What is the common link between the crimes that took place in Toulouse and Montauban in France, and the killing of 16 Afghani civilians – including 9 children – at the hands of an American soldier in Afghanistan? What is the similarity between the attack on the Kingston mosque in south-west London, and the murder of an Iraqi immigrant in the American city of San Diego?
This can be summarized in just one word, namely “hate”, or let us call it the “hate culture”, for this is the environment that feeds extremism, violence and terrorism.
When a US solider murdered a number of Afghan civilians in cold blood whilst they were sleeping in their homes, and then even went on to set fire to some of their corpses, US officials expressed strong condemnation and deep regret for the deaths of these innocent victims. Yet, they consider this crime an individual act and an isolated incident, whilst some analysts and media outlets set out to find an explanation for the conduct of this solider who had previously served in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan. These analysts and media outlets indicated that this soldier may be suffering from psychological illness as a result of the pressures and stress of war.
The problem is that this crime was not an “isolated incident”, for it was preceded by other disgraceful crimes and deeds committed by other soldiers which aroused widespread resentment and controversy such as that of the American soldiers filmed urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. In addition to this, there is the condemnation of soldiers late last year for killing three Afghan civilians and then taking war trophies from their bodies, as well as planting weapons non them to insinuate that they were killed during a fire-fight and that they were not civilians but rather Taliban fighters.
These crimes, as well as others, may seem to be abnormal behaviour by a deviant minority, considering the number of American troops in Afghanistan. Yet these crimes, however, cannot be viewed as being independent from others, for they are reminiscent of other disgraceful crimes previously committed by American soldiers in Iraq which have aroused resentment and condemnation such as the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib prison which shocked the world, including the US itself. It is true that no rational person can make general statements based on the conduct of a handful of American soldiers or explain this on the basis that this is a systematic policy or an institutionalized culture, however we must not underestimate the claims that there is a real problem created by this culture of hate that prevails due to the continual attacks against Islam, the portrayal of Muslims as terrorist or barbarians and savages. This culture can be found in numerous articles, newspaper headlines and movies, and even in the stances and statements of some politicians, particularly amongst the extremist right-wing. It is this climate that ties the conduct of some soldiers with the murder of Iraqi immigrant Shaima Alawadi in San Diego last week, and the discovery of a piece of paper which the murderer left near her body which read “go back to your country, you terrorist.” It was also revealed that Shaima’s family had received a previous threatening message that read “this is our country, not yours.” Due to these racist threats, it is very likely that this was a hate crime, although the investigation has not ruled out other possibilities at the time this article went to press.
This climate of hate would also explain the attacks on numerous mosques in the US and Europe, including the attack on Kingston mosque in south-west London, which was established in the late 1990s and was only attacked amidst the prevailing climate of hostility against Islam which encouraged nine youths to attack this mosque, as was revealed during a trial which began just a few days ago. The same issue also applies to crimes like the murder of Marwa El-Sherbini in Germany which occurred at a time when the controversy over the hijab [headscarf] and niqab [veil] was at its peak in Europe, to the extent that this [Islamic] dress was banned in several countries; this extended to the construction of [mosque] minarets being banned in a country like Switzerland.
This climate of hatred would ultimately produce violence and extremism in different directions, and we can view the crimes carried out in Toulouse and Montauban through this lens. The perpetrator, Mohamed Merah, was a French citizen who wanted to live in Algeria “because he hated French society”, as expressed by his friend Jamal Azizi in his statement to Agence France-Presse. In a phone call to “France 24” TV, Mohammed Merah also asserted his rejection of France’s participation in military operations in Afghanistan, as well as his objection to the French law banning the niqab which was enforced last year. Speaking of the Toulouse crime, Merah said that “the Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
Merah transformed from being an ordinary criminal with an ordinary crime sheet to being an extremist affiliated to Al Qaeda; he transformed from being a troubled youth into a killer who targeted three French Muslim soldiers, three Jewish children and their teacher. Many analysts and politicians failed to pause and analyse his disturbed behaviour, rather they preferred to focus on his religion and Algerian ancestry as if this would provide a complete explanation of his crime and his inclination towards extremism and Al Qaeda. Although Sarkozy stressed that we must not confuse Islam with terrorism, an observer of the media coverage and the numerous statements issued may have difficulty avoiding such confusion, which has already happened. This, however, prompted many French Muslims to express deep concern about the consequences, especially in light of the election climate where xenophobia in general and Islamophobia in particular, are prevalent.
Terrorism, extremism or radicalism are not limited to Islam, as the West has also come to know terrorism backed by organizations such as the Irish Republican Army, the Italian Red Brigades and the German Red Army, nevertheless we have never heard the expression “Christian terrorism”. Hence, a stereotypical image has emerged, such as that which rose in the Muslims’ case as a result of the rise of terrorist groups that in reality only represent a small category from among over a billion Muslims.
There is a real need for confronting the climate of extremism and hate, wherever it exists, whether in the Islamic world or the West, otherwise terrorists and extremists will emerge victorious, because such climates strengthen them.