida and ISIS had some kind of fallout over how to engage with such ‘deviant’ Muslims; the former believes that they are to be convinced only through persuasion to change their views, while the latter proposes exterminating such ‘deviants’.
Now, the previous digression had merely the purpose of giving a brief understanding of the complexity of the situation in the Middle East and of its history; this arguably shows how a discourse that encompasses “Us” and “Them” does not really carry much meaning. For example, my Italian nationality does not make me blamable for every crime that other Italians commit – on the same line, an Arab and/or Muslim identity should not be enough to condemn a population for the actions of a few criminals. There are roughly a billion and an half of Muslims in the world; the number of terrorists is miniscule in comparison to the population at large.
On the same topic, it is often the case when a terror act is perpetrated by any group that claims to be following Muslim ideology that many Muslims have to publicly dissociate themselves from the terrorists - just go on Google and type #notinmyname to see what I mean. I deem the need for these campaigns shameful; nobody would expect the totality of Christian people to dissociate themselves from the actions of the KKK – it’s pretty obvious that they can’t be held responsible. My question then is: why, when it comes to Muslims, is this not obvious anymore? Why is there this need for all Muslims to dissociate themselves from the terrorists who act in the name of Islam? Moreover, by grouping Arab and Muslims in a big homogeneous group, “Them,” it is easy to overlook that many of them are the primary victims of entities such as ISIS.
When I said I was scared of the people’s reactions to the Paris attacks it was because I witnessed many individuals take this discourse of “Us” and “Them” on a level that bordered hate speech. I found on my Facebook wall a girl that was prompting Putin to drop an atomic bomb on Syria. When inquired about her thoughts about the deaths of innocent civilians, like those in Paris, that would result from the act, she along with other users, responded with something about “Us” being at war with “Them.” That same day, an Italian newspaper had the following headline on its front page: “Bastardi Islamici” (Islamic Bastards). While these examples from the media are extreme cases, they can be said to be symbolic of a larger trend, born from fear and misinformation.
Moreover,the practice of terrorism seems to shake consciences only when the perpetrators are Muslims and the victims are Westerners. It is almost as if no Western country has ever employed the same techniques in order to pursue its interests . Why is an act considered terrorism only if the Westerners are the victims? In this light, as Chomsky said, there is “one simple way to reduce the threat of terror: stop participating in it..” (Chomsky, 131).
Furthermore, it can be said that the political situation in the Middle East today is at least partially derived from Western colonialism and interventionism throughout its modern history (that is, since the end of WWI in 1918, after which the Ottoman empire was divided into influence zones controlled by various Western powers). It is understandable that such a troubled history gave birth to a strong anti-Western feeling in some cases. There is an eager readiness to blame over a billion individuals for the actions of few, and yet, hardly any willingness to ever even consider blaming ourselves for the hand we played in creating those criminals.
Lastly, I personally thought that this discussion was not helped by Facebook itself - I’m not willing to generalize as I understand that many people were genuinely trying to show their support to Paris out of pure human concern - but in some cases Facebook seems to have turned a tragedy into a trend. I found that allowing users to pick only the French banner rather than the Lebanese one for example was an indication of double-standards. I agree, what happened in France is terrible and scary, but it is so by the own nature of the acts, not because of the particular country in occurred in. Such events happen periodically all around the world and that should not make them less terrible and scary just because they are not taking place in the West. My problem with Facebook allowing people to support solely France is the implication that if a terrorist act happens to “Us,” it’s worse. I don’t think it is. I feel that this would be an easy time to fall prey to fear and misconceptions, however it is important that we do not let the terror acts generate something worse: fear, hate, and irrationality.
Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Metropolitan, 2003. Print.