Today, they declared war on me. The military-style decimation of the newsroom of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is a declaration of war against me. They have used the name of god and of the prophet to justify the unjustifiable. As an Afro-European and a Muslim, I won’t accept this.
“Not In My Name” is how the famous saying goes, and today this slogan rings truer than ever for me. I’m sick and tired of being associated with people who murder, massacre, rape, behead and piss on the democratic values I believe in, and, even worse, that they do it in the name of my religion. Enough! We – and here I’m referring to myself, to Muslims and to everyone – must stop them using the name of Islam for their shady, disgusting affairs.
I would like every imam in every mosque in Europe to say this, loud and clear. I’m tired of seeing the name of a religion sullied in this way. It is not right. Similarly, as a citizen of the European Union, it is not right to see the vilification of its cornerstone values of peace and living together. I’m fed up of those who do not respect other people’s right to laugh. I’m sick and tired of seeing innocent blood being spilt every day, from Paris to Peshawar. And my stomach is already churning at the thought of the various xenophobes waiting in the wings. I already know someone will use this attack against immigrants and children of immigrants to grab a few more votes. There are always vultures who feast on tragedies.
It’s the same whenever there is an attack.
My anxiety and frustration grow with every disaster. After every attack, I want to scream and make people understand that Islam has nothing to do with those guys with long beards wearing those ridiculous clothes. Islam is not theirs; Islam is ours, we who believe in peace. What I mean is they are only caricatures. They deliberately dress that way to scare you. It is all a plan; wake up.
This is why I say they have declared war on me – actually, on us.
This outrage is not just an attack on freedom of expression; it is also an attack on the democratic values that hold us together. Europe is made up of citizens who are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist and so on. There are a lot of us and we all live together. Yes, the continent’s situation is shaky, the crisis is tough, but we are together and this is what matters. The professional, well-trained killers who struck Charlie Hebdo want chaos. They want a Europe gripped by fear, where citizens become enemies. And this is where they go hand in hand with the xenophobic far right. Nazis understand each other. They actually want to isolate Muslims from the other Europeans. They want to us to be vulnerable and alone. They want to destroy the cohabitation we are laboriously building together.
I think it is wonderful so many Christians and Jews join us at the Rome mosque to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of Ramadan. I enjoy wishing my Christian friends a happy Christmas and my Jewish friends happy Hanukkah. It is great to have a laugh about everything with atheist friends. You can – indeed, you must laugh at everything. This is why today’s attack is so frightening. It is agonising to know that cowards murdered human beings purely because they wanted to make people laugh, but it also hurts to realise that there is a plan behind this: a desire for total destruction.
Planned destruction, knowing who and what to strike.
Nothing was accidental. Those who organised the massacre spent a lot of money. They chose trained men. A target was selected, the newsroom of a satirical magazine, which was a symbolic target but also easy to attack. Everything was planned down to the very last detail. On the other hand, it is still a declaration of war. Those who carried out this attack know what it will produce. They know the frenzy it will unleash. So, if we are at war, we must start to think about how to fight it. In recent years, the theory of the preventive war, preventative hate, the disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have only created more extremism.
If Europe wants to win this war on terrorism, perhaps it should play to its strengths, namely its values. The murderers know this attack will incite hatred. We must not fall into this trap. We must reaffirm what we are: democrats. The author Helena Janeczek is right when she says liberté, égalité, fraternité is still the best motto to win the battle. And by reaffirming “Not In My Name”, European Muslims could be the trump card in this game. Europe can only stop the barbarians if its citizens unite at this difficult time.
Igiaba Scego is an Italian-Somali writer. She wrote this article in Italian for Internazionale.
Translation: Aminda R. Leigh.