Extremism threatens everyone, but ordinary citizens who happen to be Muslim have the most to lose.
The extremist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo staff and a Kosher grocery in Paris mark a tipping point in Europe. It has been building for years: ethnic Europeans have become increasingly frustrated and angry with escalating intrusions of Islam into everyday European life: the routine and illegal blockading of roads in Paris during Muslim prayer times. “Honor killings” of immigrant Muslim daughters who adopt the European way of life. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The repeated riots and torching of thousands of cars in Muslim neighborhoods of Paris. The barbaric murder of a British soldier, hacked to death on a London street in broad daylight.
Gradually, we have seen public frustrations reflected in government statements and legislation: The 2009 Swiss ban on construction of minarets. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s official comments in 2010 that multiculturalism was an “utter failure.” British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed the same sentiment in 2011. The 2011 French ban on public wear of the face veil, upheld in 2014 by the European Court of Human Rights. The Netherlands’ requirement of Dutch language capability for citizenship.
And now comes this latest attack in Paris, and for the first time, we see an enormous physical, visible outpouring of resistance. I think we are witnessing a shift, and one that may very well quickly get out of control. Moderate Muslims and Muslim foreign leaders sense this, and I think they are very, very concerned. Scared, even.
You know things have shifted when Hezbollah’s leader publicly denounces the attacks, saying that such violent and murderous “takfiri” ideology is a greater offense to Islam and the Prophet than any cartoon or film, and that takfiris are currently the greatest threat to Islam itself. You know things have shifted when millions of European citizens rally in the streets and are joined by more than 40 world leaders, a remarkable thing in itself (when do 40+ world leaders drop everything in their schedules to participate in a hastily-organized march?). You know things have shifted when this massive march brings together such disparate leaders as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. More importantly, numerous Muslim leaders attended from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Mali, Turkey, Gabon, Tunisia, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, making a public and physical show of solidarity with those who condemn the extremist attacks.
Some of these Muslim leaders were criticized for attending, because of their own countries’ poor records on freedom of the press. But I suspect that for them, this rally was not about freedom of the press at all, but more about publicly repudiating extremism, for two big reasons.
First, extremism threatens everyone, not just Westerners. Muslims are no safer from extremism than anyone else; witness how Boko Haram just indiscriminately slaughtered over 2000 people in the Nigerian village of Baga, and how it abducts Muslim girls and forces them into so-called “marriage” more akin to sexual slavery. Witness how the so-called “Islamic State” positively revels in barbarism and violence, openly makes women into sex slaves, and pointedly aims to wipe out Shia Muslims as “infidels.” They make the Taliban look positively charming in comparison.
Secondly, the actions of extremists in Europe risk pushing European patience beyond the breaking point. No one wants to be seen as the next Hitler, rounding up members of a religious minority and bundling them onto trains to God-knows-where, but something very similar to that absolutely will happen eventually if extremist crimes in Europe are not brought to a swift and screeching halt. Europeans outwardly present a facade of tolerance and inclusion, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In my experience, European tolerance is a thin veneer. Far deeper are their feelings of nationalism, of being imposed upon by outsiders, of having the very character of their homeland threatened by foreign influences. They fear and criticize immigrants who come seeking safety and social benefits, who fail to learn the local language, and who bring Sharia and violence to their very doorsteps. Keep in mind that I was observing this over a decade ago… and how much thinner has that veneer worn since then!
This is why moderate (and even some not-so-moderate) Muslims must do more than remain silent or pay mere lip service against extremism. It can no longer be allowed to build, fester, and spill over into other communities. Let European patience and tolerance run out, and it is the Muslims who will suffer, caught between violent rejection in their adopted countries and violent extremism in their home countries.
Sadly, it may already be too late to stop that train from running away.